Still Growing: ABC Presents The Sixth Annual Octavofest

October in Cleveland is time to celebrate book and paper arts with Octavofest. This year the festival hosted nearly 50 events all over Cuyahoga County, including exhibits, lectures, workshops, and panels. As is now the tradition, artists, educators, printers, binders, enthusiasts, and the curious came out in force to revel in all Northeast Ohio is doing to advance the book and paper arts.

The founding members of Octavofest are Art Books Cleveland (ABC), the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory and Educational Foundation, Cleveland State University’s Michael Schwartz Library, and Cleveland Public Library’s Ohio Center for the Book. Though it sounds like Octavofest might have been named for the month of October, “octavo” actually refers to a traditional book format, with large sheets of paper folded three times to produce eight leaves. Many rare and valuable books were created using this technique. The event took its name in 2009, but the history of the fest reaches back to 2006.


ABC in the bindery at the Morgan Conservatory

ABC in the bindery at the Morgan Conservatory

When the Heights Library on Lee Road reopened after renovations, librarian Carole Wallencheck wanted to mark the occasion and bring more attention to books and the literary arts. That year the library held a two-day celebration of literature and the book arts called The Artistry of Words, with art workshops, author talks, live music and a Charles Dickens impersonator (among other costumed literary luminaries).


We wanted to show people how books can be beautiful objects in and of themselves,” said Wallencheck. “And get them engaged in literary history.” The festivities were an instant success.


The following year, another weekend-long celebration of book arts—The Joy of Text– brought together the founding members of ABC– Bonné De Blas, Amy Fishbach, and Melissa O’Grady. Over pizza in 2008, the trio set the organization off on its mission to spread appreciation of books as art objects across Northeast Ohio. That year, Heights Arts and the Heights Library held the second official Joy of Text Festival, featuring art exhibitions, poetry readings, a book sale and, most importantly, a haiku-death match. With the founding of the Morgan Conservatory that same year, and the on-going support of a number of related associations in Northeast Ohio (the Northern Ohio Bibliographic Society, local artist-led presses, a network of independent book stores), the members of ABC realized that three days wasn’t enough. In 2009 they officially launched Octavofest, and the event continues to grow. Carole Wallencheck and Laura Martin are credited for making the festival what it is today.


The number of organizations supporting the festival is immense. This past month, events were held at Loganberry books (including a gallery of books altered from their original form into unique works of art), Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Public Libraries, the Cuyahoga Public libraries, and many others. Two particularly key relationships that have formed as the festival developed were with the Michael Schwartz Library and the CMA’s Ingalls Library. Both institutions have hosted a number of Octavofest programs over the years, including an exhibit of local book artists at Ingalls, a folded book art workshop, and a celebration of local poet and underground publisher D.A. Levy.


The theme for the Ingalls exhibit this year was ‘ritual,’ which opened the door to diverse interpretations. Anne L. Weissman’s “Beach Rituals” was a book decorated with imprints of driftwood and string tassels with stones and shells, featuring a poem that instructed readers how they could make their own beach art book. Meanwhile, Annette Breth’s “Coffee Rituals” was a paper maché coffee cup with a stack of crinkled papers (like coffee cup napkins), each of which detailed some historical note about coffee. Others were more visual or sculpture based, like one that was almost a diorama of a Hindu temple, or a collection of the contact sheets of Marion and Mort Epstein.


Louis Adrean, Senior Librarian for Research and Public Programs at the Ingalls Library and their liaison to ABC, was excited to have another opportunity to present the work of local book artists. “It really expands your whole idea of what books and the paper arts can be,” said Adrean. He also appreciates that for many of these books, part of the art is being able to touch the work, which allows guests to really engage with the art.


Michael Schwartz Library Director Glenda Thornton feels similarly passionate about the mission of Octavofest and supporting organizations. “One measure of success in a community is how many creative people live there,” said Thornton. “We want to show the world what a wonderful and creative place Cleveland is.”


None of the people involved could choose a favorite event from the festival: all were exceptionally worthwhile. “Books have been carriers of knowledge and beauty over all these centuries, not just a commodity,” said Wallencheck. “I don’t want to lose the sense of looking at books this way.” This year the Heights libraries, which have been involved in every Octavofest, had their customary book display, a number of art workshops (on calligraphy and making stickers), and organized a tour of the important books on display at the CMA. Wallencheck has been very gratified to see how much the community engages with Octavofest, and how that continues to cultivate a love of literature and art in Northeast Ohio. “We wanted to do something to tie together books and art. Literature is one of the most important elements of modern culture,” said Wallencheck.


Octavo Fest is over, but ABC runs year-round, and always accepts new members. The organization’s annual Abecedaria exhibit continues through November 28th at the Morgan Conservatory.


ABC (Art Books Cleveland)

c/o the Morgan Conservatory

1754 East 47th St.

Cleveland, OH 44103