Workshop teaches how to make books beautiful again
Mon, 08/08/2005 - 1:00pm | Melissa Merli
URBANA – Through the last few centuries people have altered – some would say defaced – books. They've scrawled over pages with crayon, sliced out photographs and pictures, or added text such as family data to Bibles.
Artists have taken the practice to a different and more conscious level, creating artworks of altered books. The trend picked up after 1980, when Thames and Hudson published the first trade edition of London artist Tom Phillips' altered book, "The Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel." It became a cult classic.
Phillips created "The Humument" by painting or drawing over the pages of "The Human Document," a forgotten Victorian novel by W. H. Mallock that Phillips had chanced upon and for which he paid a pittance.
"I plundered, mined and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lurk within its walls of words," he wrote.
"As I worked on it, I replaced the text I'd stripped away with visual images of all kinds. It began to tell and depict, among other memories, dreams and reflections, the sad story of Bill Toge, one of love's casualties."
"The Humument" fascinated Urbana resident Cope Cumpston, even though altering books goes against her professional instincts. She works as art director at the University of Illinois Press, where a co-worker told her, after seeing a copy of "The Humument" on Cumpston's desk, "I can't tell you how offended I am by that book."
Unlike other altered-book artists, Cumpston can't bring herself to remove pages or alter the text of a book. But she still has gone ahead to alter in a limited fashion a discarded library copy of "The Years" by Virginia Woolf.
"I made a collage on the end papers of where I am in my life now," Cumpston said. "I cut windows to show words on the first page and the last page of the book; I just happened to find words that were significant, so I cut out the little windows.
"I left all the text intact and will decorate only the display pages."
To get tips on how to embellish the pages, Cumpston attended a recent workshop on altered books taught by Sandra Ahten at the Independent Media Center in Urbana.
The International Society of Altered Book Artists describes an altered book "any book, old or new that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art." The society said they can be re-bound, painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged in, gold-leafed, rubber-stamped, drilled or otherwise adorned.