by Cheyenne L. Black
Hedi Kyle is a German-American artist who specializes in folded book structures. Her work has become something of a mainstay in the book arts community as she has given artists such structures as the Flag Book, the Blizzard Book, the Spider Book, the Fishbone fold, and many, many more. Some have called Kyle the most influential book artist of her time.
Kyle’s generosity with her craft is perhaps the most endearing element of her work. The readiness with which she has made available instructions, offered of her time, and shared her most creative ideas is nothing short of remarkable.
In art school Kyle studied illustration and graphic design and in an interview with Alastair Johnston at the Fine Press Book Association, Kyle says that she learned book design such as covers and typography in this program but not book craft. From there, she went on to learn advertising and spent some time drawing advertisements as produced through the J. Walter Thompson agency. Her work at the time included such brands as Philadelphia cream cheese and Lux soap.
Also according to her interview with Johnson, Kyle first developed her craft and style with Laura Young in the 70’s in New York and eventually began teaching at the center for book arts in New York, a position she claims to have fallen into by accident.
Over time, she moved on to teach in the book arts program at Philadelphia Arts, but, she says to Johnson, she is prone to overwork as she gets excited about things and when she is teaching this pushes her to take on too much, frequently.
Kyle claims that giving away her work has been satisfying but she would prefer to see some more innovation as the tone in at least this interview implies she is worried for her structures becoming cliche’d.
This may be a valid concern as the Flag Book, created by Kyle in 1979, is referred to by the Guild of Book Workers as “the single most influential structure in the world of contemporary bookmaking.”
Though it may be tempting to focus on the structure of her books, to keep the folds and ingenious innovations center stage, Kyle says she doesn’t want blank books calling it a “missed opportunity.” The structure exists to support the art contained therein, and Kyle emphasizes the work of the book by using her structures to support and showcase the material contained inside.
Kyle is the cofounder of the Paper Book Intensive, the “annual working sabbatical in book arts, papermaking, and conservation” which is the largest gathering of it’s kind in the nation; a professor at the University of Arts in Philadelphia; and has lectured worldwide on her craft. Of her work, Mills College book arts professor Julie Chen says, “She is a rockstar in the book art world,” adding, “The whole book art community is indebted to her for her contributions and for what she has created.”
Hedi Kyle does not merely push the envelope. She folds it first, fills it, and gives it back to you as a book.
A few instruction sheets for her work can be found here:
More information on Kyle:
Information on the intensive mentioned herein:
The program for which Kyle teaches:
Information on ordering a catalog of an exhibit she held can be found here:
Several structures not seen here can also be seen at:
By Roisan Rubio
Let’s take a quiz before we begin.
In each set of images posted below, which is an example of scrapbooking and which is an example of an artists book?
In each of the above examples, the image of an artists book is on the left and the scrapbook image is on the right. The artists books images are all from Vamp and Tramp. The examples of scrapbooking were found in a Google search of scrapbooking images. Obviously, the examples were deliberately chosen to blur the line between the two categories.
To my mind, this is a classic example of an artists book, any of the works by Julie Chen.
Again to my mind, this is a classic example of a scrapbooking project, an image found on the Intertubes.
There isn’t much discussion, if any, to be found in books or on the Intertubes regarding the intersection of scrapbooking and artists books. In any case, I haven’t found it. So let’s begin the discussion here. It may be that artists book makers are so busy trying to define the term that they don’t have time for an interloper trying to wedge itself into the discussion. It could also be that artists book makers are so dismissive of scrapbookers that the idea of discussing the similarities is beneath them. There a caste system in the world of art and the world of craft.
Art, with a capital “A” has no clear definition. Some like to refer to high art and low art. At the top are artists whose work sells for millions, if not hundred of millions, of dollars. At the bottom is the “art” produced by kids and posted by parents on the refrigerator door. Somewhere in between is art produced by art students, folk art, primitive art, auteurs, and semi-professional artists with or without formal art training.
This discussion will not include the merits of the above classifications of art. I doubt there will ever be agreement on “What is Art?” Artists books and the books arts are relatively new fields in the spectrum of art. They have long be classified as crafts but some artists book makers like to think of their work as art, not craft. Bookmaking has long been called a craft and some in the field are trying to wedge artists books into the field of art, not craft (although it may be both).
While almost everyone can agree on the definition of a scrapbook, there is still wide disagreement on what is or isn’t an artist book. There is still no formal definition of an artists book that pleases everyone—from those who create artists books to those who curate or buy it. Librarians wonder whether an artists book is a book or a work of art. Some argue that it is both, but some artists books stretch the definition of what most would call a book. In 1998, there was a long discussion (185 email threads) on the Book_Arts-L listserv about the definition of an artists book. At the end, there was no agreement.
Enter scrapbooking. Some artists call scrapbooking a hobby or craft. Wikipedia states that “scrapbooking is a method for preserving personal and family history in the form of a scrapbook. Typical memorabilia include photographs, printed media, and artwork. Scrapbook albums are often decorated and frequently contain extensive journaling.” This description could easily be part of an artist’s statement for an artists book.
The line between artists books and scrapbooking can be blurred, depending on an individual’s preferences and creativity. There are simply no fixed rules about can or can’t be done when making an artists book or when scrapbooking. Scrapbooking is the “creative art of taking books with blank pages and adding photos, memorabilia, journaling, and embellishments.” The “primary purpose of scrapbooking is to preserve memories for future generations.” Someone can create art or visuals in an artists book or via scrapbooking. Anything and everything goes: text, printing, painting, drawing, pen and ink, doodling, stamping, photos, and collage can be used in either medium.
Artists books move beyond the traditional book and scrapbooking moves beyond the traditional photo album. But is there an intersection? When does a scrapbook project move into the territory of artists book and vice versa? Is it just a label that is placed on the piece by the maker? Is an artists book made by someone who doesn’t consider themselves to be an artist—a piece of art or truly an artists book? Formally trained artists tend to denounce scrapbooking as a hobby performed by bored women (it seems to be mostly women, but a male can occasionally be seen the scrapbooking aisle at Michael’s.
Does it come down to restraint? Some artists are dismissive of scrapbooking because its makers are not trained in art and because many scrapbookers do not know when to stop with the embellishments. There is a lot of kitsch associate with scrapbooking. So, when does a scrapbook project move into the realm of artist book? When does an artists book become so kitschy that is moves into the realm of scrapbooking?
I have always avoided the scrapbook aisle when I am in a store like Michael’s. But I recently decided that I will start perusing those aisles—not because I suddenly became a scrapbooker or a devotee of the craft—but because I believe all those 12” x 12” decorative papers would be great as end sheets for handmade books.
Book_Arts-L listserv, 1998. Definition of the Artists Book (Yes, Again).
Julie Chen website: http://www.flyingfishpress.com/
Scrapbooking entry in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrapbooking
Art Journaling vs Scrapbooking: keepinganartjournal/a/art_journaling.htm