Every year, USM’s Kate Cheney Chappell ‘83 Center for Book Arts holds their Book Arts Bazaar, which they have been hosting since 2011. It’s a craft fair like no other. On April 2nd, scattered throughout different rooms in Wishcamper Center on the Portland Campus, vendors were selling their various crafts, from sketchbooks, cards, prints, lampshades and poetry books to little kits to make your own book from scratch.
Some of the vendors offered workshops and classes, such as “Turning Research Into Artist’s Books” presented by Maine Media Workshops, where they shared their knowledge of how to transform important, deep topics into powerful forms of book art. Other vendors were promoting their organizations, like New England Book Artists, which is a professional organization that “celebrates, promotes, and supports the book arts and its makers, fosters public education, and nurtures an understanding and enjoyment of the discipline through exhibitions and related activities.”
Many of the artists participating in the event are also part of Pickwick Independent Press, a community print studio located in Portland in the SPACE Studios building on Congress Street. They provide tools and supplies for printmaking, lithography, risography, screen printing, and many other forms of art. According to the Pickwick Independent Press website, “By sharing the burden of equipment costs and studio rental fees, our artists can focus their resources on their work.” Clearly it was working, as all of the artists that attended the bazaar had varying styles of beautiful, meaningful art.
“This year’s Book Arts Bazaar was my first, as an attendee or participant,” said Lia Goncalves from Portmantoad Prints. “I have tabled at my share of art or craft markets in the past few years. The Book Arts Bazaar is unique because it is specific. While I am rarely the only printmaker at an event, I have never been surrounded by so many artists and makers in my medium.”
Goncalves is a relief printmaker, primarily working with tools like linoleum or soft-cut style blocks. They began their printmaking journey in 2016, around the time they graduated from college. In their last semester, Goncalves helped stage a gallery showing of prints by Käthe Kollwitz, an artist who is most well known for her way of depicting poverty, war, and hunger. After graduating, Goncalves recalled feeling a need to stay connected to what they had learned in school as they transitioned into the full-time working world. “I was lucky to have received a beginner’s block printing kit as a gift around that time,” they said. “Since then, I have come to understand my art practice as a way to help regulate my nervous system.”
Nat Shacklett, another printmaker at the event, explained that they were drawn to linoleum block printing because of its accessibility. They currently work out of a small studio in their home, where they hand-print most of their work.“I try to create work that I would want to see in the world – encouraging and inspirational messages, silly references to people or experiences,” Shacklett said. “As a current 4-8th grade teacher, I also find inspiration in my students. My print “Perfect is a Lie” was inspired by observing students (and myself) get far too caught up in their work or ideas being just right. You have to be open to the final design changing and coming together during the making process.”
It was evident walking through the event that each artist poured their heart, soul, and emotions into their art. A common form of art throughout the bazaar were “zines,” short and small magazines that include various forms of art. Some used this medium for poetry, with each page containing a line and giving their poem an extra layer of depth. Others held drawings and prints, telling a story in pictures and colors instead. Each artist was sharing a small part of their story with us in each zine. It was a beautiful reminder of the power art can hold, and how it can benefit people.
“Connection is my goal, both with the recipients of my work, and with my own body and environment,” said Goncalves.
There were real magazines at the event as well, specifically SICK magazine, founded and edited by Olivia Spring and designed by Kaiya Waerea. According to their website, “SICK is committed to elevating the voices of sick & disabled people by publishing essays, features, poetry, visual art, interviews, and more. Our aim is to increase representation of sick & disabled people in publishing and the arts, and to challenge the harmful stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability.”
The Book Arts Bazaar is a wonderful opportunity for people in the USM and Portland community to engage with other members of the community, share ideas, and show support for one another. “In a sense, it serves as a conference of similar makers with a low barrier to entry and the ability to make a profit,” Goncalves said. “I am grateful to all the organizers, especially Annie (Lee-Zimerle), who helped ensure that the event ran smoothly and was well attended. I was able to have great conversations with other participants and with curious and thoughtful attendees. On the whole, I was delighted to be included, and hope to come back next year.”