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Writing > Essays

Story: Telling

Storytellers communicate through voice and gesture, directness and intimacy. Each has a style and individuality expressed through the art of telling. Artists communicate with the audience in similar ways. Stories can be told through image and text, through the intimacy of the hand held book, the imprint of the type, and the compositions that lead the eye over the space of the page. Whether the tales are personal memories or fictional fantasies, artists invite the reader/viewer to share in the experience of each story.

Story:Telling honors and challenges the traditions of story telling. Just as writers have explored and revamped the structure of conventional narrative, so too have artists who work in the book format. Claire Owen responds to a story heard in her childhood about St. Francis in a traditional letterpress book entitled Honey from the Mouth of a Wolf. In a dual narrative, she recounts events from Francisís life, but also interjects the poetic voice of a wolf that he saved. Departing from tradition, Jim Machacek literally examines the time-based structure of stories and books in Time Card Book. A series of computer printed and collaged cards are filed in a metal time card rack. Akin to the collage technique, the pages follow a twenty-year time-line of a relationship with bits and pieces of remembered events and conversation.

As one of the first forms of literary communication, oral tradition was a way to report the dayís events, preserve history, and disseminate beliefs. Creation myths continue to enrich our present day lives, as in Michael Fallonís letterpress book, How Humans Came to Have Fire. Wood block prints on pulp-painted paper illustrate a story and essay by Doris Adams and Kate Taluga, two Creek storytellers. Long before printing, storytellers used imagery as mnemonic devices to spur on the story. Petroglyphs capture events from thousands of years ago. They still enable the contemporary viewer to glimpse the daily life of societies now gone. Mary Maynorís Coptic bound book of handmade paper uses glyphs to bridge time. From Rocks engages the visual and tactile qualities of cave paintings with sensitively rendered figurative icons printed on richly textured paper.

Traditions and histories are often told through song passed down by word of mouth from singer to singer. The spread of romance languages is partly attributable to the chivalrous tales and lyric poems sung by troubadours; contemporary parents sing medieval nursery rhymes to their children. Songs also recount personal stories, record travels, or tell jokes. Peter Thomas plays with all of those in Ukulele Accordion. The ukulele shaped book is accordion bound into the wood body of the instrument. The sheet music pages are complete with musical notation and a singsong rhyme about Hawaii. Watercolor paintings worthy of being on kitschy souvenir postcards embellish the pages.

Published as an exhibition essay for Story: Telling, curated by Rosemary Furtak, Wilbur Schilling, and Karen Wirth at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. MCBA Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 2, January-March 1999