Bound by creativity

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

New Mexico artist Joy Campbell turns discarded books into works of art in “Re-imagining the Book” in the Art Library at the Durango Arts Center. “Betsy’s First Day of School,” “Viva La Fiesta/Party Time” and “Elocution I” started as hardbound volumes before Campbell “w” them in her inimitable style.

By Chelsea Terris
Special to the Herald

What do dress forms, cross stitch and library discard bins have in common? Artist Joy Campbell combines them all to embody her great love affair with altered books.

“I sort of stumbled my way into the book art world,” said Campbell, who came to the art form after the birth of her first granddaughter. Her exhibit “Re-imagining the Book,” is on display in the Art Library at the Durango Arts Center.

“I was taking some writing and drawing classes at the Santa Fe Community College when I discovered a book art class. I signed up for the class with the intention of binding my short stories into a handmade book,” she said.

Campbell was hardly prepared for her powerful affinity for altering books. In addition to loving the binding process, “I especially liked the idea that I could take a well-worn book that had outlived its usefulness as a book to be read and totally change it into a sculptural work of art.

For me, it was a joy to upcycle useless text into a form that didn’t require reading, but emerged as an art piece on its own,” she said.

A native of New Mexico, Campbell sewed clothes at an early age.

“I learned how to do cross stitch, which is very closely aligned to some book binding stitching. I loved any and all kinds of crafts,” she said.

The dress forms that often find their way in Campbell’s work find their origin here.

“My mother was a wonderful, creative seamstress ... there is at least one piece in each (altered books) show that exhibits some form of clothing construction,” she said.

Aside from clothing, Campbell draws her inspiration for her diverse works from the construction that each book requires.

While some of her pieces find form from the title or concept of the book, “Several of my pieces are designed for the sheer pleasure I get from creating decorative folds,” she said.

An avid reader of memoirs, poetry and art magazines, her respect for the written word is as apparent as her love of altering its physical space.

Artists such as Campbell are well-placed in our current, Kindle-toting society.

What better way to explore the ancient form of the bound book than by taking it apart, drilling into it and coming up with a changed vision? In this regard, Campbell knows she is far from alone.

“Once considered more craft than art, altered books have become a rich and widely accepted art form. It is one of the fastest growing art mediums in the world today,” she said.

Campbell’s exhibit will please bibliophiles as well as fans of a good sight gag, for her books take on wildly unexpected shapes. Purists will love “The Heart of the Matter,” a book inserted into a block of Nepalese Seed Paper.

The decorative folds that Campbell describes are found in “A circuitous knot of words,” which transforms pages into a snaking coil.

Finally, the whimsical “Dex Knows,” a tree crafted from Yellow Book pages with tiny books hanging like fruit from its branches, is a miniaturist’s delight. While the space at the Art Library begs for larger pieces to fill its high ceiling, the attractiveness of Campbell’s concepts quickly take over.

She says that the reception for her work is largely positive, because the books she uses lack historical and/or religious or spiritual value for the public and are often discarded from libraries as unreadable due to brittle pages or broken bindings.

“I salvage books that would go to the landfills and give them new life as a piece of art. I salvage the derelicts of the book world,” she said.

Chelsea Terris is a freelance writer and social media specialist. Reach her at

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