Book artists create an introspective experience “In Retrospect”

Librado Romero/The New York Times.

Maureen Cummins, who will come to the JCB at the end of November as the Watts visiting artist, was recently featured in a  NYT’s article acclaiming her most recent exhibit, “In Retrospect.” The show is now on view at the Castle Gallery at the College of New Rochelle through November 4.

A collaborative project between Ms. Cummins and fellow book artists Nava Atlas and Ann Lovett, the  exhibition steers visitors towards an intimate and introspective experience with the handcrafted books. Cummins views the book arts as an especially effective means for engaging visitors in sensitive or controversial topics. “It’s an ambush approach – a way of engaging people when you want to explore something difficult.”

Cummins’ artistic process involves complete immersion into historical subject matter,  drawing inspiration from books, photographs, ephemera and other documents buried deep in American archives. She strives to deconstruct social constructions of knowledge, ascribing new meanings to familiar objects and turning old concepts into new modes of expression. Cummins frequently works as a resident artist in the archives of libraries and historical societies, allowing the materials within these spaces to guide the creation of her next piece. Her recent book “Salem Lessons” results from a long residency at the American Antiquarian Society where she was able to collaborate with the poet Nicole Cooley. “Salem Lessons” interweaves Cooley’s poems about the witch trials within the pages of a school book that belonged to an early nineteenth century Salem boy. Each poem is written from the perspective of different participants in the trials, including the accused, the accusers, witnesses, and survivors. The lesson-book format speaks to the reverberating impact the violent trials had upon the subsequent generations of Salem children. Images and further information about “Salem Lessons” and other recent works a can be found at Maureen Cummins’ website. 

Ms. Cummins will visit the John Carter Brown Library from November 29th to December 1st as part of the Charles H. Watts II History and Culture of the Book Program. Her opening lecture, Artist as Archivist will take place on November 29th in the MacMillian Reading Room at 6:00 pm and is free and open to the public. On November 30th, Cummins will lead Brown/RISD undergraduate students on a tour of the RISD Special Collections Artist Book Collection. On December 1st, Ms. Cummins’ residency will conclude with an undergraduate workshop on How to Start Your Own Fine Press and Publishing Venture. Enrollment for the library tour and the Saturday workshop is limited to 15 students. Registration information can be found at the Watts Eventbrite page.

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