My North Branch Project: Where sculptural art practice intersects community life and book-making.

I am a teaching artist whose studio practice centers on sculptural work. Inspired by Regin Ingloria, the founder of the community art center North Branch Projects, I wanted to expand the reach of my otherwise insular studio practice. North Branch encourages and integrates art into the fabric of the neighborhood where few art resources exist. Free book-binding and other arts-related events engage the community in a common dialog and encourage collaboration.

I’m now a studio artist at North Branch Projects. In addition to my sculptural practice I am exploring the creative intersection of my work and book-making. I find myself studying the historical use of tablets and book-making as a reference and inspiration.

Mesopotamian clay tablet 3,000 BCE

The earliest tablets were pictographs inscribed in clay around 3,000 BCE in Mesopotamia (approximately modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran). Clay tablets are the earliest true writing material that has survived. Later, other, more perishable materials, such as papyrus, were used for everyday writing. However, for writing that was meant to last, the cultures of this area used clay tablets.

To help protect important clay tablets, the way a modern book has covers, the Assyrians of the 8th century BCE sometimes enclosed their writing in an outer ”envelope” of clay that was marked with a title.

In Rome, the first known ink inscribed writing-tablets were developed. The first made from lime-wood, cut into thin sheets and folded face-to-face by being bent, and diptych books attached at a hinge.

Vindolanda Tablet 343: (wood) A Letter from Octavius to Candidus concerning supplies of wheat, hides and sinews. 100 ADE

Wax stylus tablets were also used. They are wooden rectangular panels, the size of large postcards that are recessed to carry a layer of wax a few millimeters deep. On this wax layer writing was incised with the point of a stylus. The wax could be smoothed to correct mistakes or to erase the whole text, allowing re-use of the tablet. Wax rarely survives, but traces of the writing were often left in the wood beneath by the stylus point.

Examples of styli used to create a stylus tablet.

This tablet reveals faint traces of writing. 100 ADE

Reproduction of a Roman-style wooden and wax tablet with three styluses or styli.

The notion of changeable tablets made with wax intrigues me. Asking the maker the open question: is this a permanent mark or one designed to evolve over time?

Starting more simply, my first collaborative effort with North Branch will be the creation of ceramic and other sculptural tablets that the community can use to bind pages and create protective casing for records of things past and openings for the generation of new ideas. Ultimately we are exploring the notion of workshops where community members can completely integrate their book-making process – sculpting and binding their own covers and pages.

I welcome your input as I explore tablets as inscribed covers and book-making that is changeable and may organically evolve as it moves along to multiple story-tellers or mark-makers. Feel free to comment on this post to share your ideas.

North Branch Projects is located in Albany Park, Chicago and uses the book arts to expand the creative reach of individuals. Our aim is to encourage dialogue between people in an inclusive setting, making it possible for ideas to have a positive impact in society. Our studio community fosters an open approach to sharing work with new audiences and encourages collaboration and integration.

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Melissa Porter About Melissa Porter
Melissa is a sculptor, ceramist and art educator living in Chicago, Illinois. Her art practice centers on human form and simple organic themes abstracted in pattern and sculptural design. To counter the passive viewing habits in our frenetic modern media culture, Melissa strives to draw her audience deeper, encouraging a closer examination of details as the keepers of origin and meaning in her work.

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