Annual book arts festival has roots in the Heights

Octavofest: Celebrating the Book and Paper Arts is in its eighth year of organizing and promoting book-related events throughout Greater Cleveland during the month of October. (Referencing the page size produced by folding a sheet of paper three times to produce eight leaves, the octavo is still a common size for printed books.)

Octavofest events range from lectures, workshops and public demonstrations to exhibitions and tours of rare book collections. Heights Libraries always sponsors several programs, and this year is no exception.

On Oct. 3, explore the world “on one sheet of paper” at a cartography presentation at the Lee Road Library. On Oct. 13, at the Noble Neighborhood Library, adults can construct bird houses made entirely of discarded books. On Oct. 24, the Lee Road Library will host a Readers’ Theatre with Dobama Theatre that celebrates book history from ancient Alexandria to the present day. See the Heights Libraries (www.heightslibrary.org) or Octavofest (http://www.octavofest.com/) websites for details on these and other Octavofest events.

Octavofest began in 2006 with The Artistry of Words, a weekend books and art festival that celebrated the Lee Road Library’s grand reopening. Coordinated by library staff member Carole Wallencheck, the event showcased her idea that “books can be lovely objects in and of themselves, and over the centuries have been carriers of knowledge and beauty.”  

In 2007 and 2008, the festival was reworked as The Joy of Text, drawing in the Heights Arts Collaborative and Heights Writes. Enthusiastic audiences participated in workshops and public art events led by Cincinnati book artist Kate Kern. Her month-long residency at Heights Arts, coordinated by then director Peggy Spaeth, highlighted the book as art object.

In March 2008, three Cleveland Heights book artists, Bonné de Blas, Melissa O’Grady and Amy Fishbach, founded Art Books Cleveland (ABC) to “advance appreciation of the book arts.”

An immediate success, ABC soon had more than 20 members, and in October of that year mounted its first Abecedarium Exhibition, featuring handmade books with an alphabet theme.

The Joy of Text was reframed as Octavofest in 2009, when the program featured eight events. This year, there are more than 50, hosted by more than 20 collaborating organizations and institutions from Oberlin to Akron. ABC continues to coordinate Octavofest.

Since the 1950s, when the first modern “artist books” began to appear, the popularity of the book as art object has thrived. Octavofest has, since its inception, taken an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating diverse institutional philosophies and types of programming into each year’s schedule. Octavofest participants look at the book with a new appreciation and a new awareness, contemplating both the history and future of books, and revisiting their own interest in and experience of the book as a “container,” not only of information but also aesthetic enjoyment.

Laura Martin

Laura Martin, a 25-year resident of Cleveland Heights and a book artist, is chair of the Octavofest Steering Committee. Steering committee members Louis Adrean, a Cleveland Heights resident who works at CMA's Ingalls Library, and Carole Wallencheck, a University Heights resident who works at Heights Libraries, contributed to this article.

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Volume 9, Issue 10, Posted 11:37 AM, 09.30.2016