Timing is everything. It was a chance encounter at Glenwood Coffee & Books — she happened to be there during the two minute window I slipped in to drop off copies of the newspaper for Al Brilliant, accidentally interrupting their conversation. We were the only three people in the store in the middle of the afternoon, and after a quick hello and explanation of my visit, I turned to go.
“Actually, the two of you should meet,” he said, gesturing towards Shawnee Becker and turning his head between the two of us.
The art show Becker was curating happened to fall in the one-week window that I was covering Visions. Distracted by last week’s cover story about police surveillance and the city’s attempt to stop us from distributing it, the piece had slipped my mind.
Becker, an intern at the Green Hill Center and a senior at UNCG, has her pitch down. It’s an exhibit about book art and will include four primary artists and nine pieces from Brilliant, who founded Unicorn Press and binds beautiful books. Sold. When are you free for an interview?
Four glass cubes greet visitors as they walk into the Hemphill Library in southwest Greensboro, each one containing several pieces. The exhibit, which opened Monday and will be up until March 4, is designed to display the breadth of book art being created in North Carolina.
The branch library lost funding for such installations, creating a void that Becker has filled out of her own pocket for the display. The selected artists — hailing from Tobaccoville, Greensboro and Durham — include Sheryl Oring, a UNCG professor who introduced Becker to book art last semester.
When the opportunity arose through Becker’s internship to curate an exhibit, Oring suggested she highlight the medium. While it may sound like a narrow term, book art infuses elements of binding, typeface, layout, printmaking and handmade paper, Becker said. One piece in the collection by Greensboro artist Mary Beth Boone is a clamshell box, a crafted container for a book. Bryant Holsenbeck, of Durham, usually works in found materials, with one piece utilizing chopsticks and another making use of candy wrappers.
Each artist takes their own approach, and though there are a few visual similarities, the content and approaches don’t overlap much.
Terry Schubach-Gordon’s work evokes darker emotions in the style of German expressionist printmakers, Becker explained, tackling aging through the lens of her children growing up and her father passing away.
Becker described Oring’s work as more political, concerned that too few voices were being heard on important national issues. One of her entries in the exhibit including text in multiple languages, and like Boone, makes strong use of presentation. Brilliant stands out too.
“Al [Brilliant] is kind of different because I’m not quite sure if he considers himself an artist the way that I consider him an artist,” Becker said. “What motivates him more than creating really beautiful books is creating beautiful books that will be available to people, and cheaply. It’s important how he is keeping book form alive and encourage production of poetry and art.”
Becker hails from Hickory and initially moved to the Triad to attend Salem College, later transferring to UNCG for its larger art program. An art major with a concentration in design, she has recently been shifting away from making art and towards promoting and organizing it, planning to go to school for library science in the future.
Becker hopes the exhibit, especially given its location in a library, will expose people to the medium that might otherwise miss it.
“Because this is one of the few book art exhibits that’s been around Greensboro I really wanted to go and show how diverse it is and take kind of an educational approach,” she said.
Assembling the project — designing promotional posters, collecting artist statements, printing labels and coordinating details — culminated in an adrenaline rush for Becker days before the exhibit opened.
Looking back at the months of preparation, Becker said her first curatorial experience was worth it, adding that she intends to stick with this vein of the art world.
Book Arts Explored is free and open during normal library hours at the Hemphill Branch Library until March 4. There will be a closing reception on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. 2301 W. Vandalia Rd. 336.373.2925.