Seager Gray presents “Birds of the Book,” in Gallery 3, an exhibition of the Birds of the Bible and related works by artist Alisa Golden. A reception for the artist will be on October 1st at the Mill Valley Artwalk from 5:30 to 7:30 as well as a lively poetry and prose reading by Alisa Golden and Maxine Chernoff on Sunday, October 27 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. In 2018, Alisa Golden received the Isaac Anolic Jewish Book Arts Award based on her portfolio and proposal of “Birds in the Bible.” The award inspired three new Birds of the Bible editions: Quail, Raven, and Bearded Vulture and is at the center of this exhibition.
In 2017, Alisa Golden’s friend Val introduced her to the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s first Osprey nest camera, which was focused on a nest in Richmond, California. As she watched the life cycle of Richmond and Rosie, a bonded pair of Ospreys, and their young, she found story and science, beauty and humor that heightened her longtime interest in birds.
The nest camera brought her new friends, one of whom is Dianne Ayres, her co-collaborator on Letters of Transit: Bird Passports on view in the exhibition. The two artists took weekly walks by the San Francisco Bay, and began noticing migration patterns. Who would be out there this week? At the same time, U.S. borders were becoming tougher for human beings to cross; immigration was already on our minds. Birds, for the most part, are free to move through the world as needed, but human actions can disrupt the birds, confusing or changing the environment on which they rely: water, air, and earth. Because passports provide a record of life travels, they researched and designed visa stamps their imagined bird passports might contain. The eggs represent each bird’s individual nature. Golden wrote and letterpress printed a poem and an informational block for the seven, mostly shorebirds: Osprey, Mallard, Green Heron, Black Oystercatcher, American Coot, White-tailed Kite, and Anna’s Hummingbird.
Birds of the Bible: Quail is letterpress printed from hand set wood and metal type and reduction linocuts on Somerset Velvet paper, stitching, book cloth covering boards, slipcase. Edition: 18 copies. In a Biblical passage, the Israelites are wandering in the desert and the “riffraff” are complaining to Moses that there is nothing to eat but manna and they are sick of it and want meat, particularly the fish and leeks and cucumbers, and so forth that they ate when they were slaves in Egypt. The Creator sends the quail, but there are consequences.
Also letterpress printed, Birds of the Bible: Raven is made from hand set type and linocuts, suminagashi on mulberry paper, walnut Paperwood endpapers, book cloth covering boards, slipcase. Edition: 18 copies. After learning that the raven was the first bird Noah sent out of the ark, preceding the dove, Golden asked, “If ravens mate for life, what happened to the mate?” What did the raven do besides return and fly “to and fro?” She wrote her own interpretation from the point of view of the raven. The center mountain fold is letterpress printed in both English and Hebrew in rainbow colors with part of the Jewish prayer said upon seeing a rainbow. She machine-stitched the lightweight paper to heavier paper with rainbow thread in a leaf pattern, signifying dry land. She marbled mulberry paper with the Japanese suminagashi technique where inks are floated on water and stirred and swirled to get organic waves, the Flood waters.
Birds of the Bible: Bearded Vulture is also letterpress printed from hand set type and linocuts, black Stonehenge paper, acrylic ink-dyed muslin, paste paper frottage endpapers, book cloth covering boards. Edition: 18 copies. The Bearded Vulture is a fascinating Old World bird; we don’t have them in North America, but they did have them in Palestine/Israel as far back as biblical times, and as recently as 1982, the last time a pair raised a family there. The artist was fascinated that the majority of their diet is bones, and they wait for other scavengers to finish before they swoop in. In the wild, Bearded Vultures preen themselves with iron-rich dirt, but in captivity their body feathers remain white. By creating a doubled cover and two one-sheet accordion structures she captured the feeling of unfolding out into their seven-to-nine-foot wingspan.
The Third Light plays off of a biblical verse from Genesis, this time straying into contemporary territory with a look at light pollution and legibility. The Creator formed two lights: a greater light and a lesser light, and the stars. Golden carved and printed a linoleum block of four bird constellations, first in black, then progressing from shades of dark gray to nearly white. Aquila the Golden Eagle is on the covers. Our night lights affect migrating birds. She heavily printed the edge of the paper (that would ultimately be the tab) with an explanation of which seasons we can see the bird constellations in the northern hemisphere: Aquila the Eagle, Cygnus the Swan, Corvus the Crow, and Columba, Noah’s Dove. As with some of the other words here and there, you have to tilt the book to the light to read it. This single poem ends with a haiku.
Judge a book by its cover? What if the book is only the cover? Such is the case with Better Say Eagle. Poems about conformity and power dynamics are printed on this sculptural print, as if it were the jacket and the book simultaneously. The title comes from a poem in which a team-building exercise is almost like a session of team bullying.
Crows at Home is another structure the artist designed and developed; She calls it the Winged binding; square pieces of paper are folded and connected into an accordion with pockets. The story is based on a conversation she had with some neighbors as she was walking home from the store with a paper bag of groceries. She drew crows with different household objects and printed them from photopolymer plates. The closure, made to look like a crow’s feet, is created from wire wrapped with black waxed linen thread.
Don’t Look Behind You is made from tie-dyed cotton with hand-stenciled crow feathers, hand-quilting and cotton edges. It took many months for this corvid-based quilt to come together, and for the book artist to accept that it would be wordless. She turned to a friend for the title. “Don’t Look Behind You,” he said. His thoughts were about an upcoming reunion. But the title works for Golden on many levels. She drew and cut a stencil based on crow feathers I had picked up, and the dye for the tie-dye was called “Raven Black.”
Crows & Cons is inspired by a discussion the artist had with her sister that turned into an art quilt. Just as it says, Golden began by saying,“I like crows,” and her sister responded that she did not. Using a sun-sensitive dye to create images from photographs of her neighborhood crows, she was particularly fond of a pair, one of whom had a bent feather that year. The quilting is freeform crow’s feet. The denim is from worn jeans, rugged like the crows themselves.