Art Books Cleveland celebrates, collaborates in Octavofest

Autumn in Ohio means it’s time for Octavofest: the month-long celebration of book and paper arts. Octavofest is a massive collaboration among Art Books Cleveland (ABC), Heights Arts, the Cleveland Heights Public Library, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland State University, the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory and Educational Foundation, and the Cleveland Public Library.

Growing tremendously in scope since its inception in 2009, Octavofest and its collage of activities—exhibits, lectures, demonstrations, and workshops at libraries, bookstores, museums, colleges and universities across the region—embodies the mission of ABC, which was founded by Bonné De Blas, Amy Fishbach, and Melissa O’Grady. Their goal was to spread an appreciation of books as art objects across Northeast Ohio. Anchoring the celebration are two focal shows, the Abecedaria exhibit and the Ingalls Library show.

Abecedaria actually pre-dates Octavofest and was one of the inspirations for its establishment. The show had its inaugural year in 2008 as an offshoot of ‘The Joy of Text’ sponsored by Heights Arts and the Cleveland Heights Library. The original show was held in a hallway that is now a lobby for the Dobama Theater, while this year’s show runs through November 14 at Notre Dame College.

For the Abecedaria, artists create works using the alphabet, parts of the alphabet, alphabets in other languages, and even invented alphabets as inspiration. “It’s always a fun show,” said Susan Kelley, office manager of the Morgan and book artist. “People get incredibly creative. One year Anne Weissman embroidered each page [of their book] in a flower. Gene Epstein, also a book artist, agrees: “It’s fun having the same show year after year and trying to come up with something that’s not what you did before. Something new, another angle, something that other people will be surprised and pleased with.” One of her pieces was based on found objects. “I have all this junk I’ve collected since I’ve been in college,” said Epstein, “and I thought maybe I could make an ABC out of that.”

The Ingalls Library show began in 2010. At that time it coincided with talks about rare works in the Ingalls collection, but did not have a theme. Artists simply chose works they wanted to display. Three years ago, the group decided to unify the pieces by selecting an organizing theme. Its first themed show, Travel Journals, coincided with an exhibit of the journals of Frances Taft which had just been donated to the Ingalls. The show was so successful that subsequent years have also included themes selected by the ABC members. In 2015, the theme is gardens, chosen to coincide with the Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit titled ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.’ “The themes that we’ve used have nurtured the creative process because they’re so broad based they can be taken and interpreted in any number of ways,” said Louis Adrean, Ingalls Library Head, Research and Programs. “The artist can take it and run with it.”

Glenda Thornton, Director of the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, had similar thoughts: “This year’s ABC theme of ‘In the Garden’ was bound to be a crowd pleaser as it evoked artistic creativity around images of all manner of gardens: flower gardens, vegetable gardens, formal gardens, organic gardens, fiber gardens, rose gardens, wildflower gardens . . . the possibilities are limited only by the creativity of the book artists.”

Book artist Clare Murray Adams was thrilled with the theme. “For this year’s project I was inspired by the fantastic and oversized plants in Rousseau’s paintings,” said Adams. “I started by drawing fantasy type flowers, then combining them with some colored copies of other collages I have made in the past. I then painted and integrated the drawings and collage images.  The finished accordion fold book fits into a wooden box. “

When ‘the garden’ was chosen, I was very excited about it,” said fellow book artist Tony Williams. “There were several avenues I thought of. I do a lot of sculptural work, and some of the things I’ve done look like Georgia O’Keefe. I’ve always loved Claude Monet’s water lilies, and I purchased some paper at the Morgan that reminded me of those paintings. The book that I’ve submitted to the Ingalls show is entitled ‘Monet’s Book Jacket.’ Under the lapel is a book that includes quotes from Monet, including comments about color, and the beauty of the garden.”

The creative process used by the artists leads them to draw from an incredible range of sources, and combine them in unique, compelling, and unexpected ways. For last year’s Ingalls show centered on ritual, Williams created a sculpture of a scarab whose wings were the pages of the book. “I started off doing a piece based on the DSM-5 definition of compulsion and what that is and what it might look like,” said Williams. “I ended up doing a piece on the rituals of burial in Egypt that really spoke to me. I used lots of images that come from the tombs that had the scarab look.”

This year once again, artists and attendees had the chance to experience how new techniques and the ability to draw on an endless array of other art forms can encourages a remarkable array of one-of-a kind works that surprise and inspire.


Monet’s Book Jacket, by Tony Williams

Scarab, by Tony Williams

Found Objects Abecedarium by Gene Epstein

In the Garden accordion fold, by Clare Murray Adams

Art Books Cleveland

c/o the Morgan Conservatory

1754 East 47th Street

Cleveland, Ohio 44103