Artist's Books are one of the ways book arts come alive. They are special because the form, design, materials, illustrations, images and text all work together to create a larger idea or concept. They are so much more than a poem or a painting or a sculpture could ever be because they are dependent on the viewer/reader interacting with the book...you have to experience it, not simply look at it.
Artist, Janna Willoughby-Lohr, began creating artist's books as a student at Warren Wilson College and has continued to craft these intricate works of art alongside her commercial work. Many of these works are editions of one and were created to tell the story of her life and to address social issues affecting women in particular.
Continue reading to hear the stories behind a few of these special books in the artist's words.
Abandon is a hand-constructed mirror-filled box with a retractable scroll built into the lid and working lights built into its circuit board base. A series of tiny accordion books expand from the center surrounding a hand-built wire mesh shopping cart.
There is a poem printed on the scroll that the reader believes to be about an abandoned abused woman but in actuality she is just a shopping cart tipped over on the side of the road. My goal was to shed light, not only on the male or female aspect of inanimate objects but to human's attachment to these objects. This work directly addresses the cultural tendency to ignore the abuse of those less fortunate in our society, especially women.
The "viewer" pulls the scroll out, reads the poem and when they hit the end of the scroll, they read the line: “What kind of person feels sorry for a shopping cart?” and then the lid pops off to reveal a mass of shopping carts tipped over surrounded my mirror images of the viewer’s face—showing them their own part in the piece and hopefully getting them to take a look at their reaction to their attachment to objects and their compassion for others.
THESE ROOTS GO DEEPER THAN THE BIRTH'S SURFACE-- A FAMILY TREE BOOK (2002)
This book is my attempt to show others how my family is put together, you see...I have seven brothers and sisters but I'm an only child. I have step-siblings, half-siblings, step-parents, biological parents and there I am in the middle of all of it. I'm the only child between my biological mother and father but they each had children from other relationships and marriages who ended up being my siblings. I call it a nuclear-family reaction. This book tells the story of how it all happened and contains photos and memories of each person in my family.
The book itself is a case-bound codex style stitched book with the supporting signatures folding out into four large accordion pages. Each of the large accordions has several smaller accordions attached to show the "branches" where children were born from each couple's relationship. Because of this design, it's impossible to see the whole book at once, as parts of each story must fold up to show the others. This aspect of the design was intentional to demonstrate what it's like to live in a family like this. I can never see all my family members at once as they are all part of different families and most are not related to each other at all. I connect all these families together. As the text from the book states:
"I am scaling the center line, this middle link that holds two families together with a love far stronger than what has never held my parents together."
Each block of text and each part of the tree and root images were all done by hand one at a time using photocopy transfers with Citre-Strip paint stripper and a burnisher. All the photos were printed with 80-year archival ink on an Epson photo printer. The papers used are handmade, hand-dyed Lokta papers from Nepal and all the pages and accordions were hand cut.
This book was originally made as an edition of ten. Five of the books were completed and were gifted to the different households in my family so everyone can have one to look through to see how they are connected to all these other people through me. The other five books were almost completed when they were unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 2003.
THE MOTHER BOOK SERIES (2003)
This series of three artist's books are all about my relationship with my mother. She passed away in 2002 and these books were a way for me to have one last little conversation with her.
BOOK #1: I CAME FROM YOUR DREAMS
This book is about a dream my mother had about me long before I was born. A dual-accordion style book, this work is purposely designed like a dream, you can't see the whole thing at once. You go to stretch it open and just when you think you can get inside it, it snaps shut. Each page of the accordion has a pocket and in each pocket is a hand-gilded removable page with a poem and a tiny watercolor painting of a fetus in different phases. There is a unifying phrase that stretches across the whole book,
"I came from your dreams, I became your dreams, I regained my dreams when you died."
This book is made of handmade banana leaf paper, handmade abaca and daylily paper (made by the artist), waxed Irish linen thread, PVA glue and ink and watercolor. It measures 3"x2" when closed, 3"x14" when fully opened.
BOOK #2: SHE HAS BEEN FOLDED INTO MY LIFE SINCE I UNFOLDED FROM HERS
This book portrays the symbiosisbetween a mother and daughter. It is an accordion triptych with three distinct sections. The top section represents my mother's life before I was born, the center section is our lives joined together, and the bottom section is my life after her death. To make this book, I took a self-portrait in the same pose as one of my favorite photos of my mother, but reversed like a mirror image. In the top section, my photo (printed on translucent vellum) is attached on top of her photo so you can clearly see her face with my face kind of ghosting on top. In the bottom section, I reversed the photos so her face ghosts over mine. In the center section, there are two lotus fold folios attached at their centers that fold into each other and pop open when pulled apart. They have a gorgeous springy feel to them and tell the story of my birth and her journey into motherhood. The overarching theme is summed up in this line from the book:
"We were one. Then we were two. Now we are one once again."
This book is made from handmade silk sisal paper, coated cardstock (to give it a leathery appearance), photo paper and corners, vellum, copper wire ribbon, PVA glue and ink. It measures 3"x3" when closed, 3"x10" when opened.
BOOK #3: OH MY MAMA LOVELY
This book aims to show the love between a mother and daughter and how it continues to change and "bloom" as years pass. The general structure of this book is based on lotus folds but there are five lotus structures all glued together that fold into each other over and over until the book is closed. Then they unfold from each other over and over to open it. It is reminiscent of lotus flowers opening and blooming in the structure and the feel. The text throughout the book is like a conversation between mother an daughter with each part of the dialogue attached to the inside of each lotus. It is stored in a matching handmade kimono envelope with waxed Irish linen thread ties.
This book is made from machine milled, gold screenprinted black and red Japanese paper, vellum, eyelets, PVA glue and non-glue adhesive. It measures 3"x3" when it is closed, 12" across and 6" high when fully opened.