Art lovers can check out a Middlesex Township woman's book creations now through Sept. 13 at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.
Joan Iversen Goswell's book art pieces were chosen for inclusion in the “Master Visual Artists VII: Preserving the Legacy” exhibition. The exhibition is presented in partnership with the Master Visual Artists Project — a group dedicated to recognizing the lifelong achievements of influential artists in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The exhibit features a variety of mediums including acrylic and watercolor paintings, sculpture, fiber art and pottery, as well as a theater with a video exploring each artist's legacy and life story.
Anne P. Madarasz, director of the curatorial division and chief historian for the center at 1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, said, “This is a collection to honor artists 60 and older for their careers of artistic achievement. They are still working and they have made an impact.”
“Joan's book art is fairly unusual, and the quality is at an exceptionally high level,” said Madarasz.
“She has six different pieces in the collection,” she said.
What makes Goswell's work unique, said Madarasz, is that she often builds something to contain her book creations.
“It's really unusual. She uses found materials. For a book on the Gulf War, she made a container out of an old Navy gas mask bag,” said Madarasz.
Goswell, who creates her work at her home along Sandy Hill Road, agreed she's been creating art for a long time but disagreed that found materials made up the bulk of her work.
“I've been doing this half my life, for years and years,” said Goswell.
“I like to work spontaneously. I just think of something, start to put it onto paper, cut some eraser stamps, find material for collage, or make paper, use or find whatever materials the book calls for, and then make a book. The book begins to take on a life of its own, it creates its own energy, and when it's done — it's done,” Goswell wrote in her history released by the center.
Goswell recognizes the power of art to move or influence the viewer. Her pieces of art are often inspired by a quote or a report on the daily news.
The finished work ranges from classic leather-bound books to pieces that blend found materials with cut or shaped pages of wood or paper.
Each book usually has its own container or cover, fashioned to reinforce the message of the art it houses.
Goswell said she studied calligraphy with Elizabeth Houston at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and fine hand bookbinding with Jean Gunner at the Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Then I just went out on my own and did what I wanted to do,” she said.
“Whether I use found objects, that's yes and no,” said Goswell. “Eighty percent of my works don't have found objects.”
Whatever the medium, wooden tray or calf vellum, Goswell is painstaking in her craft.
She often creates the book bindings herself. Any text is created by Goswell using hand-carved eraser stamps to print the words one letter at a time. A single book art piece can take up to 200 hours of work to create.
Her books come in all shapes and sizes.
Goswell's work, “Pittsburgh,” takes its name from an obscure poem written by Hy Sobiloff.
“It's a poem I found that I just took and made into an accordion form book,” she said. The text of the poem was printed out using her hand-carved eraser stamped lettering. The red and gold color scheme was set off by the use of real gold leaf.
Broken glass, wood and a photo cutout of former mayor John Fetterman made up the book “Braddock.”
“He did so much for the place,” said Goswell of Fetterman, who is now the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.
The Braddock piece especially impressed Madeline Gent, the executive director of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh. Gent, along with Pittsburgh sculptor Thaddeus Mosley and Barbara Jones, chief curator of the Westmoreland Museum of Modern Art, made up the jury that selected artists for the exhibition.
“I was familiar with Joan's work, and I was blown away by it,” she said.
“Braddock is kind of a hot place right now; it's got Superior Motors (a trendy restaurant), but it's also got the Edgar Thomson works (steel plant),” she said.
“Her book presents both. It's still Braddock. It's rough and tumble. The book feels that way,” said Gent.
“She really pushes the book form in interesting ways,” said Gent.
Other of Goswell's pieces reflect past or current events.
Goswell said “'Tongue of War' features hand-cut eraser prints of men and insects bound in wood.
“That's about the first Iraq war, Gulf War whatever George I got us into,” she said.
“What War Hath Wrought” is a fold-out book that comes in its own wooden carrying case.
Gent said, “By directly creating the book, by cutting, printing, writing, the artist is present.”
Also present is Goswell's take on the world.
“There's a lot of satire, mostly satire,” said Goswell about her books. “One thing I know is I just don't want to be mean.”
“But there's nothing funny about what is going on right now,” she said.
Perhaps that's why Goswell is taking a break while she's doing research on her next project.
But her already created books are still out there to be seen.
Goswell's art has been exhibited nationally and internationally in Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, and Switzerland and is held in significant private and institutional collections worldwide.
At the Heinz History Center exhibition, Goswell's books will be featured alongside work by other Pennsylvania artists including Rochelle Blumenfeld, Robert L. Bowden, Richard Claraval, Sylvester Damianos, Dale Huffman, Kevin O'Toole, Susan E. Laansma Pollins, Ruth G. Richardson, Mary Weidner and Patricia Kennedy-Zafred.
The featured artists' stories will be documented and preserved for future generations in the history center's Detre Library & Archives.