read it and keep: altered book contest, massanutten regional library.

altered book voteHaving been teaching and studying literature, and reading and writing for a long time, I’ve amassed a small library of books. They’re everywhere… all over the house. I haven’t quite made the leap to the e-reader yet, partially because I remember The Great CD Conversion of 1988 during which I spent a small fortune (for a 16 year old) replacing all my music cassettes. The thought of replacing just a tiny percentage of my book collection (say, the Joyce Carol Oates part, for example) is just too much to absorb. Plus, books are just prettier than an e-reader. I love how they look piled in a stack. I love moving them from the “To Read” stack to the “Finished” shelf. And some of their covers are nothing short of exquisite. In many cases, commissioned artists design those covers. And so a real paper and cardboard book is a work of art, through and through.

It’s sad to think of a book in a dumpster. In the landfill. But to hoard every book I’ve ever owned to prevent it from ending up in the trash is… well… hoarding. The neat freak in me can’t do that.

Much to my relief, my inner neat freak and my inner art lover reconciled once and for all when Brandy and I attended Massanutten Regional Library’s Altered Books Contest and Gallery last Friday. The practice of altering gives old, perhaps worn out books — books on the very brink of disposal — a new life and purpose. Their tattered pages no longer have endure the flips and tugs of careless readers; that pressure is gone. All an altered book has to do anymore is sit somewhere and look awesome, interesting, beautiful. The newly rendered “book” even gets a new name, as I noticed at the library’s display. Truly, a rebirth.

altered book balloonsSo we browsed the altered books, submitted for competition by adults (ages 18 and older) and youngsters (ages 12 – 17). We saw the piece created by last year’s contest winner, Diane Landis, entitled In a Dark, Dark House — she’d used several discarded books to create a majestic castle. Some were quite useful… like Carol K. Smith’s Hooked on Books. She turned books into a coat rack with a frame. Some were really large, like From Tree to Book to Tree Again — a big tree sculpture made by several artists out of pages of books.

altered book tree loomNancy Dauer built this huge loom thing out of torn up and disassembled books (From Words to Yarns — ha ha!). And Ben Fraits somehow glued the pages of his books together so they became completely solid, then carved them like a block of wood.

altered book fyodor altered book castleAnna Thornbury and Andrew Shantz cleverly constructed literal interpretations of their books. For example, a wooden stake pierced the cover of the book Dracula; the book Titanic appeared to be split in half by an iceberg; Joan of Arc was partially charred. They called this collection A Novel Death.

altered book stakeThe kids’ entries were even more impressive. Explosion featured origami exploding from the center of a school textbook. For Bird’s Eye View, Chantel Pence made a diorama out of a book. And in Alice is Stuck in Wonderland, a barbie doll Alice protrudes — stuck, indeed — from the center of the book.

altered book alice fans altered book foldsbwAll this awesomely creative art work simply is not something you can do with your Kindle. Sorry. Soon the library will announce winners in both categories — adult and youth — the winning “books” will be on display April 14 – 19. Can’t wait to find out how this story ends! And stay tuned for more photos this week!

altered book hostsCopyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

the warm fuzzies: wonderkittens 2013.

wonderkitten signLet’s face it. Being a grownup just isn’t as fun as we thought it would be. When we were young, we couldn’t wait to be older… so we could stay up late, or watch a PG movie, or go on a date, or learn to drive. Once we reached those milestones (and all the buzz-killing responsibilities that accompany them), we longed again for our youth, back when no one was really relying on us, when sticks and rocks were far more valuable than money, when we measured time in increments of Sesame Street episodes. THAT was freedom. Remember it?

If you’re having a hard time remembering, I have a remedy. Spend some time with a kid. If you don’t have a kid handy, I have some I can loan you. When you spend time with a kid, you start by teaching them all the amazing, profound things you know. Then at some point, you realize you know nothing, and the child in front of you is the one who has it all figured out. And for a fleeting moment you glimpse the innocence and joy and unfettered love you were born with which has been buried under all your adult baggage. You can’t BE a kid again, but you can be WITH a kid… and that’s like the best of both worlds.

wonderkkitten music2wonderkitten fansThese worlds collided in a beautiful way when Brandy and Denise hatched yet another mind-blowing idea: why not pair up an adult, working artist with a creative youngster, and let them immortalize each other in a portrait? Let the child see what the adult sees, and more importantly, let the adult look once again through the tender eyes of a child. Moments after they thought it, Brandy and Denise set out to do it, and therefore, they did it. Because that’s what happens when those two get together.

wonderkitten ella flowersThey named the portrait show Wonderkittens. It’s goal was to “bridge the gap between the untapped creative mind of a child and a thriving, working, independent artist.” After securing several willing artists and children, Denise and Brandy created an online survey for everyone to complete, which helped them match the kids with compatible artists.
pairsThe artist’s role was to mentor the child, guiding him or her through the process of creating a portrait, adhering to a deadline, respecting craftsmanship, promoting the show, working together, and all else that goes into a collaborative project. The role of the child was to make the artist giggle with wild abandon, forget what time it was for a little while, remember with fondness his or her own childhood, and maybe secretly swing by McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. :)

wonderkitten_-_ wonderkitten____What actually happened was an incredible display of patience and tenderness on both sides. My daughter COULD NOT WAIT for her weekly session with her artist partner — Wednesdays at 7pm at the Dodger. She gratefully, and with more seriousness than I expected, soaked up his every word. He showed her, with unending generosity and kindness, all about pens and ink and paper and different comic styles. Other artists found ways to “get together” even when schedules clashed — through Skype or Facetime or even over the good old phone. One child wanted to create more than one portrait of her artist partner, and that’s just what she did, filling a whole corner of the Larkin gallery all by her cute self!

wonderkitten ___wonderkitten _--_I’m not sure the last time I saw so much cuteness in one place. Larkin Arts hosted the Wonderkittens opening on December’s First Friday. There were snack and drinks (thank you, Kathy Whitten!) kid-friendly music by Nick Melas, interactive art work by our local troupe Artery (Wes Way, you are an awesome human being!), and of course all the portraits.

wonderkitten musicwonderkitten artery1wonderkitten artery4 wonderkitten artery3 wonderkitten artery2The artists were used to seeing their work on a wall… the kids were really thrilled! And there, in that act, the gap was bridged. Perhaps the artists remembered when their art was displayed for others to see for the very first time. Perhaps the children, for the very first time, saw themselves as artists.

wonderkitten lynda_ wonderkitten morgan_ wonderkitten john_ wonderkitten ella_chriswonderkitten denise _ wonderkitten ben_ wonderkitten bree_tripwonderkitten _ wonderkitten __For me personally, I am extremely grateful to the grownups of this community who have not just touched but improved my children’s lives. I am so, so glad I live here. I am so, so glad my children are growing up here, amongst all you lovely people…. especially, these two:
wonderkitten D and B

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

light up: spitzer art center.

burgIMG_3704Recently Brandy and I went to Spitzer Art Center for Howard Zehr’s opening of Pickups: A Valley Love Story.” (If you missed that post, you can get caught up to speed with one quick click.) That evening we were treated to a lovely crowd, lively music by Shenandoah Alley, savory snacks, and refreshing bevs. Not to mention, a whole lot of creativity.

burgIMG_3575 burgIMG_3588As I moved through that light-filled building, people danced and tapped their feet and rocked their chairs to the twangs and plunks of bluegrass. They sipped sweating glasses and threw their heads back in peals of laughter. They spilled out onto the wide porch and the plush yard and flopped on soft blankets under the big tree. And I thought, what a lovely place to spend some time.

burgIMG_3666collageburgIMG_3700 burgIMG_3701My friend Jewel, who used to teach art at my school, volunteers at the center. Having recently started back to school, I was glad to see her there and have a chance to catch up. Upstairs from the gallery are several artist studios — seven, I think. In fact, two or three of them are currently available for rent. The Pinwheel Collective works out of a studio at Spitzer, as do Barb Gautcher and Pat Augsburger.

burgIMG_3647burgIMG_3652Jewel has a studio at the back of the house — a beautiful, bright space colored with sunlight and supplies. Why is it weird to walk through an artist’s studio? Is it just me? It feels like walking into someone’s bedroom… because really, it is a sacred, intimate space, but it’s also a place for working, and I’m always nervous I’ll touch something or knock something down and mess up someone’s work.

I carefully and gratefully explored Jewel’s living, breathing studio. All the furniture mismatched and scuffed. Tubes of paint that have been squeezed to their absolute limits. Brushes that she’s washed a thousand times. The sloped roof and the siding and a wall of windows. So much history, so much potential. Jewel never stopped smiling the whole time she was in there, like she was lit from within.

burgIMG_3632 burgIMG_3649burgIMG_3627bw burgIMG_3630You can bask in the light there, too, on Saturdays from 10 – 2pm, and on the first Friday of every month starting at 5pm. Or you can rent one of those gorgeous studios and sit in beauty every day. Visit them soon!

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.