Wearing Books: An Artistic, Literary Adventure

posted on: April 21, 2014


Books to wear

Do you love books so much you feel as though you’re wrapped up in them or part of the scene they conjure? Do you feel you’ve become one of the characters?  Recently I jumped at the chance to, literally, become part of a book.  This was an artistic as well as literary project that was part of an anthropological, border crossing series of workshops and events.

 Rolando  Estévez ,  an internationally renowned book artist, was coming to the University of Michigan. With a passion to create books, Estévez  found a way around the meager supplies available in his native Cuba by using the simplest materials. He created works of book art from butcher and craft paper, recycled objects, drawn images, cloth, sand, pebbles, lace, string, stones. Each book is part of small edition of less than 200 individually hand produced works and is filled with stories, poems, or essays written in both Spanish and English.  The University bought one of his art works and a fashion show of wearable books was part of its presentation, the community invited to be part of the event.

Dr. Ruth Behar,  one of his authors as well as a writing buddy and friend of mine had arranged a series of events: art openings, lectures on his studio and publishing company, exhibitions of his work, and a workshop making wearable books to be presented at a fashion show.

Art and Books! Two great loves. How could I resist? What could I make? I decided on a scarf and immediately the shape of a snake came to mind. And then to go with it, a purse with the flap fashioned as a snake’s head.  I’ve always loved craft paper and cardboard, especially the crenulated lines between the boards.

The workshop was at the University of Michigan. There was a huge table full of boxes of paste, scissors, glue, tape, rolls of paper of all colors, textures, and patterns.  Estévez suggested I make a book for the bag, and add a few decorative elements for the snake.

Of course, I wrote a story on the back of the snake.



I copied poems in both Spanish and English for the book and decided to illustrate them. Here’s one of the poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez and my illustration in the book.




A naked woman

Running mad through the pure night!



Then came the big day.  I wrote a story on the back of the snake.  The poems copied and illustrated for the book which was carefully placed in the bag. At the Graduate Library, we did our fashion show of wearable clothes: a paper tank top with scads of small origami cranes each with a word nestled inside, a skirt of paper strips with words on them, and books hanging from the waist, a shirt with paper pamphlet books pasted on it, a headband with a book dangling.

Then Estévez  entered with a gigantic knapsack looped over his shoulder, placed it on the floor, and with a flourish, opened it. He unwrapped a life-size image representing Hemingway as an angel swathed in fishnets, which he draped from the ceiling.

Hemingway by Estevez

During the period Hemingway lived in Cuba he wrote Old Man and The Sea and received the Nobel Prize. Estévez, with Ruth translating, told us the stories that still swirl about Hemingway in Cuba and how elements of them and his life in Cuba were incorporated in the work.  Afterward, there was a reception and exhibition of other works by Estévez.

Ruth and Estevez

As I went home, the snake with its story and the purse with its illustrated book in a tote, I thought about the compelling urge we humans have to create.  It’s so much a part of the essence of our humanity for throughout all history we have left artifacts of our art. Regardless of meagerness and scarcity of materials, we  use our hands and imagination to invent. Whether it’s music, art, words, we understand life by inventing ways to make sense and meaning. Our imaginations are boundless.  Our need for meaning ceaseless.






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