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[BKARTS] Inventing in Color

I wish everyone on the book arts list could have been in Mount Vernon (NY) today. It was an exciting day for books and an opportunity to celebrate the work of many artists, both experienced and emerging. The dignitaries included Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis and Rory Golden from the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan.

Inventing in Color: A Tribute to Black Inventors by African-American Artisans opened at the Mount Vernon Public Library. Ruth E. Edwards has put together a lively, entertaining, and educational exhibition of artist books that will challenge some viewers, enlighten others, and introduce all who come to amazing inventions that continue to enrich our lives.

The show was inspired by artist/illustrator Tom Feelings, who said, "Ruth, you make books. Use them to talk about the people seldom, if ever, talked about in the history books - black inventors." Edwards swung into action and has produced a show in two parts. The largest section of 36 books is at the Mount Vernon Public Library and the remaining 20 books (some are duplicates) are at the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan.

At the Mount Vernon Library, the show has taken over all nine cases in the Main Rotunda and spilled over into two large window cases at the main entrance. There is a quilt honoring George Washington Carver suspended from the ceiling, a window promoting commercially produced books about Black Inventors, and a special children's window where over-sized teddy bears are instructing smaller bears about the contributions of African-American scientists, doctors, and engineers.

The Mount Vernon Library has never undertaken a project like this before. They gave a generous grant to start the project that was matched by local merchants and organizations. It is hoped that this exhibition will be expanded to include more books by more artists and travel to other venues in the future.

Starting in January the library distributed colorful bookmarks advertising the show with every checked out book. There was also a postcard invitation with a specially commissioned painting by R. Gregory Christie entitled, The Color of Invention. It features three prominent Black inventors, Granville T. Woods, George Washington Carver, and Elijah McCoy.

For those not familiar with these inventors, Woods invented a way to send multiple messages over a single telegraph line and, in addition, earned more than 60 patents; Carver revolutionized agriculture by developing hundreds of products from peanuts, soybeans, pecans, sweet potatoes, and even weeds; and McCoy invented a system that allowed machines to be lubricated while they were in motion. His products were so superior to other options that there was a demand for "The Real McCoy." Other inventions and improvements represented in the show include the ironing board, potato chips, gas mask, traffic light, bacteria detection, and many, many more.

Some of the book artists, Cheryl Shakelton Hawkins in particular, will be familiar names, but most of the other participants are new to the field. There is a wide range of work presented and as a group they radiate high octane energy, inspiration, and dedication.

Two of the artists, Simoda and R. Gregory Christie, were recent recipients of the "Workspace Grant for NY Emerging Artists" sponsored by the Center for Book Arts. Their work at the Center has paid off in two well-crafted books. Shimoda's contribution, Debrilla's Lightweight Luggage Carrier, is an elegant presentation with colorful diagrams and miniature suitcases made out of Altoids boxes. Christie's book, A Chronology of Dr. Charles R. Drew, has cross-shaped pages that fit into a Red Cross-shaped box and pays tribute to the doctor who received U.S. Patent #2,301,710 for his method of preserving blood.

Irene M. Mays, one of the artists attempting a book for the first time, has produced a particularly engaging piece. A Revolvin' SIT-U-ATE-tion honors Daniel Johnson who received U.S. Patent #396,089 for a rotating table with chairs attached that could be used in tight spaces, on a ship for example, so that all diners could be served in rotation by a single waiter. Mays has replicated Johnson's invention out of doll house furniture and the table is set with miniature plates and food. The tabletop lifts up to access round pages describing the accomplishments of the inventor.

Ruth Edwards has contributed several books. One of her books has a wicked edge to it. Hello Edison... imagines the sweet moment where Granville T. Woods announces winning the lawsuit that Edison had brought disputing one of Wood's inventions. 

Edwards put in a huge effort and her personal resources to make this show happen. The result is an important exhibition that pays tribute to a part of history often overlooked, has encouraged new artists to express themselves through the book arts, and is introducing innovative book structures to a wide and diverse audience. 

The catalog for the show has heavy brown cardstock covers with a color copy version of Christie's painting. Inside there is historical background, an introduction to the show, a list of the books with the patents represented, five black and white photos of books, and a toast to Black inventors written by Lewis Howard Latimer. Latimer holds U.S. Patent #247,097 for inventing the carbon filament used in electric lamps.

The catalog is $10.00 + $2.00 for shipping and includes a copy of the invitation and bookmark. Sales of the catalog will be used to expand and promote the show. Orders with a check made out to "Ruth Edwards" can be sent to:

Ruth E Edwards
100 Alcott Place #22B
Bronx NY 10475
Sorry, she is not able to accept credit cards and she does not have e-mail. I have a few catalogs that I will gladly send to any institution that would consider hosting the show in the future. Please include a snail mail address.

The information from the catalog, more of Bob Buchanan's photos, and Ione Foote's excellent bibliography can be accessed online at:  www.artistbooks.com/editions/links.html

The celebration continues at the Center for Book Arts on February 21st with "Make a Book, Make History," and on February 28th with a reception for that part of the show.
I hope you get to see Inventing in Color at the Mount Vernon Library or in Manhattan. If not, at least check it out online. It's an inventive and color-filled show.


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