As Collingswood prepares for its 10th Book Festival next weekend, planning committee member Pat Chamberlain is trying to help raise awareness of the event and showcase some of its premier guests.
“Two years ago I did this across the street and it was very well received,” Chamberlain said. “This year we negotiated this location and did a lot of work to get it in shape.
Throughout the month of September, the exhibition has shown and sold signed and unsigned books and original works of art from festival attendees. A portion of the proceeds from works sold “go[es] to paying the rent foremost and then to the book festival for the planning of future festivals,” Chamberlain said.
“We have on average about 15 people through [the exhibit] a day, and we generally sell something,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate. A lot of people are coming in, looking around, loving the art, loving the experience.
The artists whose works are on display in the gallery are diverse and talented—and several are local.
Aida Jane Gallery owner Robert Hochgertel shows Philadelphia landmarks in bold, vivid brushstrokes. Haddonfield resident Robert Byrd won a Newberry Award for his fine line work in Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Audubon’s Michael Dooling invites his neighbors to dress up and pose for real-life paintings of historical figures in works that Chamberlain describes as “sort of a New Age Norman Rockwell.”
Still others come from an art education background, like digital illustrator Joe Kulka, who teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. Kulka’s sleekly toned reptiles yield nothing to science as much as fiction in the pages of Vacation’s Over!, which posits that the dinosaurs were not extinct but merely left Earth on spaceships for a while.
Watercolorist E.B. Lewis, of Folsom, NJ, is teaching the first illustration course at the Pennsylviana Academy of the Fine Arts. His painting, “Broken Flower,” taught Chamberlain about the power of showing subjects of color front-and-center in the gallery.
“Broken Flower” depicts a small black girl in a Dora the Explorer jumper clutching the petal-less stem of a flower, her jaw firmly set. Chamberlain said that with it hanging in the front room of the gallery, she is drawing a far less ethnically homogenous crowd into the show.
“We find that there isn’t as much of a boundary of people coming through because that image is hanging in the other room,” she said.
Still others whose works are on display use books as the medium for other fine art, be they the “wild wings lodgings” of David Vissat, who builds birdhouses out of classic books, or the doodles of James Watkinson, a Dartmouth sculptor who finds books that have fallen out of use and draws on them.
There’s even an editorial cartoon from Pulitzer Prize-winner, Tony Auth. Chamberlain said of the artists chosen for the gallery, “some of them are known entities; a lot of it happens through this network of people” connected to the book club.
One quality they all share, however, is their ability to tell stories in their artwork.
“I think art is our first form of reading,” Chamberlain said. “We look at pictures to tell the story when we’re children. They used art throughout history to teach people the stories that are important to the culture,” she said
“Art has a place with all literacy, and I think that’s why we introduce our children to the picture,” she said. “I can have a grandmother and a three-year-old come through and they’re both looking at something,” she said.
“I think that’s why the exhibition is so well-received: because it transcends your level of understanding,” Chamberlain said.