Karen Hanmer

Artists' Books & Installation


Review of lecture and Flag Book workshop in Portland, OR, March, 2010

NW Book Art Adventure: Karen Hanmer

by Becky Luening

On the weekend of March 4-7, I had the pleasure of attending a slide presentation (Thurs), an art reception (Fri), and a flagbook workshop (Sun) for/by/with Chicago binder, book and installation artist Karen Hanmer at 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Karen is a prolific and accomplished artist who began making books in 1997 to display her photographs. Since then, she has explored a variety of forms and has mastered the flagbook structure devised by Hedi Kyle. Usually Karen makes limited editions of her books, which she designs on computer, prints with a high quality inkjet printer, and binds upon demand.

Themes Karen has explored in her art books include memory, cultural history, and the history of science (e.g. aviation, astronomy, computer technology). The Midwest and family are common features. Even the most personal of her books contain universal themes, enabling viewers to map the content to their own experience. Karen also crafts absolutely gorgeous one-of-a-kind leather and goatskin design bindings utilizing a variety of techniques. Each unique binding cleverly reflects the content of the individual book. I highly recommend a visit to Karen's website (link below) to view these beauties.

Her website is definitely the best introduction to Karen’s art books also, although I don't mind mentioning my favorites: the flagbook Destination Moon (2003), which makes ingenious use of the back side of the accordion spine for planetary imagery; Ann Black (1999), about a 1930s small-town school teacher and her philandering boyfriend (the top of this accordion book is cut in the silhouette of the teacher's head); and Mirage (2009), a drum-leaf-bound book featuring photos of the Midwest as experienced from a moving automobile.

In her presentation, Karen delved into her artistic development and creative process as she shared slides of her books, bindings and installations. She discussed sources of inspiration, and the long, sometimes complex process of creating a book—from initial concept to content development to physical design and refinement. In both her talk and her workshop, she stressed the importance of making models in order to work out design kinks. Listening to Karen definitely reinforced my sense that it is the creative process rather than the product that provides real satisfaction in the life of an artist. She wasn't afraid to admit that putting her art out in the world can sometimes be painful. During Q&A, she briefly touched on marketing, which, as a professional artist, she estimates takes up as much of her time as art-making.

Although I was already familiar with the flagbook structure, I found Karen’s workshop to be highly worthwhile. The cozy gallery space was just big enough to accommodate a small class size of 10, which afforded plenty of one-on-one attention. Karen’s sense of humor made it fun, and her instruction was well organized and quite thorough. She brought plenty of examples to illustrate problems to avoid as well as successes. She generously supplied enough materials for every participant to finish two books in class (one quick model and one with images they brought) and a third, later.

Luckily for NORBAG members, Karen’s entire flag book workshop is available online in an article she published in Bonefolder e-journal (see link below). Briefly, here are just a few flagbook-making tips I learned:

Finally, I want to acknowledge Portland's 23Sandy, a wonderful little gallery that features regular book art exhibits (check their website for calls for submissions). Owner Laura Russell, a book artist and photographer herself, was responsible for bringing Karen Hanmer to town. This little flurry of book arts activity was a most excellent way for me to connect to the Portland book Arts community!


Karen Hanmer's website: http://www.karenhanmer.com/

Karen's flagbook article: http://www.karenhanmer.com/reviews/documents/BF_Flag05.pdf

Bonefolder open access e-journal: http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder/

23Sandy Gallery: http://www.23sandy.com