News Column

Why did the book cross the bridge? To realize an artist's vision for a project that would span St. Paul's High Bridge. Art on the Avenue

August 5, 2014

By Books/arts/event Mary Ann Grossmann, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.



Aug. 05--West Side history will be made Saturday when Sarah Stengle and volunteers unfurl a mile-long book across St. Paul's High Bridge during the second Art on the Avenue festival.

"I'm kind of in love with the High Bridge," says Stengle, who lives a few houses from the West Side end of the bridge. "My dogs like walking across and back."

Stengle is a visual artist working in artists' books and sculptural objects using found images and materials. Her work has been in dozens of East Coast exhibitions and is in collections that include the Brooklyn Museum, the Fogg Museum at Harvard University and the Morgan Library in New York.

Like all book artists, Stengle plays with form, so some people might not think "book" when they see the chain of 2Å- by 2Å-inch folded paper squares. When the squares are folded up tightly it looks like a small book; when they are stretched out it looks like garland.

"The book is made up of pages from old books, accounting paper, drawings by kids, regular blank paper," Stengle says. "All of it is high-quality paper recycled or donated to the project."

Stengle considers this a process-oriented book.

"So often, artist books are fragile and you don't get to touch them," she says. "This is the opposite. If it rips, you just glue in a new page. I've gotten very OCD about making things perfect and this is stepping out of that mentality for me. It's an organic sort of thing that is going to grow. When it's done I don't know what will happen to it."

Stengle also wanted the book project to be community-oriented, so it has been worked on by several hundred children and adults.

"It's very different from section to section," she explains. "Adults are neat and tidy and kindergarteners glued at wonky angles. It's kind of nice it's not all the same."

When Stengle took the book project to schools she invited the kids to do whatever they wanted. "It surprised me how the work divided along gender lines," she says. "Girls like to draw on and fold pages. The boys want to see how fast they can glue. They can make a chain 6 feet long in an hour."

When Stengle works on the project she can fold 100th of a mile in five hours. She estimates it will take 500 hours to fold the whole book, made up of 32,000 pages.

Stengle expects the book to reach at least halfway across the High Bridge this year and all the way to the other end by 2015.

Anyone who wants to help unfurl the book Saturday should show up at noon at Capitol View park, the wedge of green space at Smith and Cherokee avenues across from the lookout and little flower garden.

"We'll hand the end of the book to one person who'll walk to the next one," Stengle says. "We'll need quite a number of volunteers to extend across the bridge."

After the "carry," the mile-long book will be at Stengel's studio, 586 Smith Ave., where guests will add to it by writing, drawing, folding or gluing.

Stengle, who lived in New York for 20 years, moved to St. Paul from Princeton, N.J., drawn by the Twin Cities' arts scene and resources such as Minnesota Center for Books Arts in Minneapolis. Also, she likes winter. The Midwest is familiar to her because, although she grew up in Pennsylvania, she spent summers with her mother's family in Red Wing.

Stengle's art is in a current exhibition at the Center for Book Arts in New York and she will be represented in an exhibition related to architecture and engineering at Central Booking Art Space in New York in September.

"I don't like to do the same thing twice," she says. "I'm looking at my desk right now where there's metal jars, plastic angels, toy train pieces, aluminum wheels, 19th-century electronics." All these found objects are candidates for inclusion in her art.

After creating serious exhibition pieces, Stengel says working on the mile-long book is "like a knitting project. It's extremely meditative to sit and fold and glue."

Mary Ann Grossmann can be reached at 651-228-5574

Art on the Avenue will feature work by more than 20 local artists, two stages of music, children's activities and other events.

There will be art exhibits at BankCherokee, High Bridge Tattoo, Rascher Plumbing and Amore Coffee. Cherokee Park United Church (around the corner from Smith Avenue at 371 Baker St.) will host photography shows. Live music at Smith and Baker begins at 6 p.m. with bands including Independent Progress, Ranger Ranger, Crash Cuddle, Mary Allen & the Percolators. A 7:30 p.m. bicycle scavenger hunt will be hosted by Capital Deals bike shop.

The event is organized by West Side Community Organization and sponsored by Nomadic Press with funding from the arts and cultural heritage fund through grants from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and the Minnesota State Arts Board. For a list of activities go to stubbornlylocal.com/ArtontheAvenue.

What: Art on the Avenue community art and music festival

When: Noon-10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Smith Avenue from the West Side end of the High Bridge in St. Paul to Dodd Road in West St. Paul

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


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