book arts

Exploring the epistolary art

Participants in a Sitka Center workshop may discover how letter-writing can survive the digital age, keep people connected, and restore deep focus

Tucked in the back of my closet is a small, blue suitcase I’ve hauled around with me since I was 18. Inside are bundles of letters, handwritten to me in the first years after I moved from Pennsylvania to Alaska.

Letters from my mom address my plans to move to France (“I don’t think France cares for us right now,” she wrote in 1979 on lined legal-pad paper) and eventually to study for my real-estate license. Letters from the musician I’d agreed to marry seem aimed at inspiring guilt, as in “I thought you were coming back.” Letters from my older sister detail, in her near-perfect penmanship, the mundanity of our small town – whom she ran into, where she applied for a job, how her daughter was (or was not) behaving.

Back then, unless you could afford the long-distance bills (my phone was frequently disconnected, thanks to my inability to keep-it-short), letters were how you kept in touch.

Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on "The Art of the Letter" that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students' missives into the world.
Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on “The Art of the Letter” that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students’ missives into the world. Photo courtesy: Laura Moulton

In recent years, I realized how much I missed writing – and receiving – personal letters, and I decided I was going to start writing them again. I even bought “fine parchment paper” and matching envelopes found on a clearance rack.

But after years of hurriedly filling reporters’ notebooks day after day after day after month after year, my  handwriting is illegible. It takes huge concentration for me to form an “ing” — the three letters have morphed into a hump with a loop. Likewise, the word “every” looks like an e with a wave and a loop. So while I was drawn to the idea of handwriting letters, I never quite got there. Sure, I could probably sit myself down and write a bit more nicely, but frankly, I’m not sure I have the patience.

Then, I saw the description for the upcoming class on The Art of the Letter: Writing, Collage & Mail Art at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology:

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Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover

In a Newport exhibition of artists' books, a work by Alaskan Margo Klass tells its story through its structure rather than pages

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.

Closed, Margo Klass’ "Beaver Creek" is compact enough to carry on an airplane.

Closed, Margo Klass’ “Beaver Creek” is compact enough to carry on an airplane.

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.

Open, "Beaver Creek’s" 11 panels stretch 6 feet.

Open, “Beaver Creek’s” 11 panels stretch 6 feet.

“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.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: dragon boats, demon barbers, Native fashion now

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Hang on tight: it’s going to be a wild week. Or, to borrow a line from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s  Carousel, June is bustin’ out all over. Without further ado, a few of the highlights from the next seven days:

ROSE FESTIVAL/DRAGON BOAT ART SHOW. Yes, it’s here again, the annual civic bacchanalia that, as local journalistic legend has it, an old-school reporter for The Oregonian once famously described as the season “when sailors swim upstream to spawn.” The Starlight Parade begins to wind through downtown streets at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and those who love a parade are advised to show up and snag a spot well in advance. (Those who don’t love a parade are advised to stay away from downtown at all costs.) Here at ArtsWatch we’re quite fond of the dragon boat races (we happen to know a few paddlers, and they’re a hearty lot), which splash down June 11-12 in the Willamette River. And we’re always tickled by Fire on the Water, the annual show of art inspired by the dragon boat races, which is free and always a lot of fun. This year’s version, with work by about seventy artists, opens Thursday in the rotunda lobby of the performing arts center’s Antoinette Hatfield Hall, and hangs around all summer, through August 30. You can drop in most anytime.

2016 "Fire on the Water" cover image. Art: Mario Robert

2016 “Fire on the Water” cover image. Art: Mario Robert

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