Unfolding Landscapes: Books and Boxes by Barbara Mauriello

September 25 - October 2, 2011

An artist with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in painting, Barbara Mauriello hadn’t given much thought to how the books she loved to read were constructed until she took a class in bookbinding. She had done 10 small paintings and wanted to put them together in a book.

“I got hooked on bookbinding the first time a bowl of freshly cooked paste passed under my nose,” she recalls. “And the lovely, fat paste brushes…then a ‘bonefolder,’ the bookbinder’s essential tool, fell into my hands and that was that. I was in love: with my tools, my materials, paper, cloth, leather, thread, paint.” She made the radical decision to quit her job and, following in the tradition of centuries of craftspeople, she began an apprenticeship at the Center for Book Arts, on Bleecker and the Bowery.

Thirty years later, Mauriello is just as passionate about the art and craft of making books, if not more so. She now makes her living creating and repairing books, as well as colorful boxes that serve as containers or simply as art objects, using the same techniques. She also teaches bookbinding at the Center for Book Arts, the International Center for Photography, and the School of Visual Arts. And she has served as a consultant in book conservation to major institutions such as the Newark Public Library and the Brooklyn and New York Botanical Gardens.

By now, she’s created thousands of books and boxes by hand, for her own projects and for her clients, mostly artists and poets, who hire her to create an individual book or a small edition of up to a few hundred copies. In addition to traditional books, she makes them in unusual formats, such as accordion-style “tunnel” books, with an opening in the center of the pages that forms a tunnel when the book’s covers are pulled in opposite directions.

An exhibit of several of her books and boxes, Unfolding Landscapes: Books and Boxes by Barbara Mauriello, will open in the Museum’s Upper Gallery on Sunday, Sept. 25, with a free reception from 2 ­ 5 p.m. The show will be on view through Nov. 6. She returns to the Museum on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 4 p.m. for a talk about her craft.

Her fascination with tunnel books may be inspired in part by her decision to move to Hoboken some 20 years ago, because she commutes frequently through tunnels to New York. She loves it here, and has formed a private press with friends here who are artists with skills in calligraphy and printing. With her artist’s eye, she is drawn to rich colors and geometric shapes. She admires the work of French artists of the mid-20th century, including Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, and particularly Sonia Delaunay, who created her own books without any formal training.

Mauriello has made books from fragments of fire-damaged 18th century illustrated manuscripts and 19th century contracts written on vellum, and created books inspired by Apache playing cards, Russian constructivist costumes and good-luck charms embroidered on kimonos. Her work has been exhibited in many museums, art galleries, and libraries; one piece is being sealed in Santiago Calatrava’s New York Times time capsule.

Books as Art: Barbara Mauriello’s Unfolding Landscapes Sunday, Sept. 25, 2-5 pm: Opening reception for “Unfolding Landscapes: Books and Boxes by Barbara Mauriello.” Local artist Barbara Mauriello learned traditional techniques of bookbinding the old-fashioned way, through an apprenticeship. Now her skills are in high demand to produce limited editions of special art books or to restore antique books. Over the years, she’s expanded her craft to create innovative book shapes and decorative boxes, many of which will be on display in the Museum’s Upper Gallery through Nov. 6. She returns for a talk and demonstration on Sun., Oct. 2 at 4 pm. The opening reception and talk are free.

The Upper Gallery exhibits are made possible by a block grant from the State/County Partnership program for the Arts administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.