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Old books find new life
Library literally dissects literature
Scrapbooking, meet Picasso. On the set of "Antiques Roadshow."
That unlikely confluence is what defines the nascent hobby of altered books, which involves taking an old tome and turning it into an art project that would make the author shudder but a lover of art and literature swoon.
Yuba County Library hosted the second of three workshops Wednesday devoted to the craft, which is actually hundreds of years old and reached its apex about a century ago, at the tail end of the Victorian Era.
Friends of the Library president Cynthia Fontayne said the workshops were a good way to both involve adults in a library activity, and use books the library planned to discard.
"The question is what do you do with old books, because you never want to throw them out," said Fontayne, a co-facilitator of the workshop with library director Loren MccRory. "I call it scrapbooking to the 10th power."
While altered book fans shun rules, the general parameters seem to be finding an old book and deciding on a theme. The theme can stem from the title of the book, or simply what the creator feels as he or she browses the pages.
Participants in the workshop said it's common to shy away from the gleeful defacement of an old book at first. But whether it's using colored markers, acrylic paints, scissors, glue, ribbons, buttons, magazine photos or any other medium, they said, the idea is not to think of the book as a book, but a raw canvas.
"You rip and you tear and you shred and you cut," MccRory said. "There are some real artists with this."
MccRory helped create a book through a network of friends who met over the Internet during the 1990s. Over several months, she and her fellow altered book fans would send the book to one another to add their own interpretations, flourishes and bits of whimsy.
Fans like Fontayne have a quick answer for any gentle questioning of the usefulness of altering a book. "It's going to be pulped otherwise," she said. "Why did Monet put what he did on canvas? It's art, baby."
Some participants in Wednesday's workshop fully embraced that sprit. Marysville's Inger Price, 35, giggled as she remembered something she'd left in her car. "I need to get my coat hanger thingy," she said. "I'm going to hang my books on the wall."
For her piece, she chose a green-bound book called "Everyone Wins." The color attracted her at first, she said, and the theme won her over.
Kathleen Stewart of Marysville showed her addition to the "U" section of a dictionary, where a new entry with a lacy border dominated the page. The word, "unableable," meant having the ability to become instantly inept.
"I've been accused of making up words," Stewart said, with a devious grin. "When the family questions me at all now, I hand them this to look it up."
Many participants said they frequently practice art of other kinds, and find liberation in the mixed-media platform of altering a book. Indeed, half the instructions on a "getting started" handout at the workshop encouraged altered book artists to forge their own path rather than following a rigid construct of what an altered book should be.
Painter Dalynn Dykstra, 24, came to the first workshop earlier this month with husband Spencer Dykstra, a photographer. Both found themselves hooked.
Spencer Dykstra, 24, chose a photography book, but turned it into a visual statement. On a photo page he juxtaposed a $500 bill over a cracker, with hungry seagulls in the background. Using inkblot stamps, he spelled out "FEED THE GREED" along the page's edge.
"It provides a pretty good release," he said.
Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter Ben van der Meer at 749-4709 or firstname.lastname@example.org.