When Margo Klass boards the plane in Fairbanks bound for Oregon, she’ll be carrying a most unusual book. Open, it stretches 6 feet. It’s a work of art, a memoir in abstract, the story of nine days Klass spent with her writer husband, Frank Soos, as artists-in-residence on Alaska’s Beaver Creek.
Klass will share the story behind the book, Nine Days on Beaver Creek, on April 27 during the 24th annual Newport Paper & Book Arts Festival. The Instructors’ Show held in conjunction with the April festival opens Friday, March 22, in the Newport Visual Arts Center.
“During the residency, I kept a personal journal, took photos, and made sketches of visual ideas that might capture the essence of traveling 100 miles on a river, camping on gravel bars, and almost never being warm enough for comfort,” Klass said. “During the trip we had rain, snow, smoke, and plenty of cold, but somehow that didn’t matter in the end — it was an amazing experience.”
When the trip, part of a Bureau of Land Management program to promote use of public lands, was over, she began work on the book. “I wanted the structure to reflect the meandering of the river, to contain my images in 3D, and to hold smaller, artists’ books of Frank’s texts.”
Klass specializes in artists’ books, which she describes as a “work of art that takes book form” with multiple views looked at in sequence. “In other words, it takes time to look at an artist book,” she said.
She’s been perfecting her work for 40 years, beginning as a young mom in Washington, D.C., helping her children make their own projects. One of the first books was inspired by her son’s class assignment to catalog the wildflowers in their garden. “Rather than staple a bunch of pages together, I said, ‘Let’s make a book.’”
About that time, an artist-book center opened in D.C. and “brought in all kinds of book artists to teach about what they do,” she said. “Now those artists are the legends of our times.”
From that humble beginning, Klass has gone on to show in museums and galleries around the country and has received numerous awards, including the Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award and the 2015 Alaska Governor’s Individual Artist Award.
This is the fourth year Klass will exhibit in the local festival, which runs April 26-28. She learned about the event from fellow Alaskan Connie Stricks, whose work also will be shown. Stricks took her first workshop in bookmaking from Klass.
Both artists have high praise for the event. Stricks has participated for nine years and said the quality of the instruction and the professionalism get better every year. She enjoys seeing how her fellow book artists have grown over the years, and the different forms their creativity takes. “The festival offers instruction and inspiration,” she said, “from learning how to decorate paper to actually creating a project from that creation.”
Stricks has also been a metalsmith and worked with watercolors, but paper, which she describes as “infinitely flexible,” has become her passion. “You can create structures, embellish with paint, draw on it, fold it. There’s no end to what you can do with paper.”
Klass and Stricks will be joined by 11 other artists in leading workshops and showing their work, which include book arts, collage, paper arts, mixed media, assemblage, and box arts. Information on workshops is available here.
The art will be on display through April 27 in the Upstairs Gallery at the center. A reception for the Instructors’ Show will be 5 to 7 p.m. April 5, with local instructors talking about their work at 6:30 p.m. Instructors will also discuss their art from 5 to 7 p.m. April 26.
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.