Maine sketchbooks touring US in international art project

Posted Feb. 11, 2011, at 1:20 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 11, 2011, at 2:27 a.m.

Thousands of artist’s sketchbooks, including several from Maine, will travel to the SPACE Gallery in Portland on March 30 as they make their way across the country, exhibiting in galleries and museums. The Sketchbook Project, now in its third year, was founded by Art House Co-op, a Brooklyn-based gallery dedicated to creating massive international art projects.

“When [the Art House Co-op] first described this project to me, it seemed like a community experiment,” said Nat May, executive director of SPACE Gallery. “They’re doing this big open call, and we didn’t know how many people would be participating. As it turned out, they had tons and tons of submissions. Expecting as much as 10,000 sketchbooks.”

The entire collection, gathered over the course of three years, consists of sketchbooks of 28,838 artists from 94 countries, according to the Art House Co-op website.

Several Maine artists are participating in the 2011 project, which will begin the tour in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Feb. 19.

Award-winning creative services professional Dave Weinberg of Freeport heard about the project from a friend from his past, who reconnected with him on Facebook and told him about the project because she remembered Weinberg as being a “sketchbook artist” while attending art school in New York City.

Weinberg has recently been focused on digital design, and has been “sketching” in a different way. He posts photos on his blog using a cell phone sketchpad application.

“I’m using this cell phone camera just like a Bic pen in my pocket,” said Weinberg. “For me, whether it’s a sketchbook or digital sketchpads, it’s about telling little stories through images.”

The president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts Maine chapter, Weinberger worked as senior art director at L.L. Bean from 1999 to 2009. He teaches a graphics course at the University of Southern Maine and works for clients throughout New England.

“With the use of the computer, Adobe Illustrator, the digital, you lose that direct contact to the work,” he said. “Since the day my friend reached out and contacted me from another era of my life [about the Sketchbook Project], I thought that maybe I’d go back and do what I used to do when computers weren’t around.”

For the project, he reverted back to his favorite medium, pen and ink, and simply sketched the people and images he saw in  public.

“I did some time traveling. I went back to Grand Central Station in New York and executed a 40-page book in four hours,” Weinberg said. “While in school, we went on field trips into Manhattan and often Grand Central, where there are perfect models, people waiting for the train, not moving. I find that it’s just like exercising. It’s keeping my artistic muscles moving.”

Each sketchbook is made specifically for the show, and each artist begins with the same canvas — a simple, moleskin sketchbook provided by the Art House Co-op.

“I think it’s an important kind of show,” said Karen Adrienne, owner and founder of ARTDOGS Studios in Gardiner and Art Owner and Circling the Square Fine Art Press. “I think it’s important for people to realize, in a sense, the sophistication of the product isn’t so important as the concept and the dialogue. I feel like that’s the heart of the matter.”

The theme of her sketchbook is “Revenge.”

“I chose revenge, honestly, because I was interested in forgiveness and I think I don’t know or understand revenge very much,” she said. “I’m addicted to listening to BBC at 2 in the morning, and someone is always throwing rocks at someone.”

And that’s just what she sketched — people throwing rocks, or setting them down. Some scenes are ambiguous, and some pages are filled with interviews she conducted about people’s ideas of revenge.

“It just stirred me all up,” she said. “I feel like I did go on a journey, at least physically drawing and writing, putting things together.”

Courtney MacMunn-Schlachter of Lewiston learned about the project from her Brooklyn friend’s Facebook page. MacMunn-Schlachter is a stay-at-home mom who does artwork in the evenings and on the weekends, selling her collage and mixed-media art, tree ornaments, photography and art prints on her online Etsy shop.

“I signed up for the project because it was a wonderfully open-ended assignment. There are so many possibilities,” said MacMunn-Schlachter in an e-mail interview. “I love the idea of the sketchbooks going on tour where people can see and feel them, and experience all of the ways that the books have been altered.”

The theme of her sketchbook is “A Record Year for Rainfall.” Water is the focus, “from floating in utero, to crying and swimming and watering our gardens.” The book is filled with collages and illustrations done in colored pencils, Sharpies, ink, embroidery thread and double-sided tape. And she wove in song lyrics from bands such as Matt Pond PA and Frightened Rabbit.

“I do very little sketchbook work on my own, and that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to this project,” she said. “It’s a great chance to combine a lot of interconnected ideas into one outlet.”

She plans to visit the exhibit at the SPACE Gallery, where the sketchbooks will be arranged on bookshelves.

“It’s kind of like a library of art that you can go and browse through and take something off the shelves to thumb though,” said May.

The sketchbooks will remain at the gallery from Wednesday, March 30, to Saturday, April 2. It coincides with the First Friday Art Walk on April 1, during which the gallery usually has about 1,500 visitors.

After leaving Maine, the collection will visit museums and galleries in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Winter Park, Fla., Austin, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.

Art House Co-op owners Shane Zucker and Steven Peterman are passionate about creating exhibits with a long shelf life, so they have founded what they call the Brooklyn Art Library — a space where their international projects are cataloged. After the tour, the sketchbooks will enter into a permanent collection of the library, where they will be barcoded and available for the public to view.

The barcodes on the sketchbooks will allow the gallery to keep track of the books and record who views them at every tour date and while they are in the Brooklyn Art Library. After the gallery catalogs the books, the artists will be able to view statistics about their books online for years to come.

For information about the Art House Co-op and The Sketchbook Project 2011, visit www.arthousecoop.com/projects/sketchbookproject .

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