An opening of artists’ books created by the members of Books In Black opened this past Friday in rural Salem, NY. at the Old Washington County Courthouse . Considering that other openings by this group have taken place in decidedly non-rural venues, such as the Center for Book Arts in NYC and as far away as Brazil, I felt more than a little lucky to have had to drive only five miles to attend.

What's in the Fridge" by Ruth Edwards, honoring John Standard for inventing the ice-box, an early refidgerator

I’ve intended to write about this show, and, as is my nature, had walked into the opening with a template in my head for this post. It’s taken me a couple of days to begin to write because, after viewing the work, listening to a presentation by the artists, and asking for details of their journey, I can confidently assert that there is no template that have in my head that can properly contain my experience of this event.

 While there are an abundance of varied and inspiring books to photograph and write about, this show is absolutely more than a sum of its parts.

A Revolvin' SIT-U-ATE-tion, by Irene M. Mays, honoring Daniel Johnson's rotating table with attachable chairs for close quarters

Revealing and honoring the inventions of persons of African ancestry through book arts is one part of what is going on here.

A Better Baby Buggy, by Brenday H. Falus, honoring W.H. Richardson’s invention of a safety brake for the baby buggy

 It is fitting that the inventiveness of the work shown here is paired with inventions. But this nuance is further developed by the copies of historical artifacts that accompany many of the pieces.

Patent drawing for Granville T. Woods contribution to the Incandescent Lamp

I have to say that I loved seeing these reproductions of old drawings that are part of the patent applications of the inventors.  

Creating Moses (detail,with reflection) honoring Harriette Tubman, by Paula Holland

But that’s not all….

About Harriet Tubman

The books are also accompanied by text, thus giving the works context.

Debrilla's Lightweight Luggage Carrier, honoring Debrilla M. Ratchford's invention of a suticase with wheels and transporting hook, by Shimoda

Furthermore, photographs of the artists who contributed to the show, are on display along with their work.

Iona, talking and singing about Harriette Washington-Williams book honoring Aretha Franklin

I had arrived at the show at 6pm sharp. About 45 minutes later there was an announcement, inviting us to convene in the old courtroom above the grand hallway where we were all mingling. For the next half-hour or so we were all treated to a presentation by the artists that was part theatre, part storytelling, part oration and all passionate, expounding on the work that we had been viewing downstairs. Another part of what the artists offered was about diverse backgrounds of the people who created these books. Included in their ranks are a physical therapist, a choral director, a literacy consultant, and a musician. The group that created these works seemed to have come together organically, hearing about the project from someone else who heard about the project. The members of Books In Black came together, from what I can tell, because they had something to say, and Ruth Edwards, the founder of Books In Black, had the vision and talent to bring it all together. And now, here it is in Salem, NY.

Ruth Edwards, founder of Books In Black
Now,  how awesome is that?
 
Here’s an info card about Books In Black

Old Washington Courthouse in Salem, NY

Yesterday evening I slipped  in to Old Washington County Courthouse in Salem, NY, through the back door, for a sneak peek at the BooksInBlack show that opens this evening. I didn’t exactly break into this former jailhouse:  There was a Kung Fu going on downstairs,  so I knew that back door would be open for exactly 75 minutes. Earlier in the day I had entered the Great Hall of the building through the front door while Ruth Edwards, Gail Bearup, Mary Kilpatrick and Ed Hutchins were setting up the show.  The artists’ books were so compelling that I made this plan come back in the early evening when I could have the room all to myself.

Great Hall in Old Courthouse

This is a show of many layers. There’s the art layer: these books are visually exciting, just what I like, an intriguing blend of graphic and sculptural elements. The  work shown here is full of celebration and whimsy. Additionally,  it’s a well-researched show, full of history and copies of historical artifacts seamlessly integrated with the artists’ contemporary response. 

 I had a field day, taking photos of the work with no one around. It had been my intention to post these pictures this morning, but, after thinking about it, decided that it was good manners to first wait for the show to open.

 So I left, and will return this evening at 6 pm sharp. With my camera.

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