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Sawtooth School Reinvents Books and Community Involvement

The latest exhibit in the Eleanor and Egbert Davis Gallery at the Sawtooth School of Visual Arts forces you to reimagine your concept of what a book is.

“This is an outstanding example of the kind of community outreach that we do that is non-classroom oriented but is still educationally oriented,” said Joanne Vernon, the executive director of the Sawtooth School.

For 70 years, The Sawtooth School has served as the premier community art school in the Piedmont Triad. The school, centrally located on Spruce and 4th Street, considers itself an incubator for visual art. It offers a wide range of classes – such as printmaking, metalworking, painting and ceramics – to students of all ages.

In recent years, the school has also been collaborating and partnering with many different local organizations, such as the Hispanic League, the Girl Scouts and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, as a part of its overarching goal to both participate in and contribute to the greater community.

Sawtooth’s dedication to community outreach is perhaps best demonstrated by the “Artist Altered Books & Illuminated Letters” exhibit in the Davis Gallery, according to Vernon.

The exhibit, which will run from Sept. 8 until Nov. 14 in conjunction with the local Bookmarks Festival, features local artists and some of Sawtooth’s own teachers.

To spotlight the partnership with the Bookmarks Festival and to engage the community, the Sawtooth School invited two local poets, Jacinta White and Eric Ekstrand, to host a reading in the gallery on Sept. 25. Ekstrand grew up in Winston-Salem and now teaches writing and poetry at Wake Forest University. He often focuses his poetry on place, so much of what he read featured Winston-Salem landmarks and the people he has seen around town.

“There was a kind of productive tension between what Jacinta and I were doing and what these visual artists were doing with the texts,” Ekstrand said. “It was really interesting to see how the physicality of the text can be manipulated to play with form and color. Having those different approaches to text side by side was an idea that really excited me.”

Ekstrand estimates that about 50 people came to the reading, bringing in the poets’ friends and families, people from the Sawtooth community, as well as overflow from the Womble Carlyle Gallery located in the same building.

The exhibit itself is composed of two main features. The “Artist Altered Books” section of the exhibit features several different local artists who repurposed or altered books. The “Illuminated Letters” section is the product of a collaboration between 16 different artists who created a line of “Bible Versals” that have been altered to represent each letter in the alphabet.

“I really wanted to show people the range of what you can do with bookmaking,” said Sharon Hardin, the gallery coordinator at Sawtooth. “There are so many different creative approaches. What do you do with books? Do you make your own or take someone else’s?”

The artists featured in this exhibit, mostly local North Carolinians, took advantage of this liberty to redefine what a book is and what a book does. Few of the books on display could be considered books in the traditional sense of the word. What unites them under the term, however, are the techniques used to bind the materials together, according to Hardin.

Take, for example, Martha Petty’s pieces where she has tucked small books into decaying logs or sewn together 880 used coffee filters and mounted them on a log mantel-piece. In another work, titled “Cost of Childhood,” Petty sewed together hundreds of check registers that her parents saved from when she was growing up. She then sewed the “book” into the seed pod of a palm tree found at Petty’s childhood home in Lighthouse Point, Fla.

The exhibit also features some of Sawtooth’s own teachers, such as calligraphy artist Joyce Teta, who organized the “Illuminated Letters” section of the exhibit. She says that collaborations like these are the most fun and creatively inspiring, because she gets to see so many different creative approaches.

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