One of my favorite collecting and researching themes is bookmarks and art; a sub-theme is how artists approach the challenge of a bookmark-sized canvas. A few years ago I stumbled on a gold mine of creativity called The Bookmarks Project at the Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England. As the site describes: “Since May 2004, the Bookmarks series of free, international artwork distribution have been at 46 venues in Italy, The Netherlands, UK, Germany, Poland, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Cyprus, Australia, and the USA. Over 150 artists have contributed more than 15,000 bookmarks to the four projects so far.” The aim is “to get more people to appreciate work in the format of the artist's book. Participating artists who work in this format, have each generously produced an edition of 100 bookmarks to swap and give away.”
I wrote to the curator, Sarah Bodman, who has designed bookmarks for each series, and asked whether I might have a sample or two. She generously sent me a whole set of the first and second series and several from the third series. During our correspondence, I mentioned to Sarah that the Friends of the Oakland Public Library sponsors The Bookmark Bookstore as a fundraising effort. Wouldn’t it be perfect as a distribution venue? She agreed and I contacted the manager, Bob Frey, who is a true old school “bookman”, with a ready reference to a book for almost any topic of conversation. Bob liked the idea and the store became an official site for Bookmarks IV in September. As the photos show, his staff of volunteers had a grand time creating a display for the bookmarks. When I visited the store to see it first hand, a volunteer wanted to know the history of the project and how the store got involved. She said that customers were pleased to get a special bookmark and interested to know how the bookstore ended up with the likes of the Tate Library and the Yale Center for British Art as a distribution site.
Bookmarks from projects I, II and III were displayed at Purdue University’s Stewart Center Gallery last spring. Sarah Bodman wrote an article, “Bookmarks: Infiltrating the Library System,” that appeared in The Art Book, v. 12, no. 1, Feb. 2005, p. 54-55 (may be available from your library). The project web sites provide the best information and views of the bookmarks as well as statements by some of the artists.
But back to the bookmarks. The range of creativity and craftsmanship is truly remarkable. As Sarah observes in her commentary, the bookmarks are made “from various media from paintings, photography, embroidery, digital print, rubber stamps, hand drawn, photocopied, folded, cut, sewn, or knitted” or “images from video stills, fake foxing, cyanotypes made in the Italian sunshine, screenprints and photocopies, to digital prints, hand embroidery and paintings.”
Some artists use the typical size of about 2 x 7” as a small canvas. The usual approach is to use themes or styles from other works by the artist but translate them into a smaller space, thus introducing a new constraint (Celia Jackson, Dorothea Fleiss, Catherine Cronin, Na Rae Kim, Stephen Le Winter). Others play on the idea of reading and marking text, or wayfinding (Vikki Hill, Imi Maufe, Vicky Fullick), some literally leaving marks on books (Carinna Parraman, David Kirby). Some artists create elaborate constructions—a box, weaving of paper or fabric, intricate cutouts (Mette Ambeck, Deb Rindl, Emily Burnett). Another theme plays on the idea of items left behind, using tickets, maps, or other found objects to create the bookmark (Marian Cronin, Suda Perera, Georgina Littlejohn, Mr. Smith, Giles Goodland). Artists who were especially ambitious created mini-books or a series of unique bookmarks on a theme (Kyoko Tachibana, Lucy May Schofield, Nicola Dale, ArtGoes). Other artists invited interaction with those taking the bookmarks. Colleen Tully numbered each bookmark which was part of a complete picture. You could log on to a web site and enter the number of your bookmark to help complete the picture. Kristin Mountjoy invites those who take her ”armchair traveler” bookmark to send them back to her with stories about their lives and culture which she plans to turn into an artist’s book.
Yet another approach uses books as inspiration—as a point of reference, as a source for quotes, or even parts of books (Sarah Bodman, Mike Nicholson, Tom Sowden, Savage, Patricia Collins, Helen Shaddock, Leslie Wilson-Rutterford, Paula MacGregor, Jana Harper). Some provide humor (Jackie Batey, Karen Hanmer) or social commentary (Kimberley Robinson). Others simply celebrate the joy of reading (Linda Johnson, Sarah Brown, Alrich van Ohlen).
No doubt there are other categories or pathways to reveal the joys of these bookmarks. Their attractions are visual, tactile and intellectual, providing satisfaction through more than just their utility.
Although Sarah says that mounting the project and web site exhibit is a lot of work, she is already calling for submissions for Bookmarks V. If the previous projects stir your creativity or you know of an appropriate venue for distribution (library, bookstore, museum), let her know and tell her that BiblioBuffet sent you. And if you do contribute a bookmark, you’ll get a complete set presented in a hollowed-out old book. Lest this seems horrifying to book lovers, it may be reassuring to know that one of the artists, Jean Hart, used the leftovers to make paper, creating yet another connection between books, bookmarks and art.
Would you like a free bookmark from BiblioBuffet?
Send an email with your name, mailing address and the number of bookmarks you’d like. Nothing else will be sent, you won’t be bothered with any mail, nor will we share or even keep your address. It’s a gift from us to you.
Laine Farley is a digital librarian who misses being around the look, feel and smell of real books. Her collection of over 3,000 bookmarks began with a serendipitous find while reviewing books donated to the library. Fortunately, her complementary collection of articles and books about bookmarks provides an excuse for her to get back to libraries and try her hand at writing about bookmarks. Farley’s web site is Collecting Bookmarks (Physical, not Virtual) and she can be reached at