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Women's History Exhibit at Robeson Library

altered books

To celebrate Women's History Month the Paul Robeson Library is hosting an exhibition: "Herstory: Documenting Women's Stories through Altered Books." This exhibit features the work of Doylestown artist, Mary Ann Bowman and will be on display until March 26.

An "altered book" is defined by the International Society of Altered Book Artists as "any book old or new that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art… It can be rebound painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged, gold leafed, rubber stamped, drilled or otherwise adorned." (See:

The concept of altered books has its roots in the pages of early scrapbooks. Scrapbooks created in the early 1800's were inspired by published books that advised people how to collect scraps and create albums. These early "scraps" were mementos, quotes, calling cards (decorated cards left behind at a friend's home) poems, engravings, religious cards, paper cutouts and other ephemera. As the scrapbook increased in popularity, chromolithographs, beautifully colored and embossed decorative images that were used to illustrate books, were produced also as "scraps" to embellish albums. The art flourished during the Victorian era but began to fall off as photography came into prominence and albums set up for photographs became common.

In the early part of the 20th century Picasso and Braque, whether or not inspired by earlier scrapbooks, began using the idea of pasting bits and pieces to their painted canvases inventing the new art form collage (French word "colle" meaning to paste.) Picasso later expanded on the idea and began using found materials to make art in the creation of his assemblages. The artist who creates altered books and objects walks in his footsteps.

Any existing book, hence, can become the ground or canvas on which the artist builds new meaning. The process alters perceptions and ideas about the original book and transforms them into new expressions and ideas.

Mary Ann Bowman, a teacher of fine arts, a writer, and visual artist is a retired art educator, who taught drawing, painting, design and art history, and was the art department chairman at Council Rock High School North. She was selected as a Pennsylvania Outstanding Art Educator by the Pennsylvania Art Education Association, recognized teacher of art by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts for her support and participation in the Arts Recognition and Talent Search Program, and named a Distinguished Teacher of Honor Students by The Pennsylvania State University. She participated in the Pennsylvania Artist Educator Show and was awarded a purchase prize by Bloomsburg University. Since her retirement, Ms. Bowman has been making altered and hand-made books, and working in photography, drawing, and watercolor painting.

The exhibition is available for viewing on the first floor of the library.

Posted March 12, 2010