Laborers of love
Friends of the Art Library make their mark

Deborah Gorton, Jane Steele, Louise Grunewald, Caitlin Connaughton-Cross and Barbra Klema stand above  the most recent Friends of the Art Library exhibit at the Durango Arts Center. Established in 2005, FOAL formed to continue work Mary Ellen Long established as the volunteer curator of exhibits in the Art Library. /Photo by Jared Boyd

by Jules Masterjohn

Many of the responsibilities undertaken within our social organizations depend upon volunteers. To use Native American symbolism, these committed people are the turtles whose backs hold up the nonprofit world – or to use humanitarian language – the social profit world. Often laboring quietly behind the scenes, these individuals contribute an enormous amount to many organizations’ ability to serve.

Art organizations are among these social profit businesses that entrust numerous tasks to the unpaid – at least in dollars. For volunteers, their remuneration comes in knowing that they are helping to create the kind of world in which they want to live.

One group of community-minded individuals that has gathered together to contribute to our local cultural landscape is FOAL – Friends of the Art Library. Established in the fall of 2005, FOAL formed to continue the work that Mary Ellen Long established as the volunteer curator of exhibits in the Art Library, which is upstairs in the Durango Arts Center (DAC).

In 2004, Long invited a small number of artists to assist her in the volunteer efforts. The initial group that coalesced includes: Caitlin Connaughton-Cross, Deborah Gorton, Louise Grunewald, Barbara Klema, and Jane Steele. Long continues to be involved with the group. These share duties that involve arranging exhibits, creating publicity for their events, setting up and taking down exhibits, hosting exhibit receptions, and organizing the books in the library’s collection.

As the name suggests, the Art Library is just that – a lending library and resource for DAC members that houses art-oriented books, videos and publications. A multipurpose area, it also functions as a conference room for community groups. Finally, it serves as an intimate gallery space for displaying book arts and small artworks.

The group has selected six artists to show their work in the library in 2007. Louise Grunewald explained, “The idea was to balance the viewings of local artists with nationally known artists whose work really suits this venue. Mary Ellen and I know many artists around the country as well as locals whose work is suited for the small space. We have chosen things that are of interest and may be alternative … if we have an educational mission, it is to bring artists to the Art Library who create different kinds of work.” She is referring to art that is unusual; art that is a bit beyond the aesthetic scope of most Durangoans.

Book arts, or the handmade artist book, is a primary example of one genre of art that fits this out-of-the-ordinary criteria and is well suited, conceptually, for display in a library.

According to Grunewald, “Artist books are such an emerging thing now … people are realizing that book arts can be a lot of different things. These books can be traditional in that they utilize the written word and they can be a painting, collage and even sculpture.” In acknowledgment of the excitement around the book arts, each April the group hosts the annual Edible Book and Tea, a fun, creative and usually delicious event.

With this in mind, FOAL promotes book arts workshops for the public in addition to organizing exhibits. Since FOAL began its team effort, it has sponsored three workshops by nationally known book artists. Santa Fe artist Victoria Rabinowe, who offers innovative dream workshops around the country, recently taught in Durango.

In her “The Art of the Dream” workshop, participants were asked to consider one of their dreams and each person made a book using the dream’s content. Rabinowe introduced various structures or forms in which a book can be made. Participants chose the form to best illustrate their dream. The day was spent using photographs, text from magazines, or their own words on the chosen book form. “At the end of the day, we shared with the group what we had made. It was a very intimate and private process, people shared bravely,” Grunewald offered.

Another workshop, “Making Marks: Writing as Design,” was taught by Grunewald, who guides participants through a calligraphic discovery process. “People’s personality can be seen in their handwriting. The gestures of the written strokes are telling a story but without the words. In each person’s writing, there are design elements to explore,” says Grunewald, “and by breaking down handwriting into individual marks, a personality is revealed.”

FOAL has not yet finalized the workshop dates for 2007 though the members do know that three workshops, all relating to the book arts, will be offered.

The exhibitions for the following year include wood engravings by local artist Sari Beckmann; small works by Fort Lewis College professor Karina Hean; monoprints by former Durango resident Jane Leonard; shrines by Fort Collins artist Laurie Zuckerman; and a duo show with New Mexico book artist Paul Maurer and calligrapher Nancy Culmone. Also scheduled is an invitational show of miniature art.

Currently on display in the Art Library are small paintings and prints by Fort Lewis College art professor Chad Colby. The work is colorful and enigmatic. The Art Library is a perfect venue for this type of work, offering the viewer a place to sit and contemplate Colby’s many layered images. •

The Art Library is open most days and is located upstairs in the Durango Arts Center, 802 East Main Ave. Call 259-2606 for current hours.



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