A book jamboree

Annual Book Arts Jam celebrates art that thinks outside the covers

Always a city that likes its libraries and universities, Palo Alto is especially bookish this fall. Especially if you ask local artists.

Last month, the Palo Alto Art Center opened its big multi-name fall exhibition, "Bibliophilia." Now other artists are continuing the theme with the Book Arts Jam on Oct. 19 at the Lucie Stern Community Center. Creations on display will celebrate the book in all its forms, shapes and possibilities: some sporting marbled paper, handmade leather bindings or steampunk sculptural elements, others flooding open in a whoosh of accordion pages, photography, poetry.

Besides walking among artists' tables and viewing the work on display, visitors can also try their hands at making miniature folded books and artists' trading cards, or watch demos of letterpress printing and image-transferring on fabric. Artists Sas Colby, Carrie Galbraith and Donna Seager will give talks on their art.

Jamila Rufaro, for one, can't wait. The Palo Altan is one of the newer exhibitors at the jam despite being a longtime artist. For decades, she's followed her muse through a myriad of media: crocheting, card-crafting, fashioning earrings and necklaces from Japanese seed beads. When she lived in Germany for a time, she took up making stained-glass windows. But that all paled a couple years ago, when she discovered the book arts.

There was something sculptural that appealed to her in altering books and creating new ones, something collage-like in assembling textured papers and found objects to make a book leap off the page. When Rufaro joined up with the Bay Area Book Artists, who put on the jam, about a year and a half ago, she was simply thrilled.

"I remember feeling so excited the first time I was there," she says. "I burst out with: 'I love you guys! You're my kind of people!'"

Now Rufaro joins a Palo Alto BABA group every month to swap ideas and inspirations with other artists. And her Palo Alto apartment reflects her eclectic artistic journey. A collection of teapots marches across one shelf; volumes on book art fill another. Ticking away nearby is a clock made from a book about time.

A portion of one wall is filled with sculptural books, their pages folded into different shapes; many look like dolls in dresses. Rufaro made 50 of the books in 50 days for the recent "50-50 Show" at the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica. The project was successful and 25 of the books sold, but "my fingers started burning" halfway through folding page after page, Rufaro says with a grin.

One table offers a preview of the works that Rufaro will bring to the Book Arts Jam. The tiny mini-books made by Rufaro will join the party, pint-sized bookshelves and all. "Some I wear as necklaces," she says, slipping one wee book on a chain around her neck. Some have blank paper inside; others betray their origins as phonebooks and dictionaries.

The table also contains a more serious project: a collection of black American slaves' narratives about their experiences. Rufaro is assembling a Sojourner Truth biography, a book called "Bullwhip Day: The Slaves Remember" and other volumes inside an old crate that's "made to look like a slave pen," with a chain and locks, she says. She also printed out 19th-century posters advertising slave auctions and will affix them to the box. Rufaro says many people don't think about the former slaves who survived to tell their stories; the piece is a tribute to them.

The project has a personal connection: Rufaro recently found her great-great-grandfather's slave narrative at a Stanford University library. He was fortunate to be treated relatively well, she says. He was the same age as the plantation owner's son, and the owner taught both boys to ride horses together. After emancipation, he stayed on at the plantation and continued working for the family.

Rufaro, who has a doctorate from Stanford in education, previously worked as a dean in student affairs there. Now she's focusing on her art, as well as teaching art classes at the Palo Alto Adult School and other places. One of her recent adult-school classes focused on making "steampunk shadowboxes" out of burned-out candy tins. Rufaro brought in clock faces, gears and other industrial objects, and encouraged students to think about color and layout as they assembled their fanciful shadowboxes.

It was clearly a project that appealed to the artist's collage sensibilities -- and to the sense of whimsy that has led her to attach metal faucets to books. One common thread running through her work is that her art is abstract, "based only on subjective associations and informal parallels, luring the viewer to make new associations," as she says on her website.

Rooting through storage bins in her apartment studio, Rufaro comes up with one unexpected find, one potential new association after another. She spots packs of scrap paper, bags of buttons and ribbons, book-binding tape. A brooch with peach stones: "Wouldn't this make a great ring?" A bag of old dolls: "They may end up sitting in a book someday."

Info: The Book Arts Jam runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Exhibits, demos and hands-on activities run all day; artists' talks are 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Admission is free. Go to bookartsjam.org for a complete schedule.


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