On Saturday afternoon, at the Haughville Public Library, they invited people to do something that would ordinarily get you kicked out: draw, paint, cut, paste, stamp and poke holes in the books. It was the first event in the IMCPL’s “Altered Books Collage” series: workshops will be held this month and through February at branches around the city.
Though the process of intentionally altering books has existed for centuries (fun word alert: A “palimpsest” was a papyrus or parchment manuscript that had been written on more than once, usually by washing or scraping away the earlier text.), the practice is now enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity. Retailers like Michael’s and Archiver’s are beginning to stock supplies for the latter-day book alterer, and a Google search for “altered books” turns up some 14 million results. (“Palimpsest,” sadly, nets a mere 704,000.) People are altering books right and left.
Careful word choice that: “alter.” It’s clear and precise, yet tactfully void of any qualitative judgment. In the case of Liza Hyatt, presenter of Saturday’s workshop, her alteration of Letters to a Young Poet was loving and artful. She took what Rilke had written and carried the dialogue further, using and embellishing the pages to express everything the words have meant to her over the years. What I did to my book, by comparison, could have been filed under Vandalism.
Liza says that’s OK: “Think of this as an experiment. What you make doesn’t have to be perfect.” She and co-presenter Stephanie Robertson welcome anyone to come try out the art of altering books — it’s fun, it’s free and it’s a good way to save an old book from the dumpster. Besides, if you use a little more patience and skill than I did, you could end up with something worth showing off. Poke around online for inspiring examples, and register for upcoming sessions by calling 317-275-4410.