Hop aboard the Bluebird Book Bus

The beauties of book art, inside [email protected] and a bright blue bus.

click to enlarge Mitzi Gordon and her book bus. - SHANNA GILLETTE
Shanna Gillette
Mitzi Gordon and her book bus.

Before he became director of St. Petersburg's Dalí Museum (his gig since 2002) or helmed USF's renowned Graphicstudio (1994-2001), Hank Hine ran a fine art print studio in San Francisco called Limestone Press. There, he and his staff collaborated with visiting artists from Joan Mitchell to Richard Tuttle to create limited edition artists' books that merged visual art with poetry, sometimes in the form of verses penned by Hine himself.

These days the Dalí director is hard-pressed for time to make art; thus, he's loaned his printmaking equipment to USF St. Pete's burgeoning fine art program. But through Nov. 5, the fruits of his past lives as printer and poet are on display at the [email protected] in "Boxed and Bound," an exhibition featuring a selection of the books that emerged from Limestone in the 1980s and '90s.

The San Francisco studio was born when Hine decided to leverage the two most practical skills he had learned in college and graduate school (at Stanford and Brown, respectively): making lithographs and setting type. First working as a printer-for-hire, Hine learned of the demand among collectors for limited-edition art books by artists whose paintings, drawings and sculptures they coveted. He began to identify poets and artists whose work he admired and to invite them to work together at Limestone to create something new.

Having the chutzpah to suggest such collaborations stemmed from "not knowing that I shouldn't do it," he says.

Mitchell's project with Hine, part of the show at [email protected], gives a sense of the word-image synergy characteristic of many Limestone works. A folio from the book she produced there hangs in Hine's office at the Dalí. On one page, a flurry of Mitchell's abstract gestures in blue and black (printed as a pair of etchings) flutters across the page; on the facing page, printed verses of Hine's poetry reveal the book's ephemeral, turbulent subject: smoke.

Other gems in the exhibition include a book by Ed Ruscha inspired by Mark Twain's prose and a book by Tuttle devoted to early poetry by W. H. Auden. (Hine continued to work with both artists at Graphicstudio.) The latter, says exhibition curator Lisa Lippincott, may be the exhibition's star. Bound in suede and parchment, the Tuttle book opens to reveal delicate pages of accordion-folded rice paper in a rainbow of sherbet hues, each punctuated with a white field containing Auden's verses. In an age of informational onslaught across electronic screens, its fragile intimacy — typical of Tuttle's works — can be read as a poignant reminder of what it's like to immerse oneself in the economy of a poem or a handmade book. "I know there's going to be a day when that nostalgia doesn't exist anymore," Lippincott says.

By sheer coincidence, another member of the Dalí corps launches her own book art-related project this fall.

Earlier in October I met Mitzi Gordon — an artist and writer who works as the Dalí Museum's membership manager — at an undisclosed location in Tampa late at night. Clad in a fetchingly short skirt and tall boots, Gordon led me through a grassy field in the dark to a garage, where she wiggled under the roll-up door and cranked it open before beckoning me inside.

There, under a wrapping of brown craft paper, sat her latest project: a compact Bluebird school bus stripped of its characteristic yellow paint and coated in vibrant blue. (Pantone 301, to be exact.) Together we ripped off the paper to reveal the bus's blueberry exterior, then hopped inside.

Dubbed the Bluebird Book Bus, the project was conceived by Gordon as an answer to her lifelong dream of owning an independent bookstore, a goal that seemed in danger of falling by the wayside as she entered her 30s. Instead of a storefront, she began considering a small, mobile bookstore as a hobby after learning about a similar project that took place at USF in 2008 (an Airstream trailer called Moving Thought filled with art books).

Gordon's Bluebird runs on the same premise: an eye-catching vehicle filled with art in the form of handmade or limited-edition books and printed items along with a cache of commercially published books about art.

That's the idea, at least; for now the bus is a work-in-progress. In November, Gordon plans a soft launch that will take the Bluebird to locations in Tampa and St. Pete, which she'll announce via Twitter. Around the same time, she'll debut a Kickstarter campaign to harness community funding for the bus and its potential uses, which Gordon hopes will include housing temporary exhibitions (of both art and books) curated by artists and book lovers; serving as a mobile venue for poetry readings and film screenings; and educating school kids about reading and art.

Some Tampa Bay area artists are already lending a helping hand. The bus owes its blueberry skin to Joe Griffith's painstaking ministrations, while photographer (and frequent CL contributor) Shanna Gillette was among those who helped Gordon remove the bus's interior seats and transform them into portable lounge chairs. Josh Pearson, whose recently-released book Alphabetto may be one of the first volumes the Bluebird features, has installed shelves inside the bus. And artists Kym O'Donnell and Bradley Askew have pledged to reward contributors to the Kickstarter campaign with works of art.

Learn more and find out how to contribute or where to visit the Bluebird Book Bus this fall at thebluebirdbus.com.

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