Before I made a definitive decision to carve out as close to a writer’s existence as I could, I exhibited as a stained glassed artist in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was a member of a gallery and active in AVA, the Association for Visual Arts. Just before I moved to New York City, I had the privilege of being one of three artists to produce an exhibition at The Hunter Museum of American Art titled Sunday Dinner: An Archaeological Dig, one of my fellow artists the subject of this cover story today.
It was an effort that took me, Judith Paul and Juanita Tumelaire over a year to complete, our initial inspiration a collection of poems I wrote and our ongoing explorations as to what Sunday dinner had meant to us when we were growing up realized in artworks rendered in mixed media.
I’ve kept in touch with Judith since I moved away, and I was enthralled by her latest series “The Last Page,” which is being exhibited at the Michael Mitchell Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, during the Spoleto Festival USA that kicked off on May 22 and runs through June 7.
Spoleto Festival USA
The Festival is one of America’s major performing arts events, founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti. The maestro sought to establish a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (The Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy, choosing Charleston for the celebration’s American locale due to the fact it echoes the warmth and charm of the Italian city that gave the U.S. event its name.
I asked Judith to provide me with a narrative to accompany her art and I felt cold chills prick my skin as I read it because it was as if she was reaching into my soul and expressing how I feel about books. I am not surprised: I own a Judith Paul and it’s one of my favorite pieces of art for the expressive message it conveys and the beauty of its composition.
I think it’s the melding of her evocative point of view with her astute way of realizing her serial creations that make her pieces sophisticated additions to the design of a room. The fact this newest series has a literary theme was the proverbial icing on the cake that influenced me to introduce it to my readers.
Judith Paul’s Cover Story
But enough about me! It’s time to let Judith tell you what inspired her to include antique books in her mixed-media collages, in her own words:
“I run my fingers over the beautiful cover and open the timeworn book in anticipation of seeing whether it is signed or dated, hoping that perhaps I’ve stumbled upon a first edition. I lean down to smell the musty scent and imagine all the places this book has been; envision all the generations of people who have been inspired, entertained or moved by the tale within its binding—wondering what their stories might have been.
“The physical weight of a book, a narrative waiting to unfold, is an exciting and precious thing—one I fear will soon be a distant memory. An electronic book will simply never evoke the emotions stirred by printed words on paper. What are we losing? Simply a tactile pleasure? No. A physical book, so much more than bytes on a screen, provides adequate heft to the herculean effort it takes to craft a narrative.
“The volumes that line our bookshelves and tower upward atop our nightstands are reflections of years of work on the part of their authors, as well as testaments to our own intellectual pursuits—our cultural moments. More than words on a page that can now be so cleverly mimicked on a device, they are objects to be treasured and shared.
“My hope is that even as our technology speeds up, we retain the capacity to slow down and appreciate that books hold more than the stories resting within their covers—and I hope we realize this well before we reach print publishing’s last page.”
Thanks for such an eloquent and heartfelt explanation, Judith; talk about leaving a wonderful legacy in art! If you’re anxious for practical details, the materials used to create these mixed media works include antique book covers, handmade paper, and paint, which is meant to give the impression that the books are melting away.
“On the reverse side of the canvas I have included pages from the book itself—the copyright page when possible—and also any that have been personalized with an inscription,” Judith says. “Many of these books have lovely woodcut drawings and those have also been included.”
If you attend the festival and make it by the gallery, please Instagram or tweet images of your favorite Judith Paul pieces and call me out, would you?
As a footnote, the poems I wrote for the Sunday Dinner exhibition are included in my first book of poetry Anywhere But Here. And because I am fortunate enough to own one of Judith’s earlier paintings, I’m including this entry in my Living with Art series.
The Diary of an Improvateur and this entry, Artist Judith Paul’s Cover Story, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist. Books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.