This year we had the honor of welcoming Richard Reitz-Smith and Valerie Carrigan as our first ever Book Artists in Residence. During their six-week residencies, both artists were given the opportunity to devote uninterrupted creative time to their hand-made book projects in our newly renovated studio. Watching their ideas come to life was a wonderful gift to our students and staff. Photographers, filmmakers, and writers all took advantage of their lectures and open studio policy, and the resulting cross-pollination sparked countless discussions of ideas and craft. 

Richard's book, The Haiku Alphabet Zoo, has been a passion project more than 20 years in the making, but the original seed of the idea was planted even earlier. "In first grade, I received a gigantic wall-sized abecedarium poster as part of my Scholastic Reader book order. Each letter had an illustrated scene of animals and objects." Richard kept the poster, and years later began sketching his own version of an illustrated alphabet. But without unfettered access to printing presses and bindery tools, and without a stretch of undistracted time, the project remained locked in his sketchbook for more than 20 years. 
 
This fall, when Richard was awarded one of the residencies made possible by three generous donors, The Haiku Alphabet Zoo finally moved from the sketchbook to the printing press. The process proved more challenging than he expected. "I never thought of myself as a writer, but as an illustrator," Richard explained. "But on this project the text came easily and the illustrations were laborious. I think I was nervous that the illustrations would have to be especially strong to carry the book, and 26 illustrations seemed like a very large number!" Unlike other alphabet books, which prominently feature each letter, Richard created a hide-and-seek game within the book's pages. Playful haikus give clues to the identity of the letter hidden within each illustration. "I just want it to be a special moment of fun and laughter and joy," said Richard. "If that leads to an appreciation for poetry and reading, as well as for illustration and bookmaking, then all the better."
 
Although created for an adult audience, Valerie Carrigan's book, The Walk, also drew early inspiration from children. Inspired by her daughter's sense of wonder during their morning walks to school, Valerie drew parallels to themes explored in her own art and writing. "Along our walks, we stopped to observe many things, but it was the milkweed that most captured our attention," explained Valerie. "We watched the plant change color and texture with each new day as we waited patiently for the pods to open. It wasn't just a thing of beauty. It spoke to the cycles of nature." 
 
Without knowing it at the time, these shared experiences evolved into an elaborate plan for an artist book. "My work now explores the intersection of the natural world and the human spirit," said Valerie. "There are lessons to be learned from paying attention to our immediate surroundings and applying those experiences to our inner selves." Valerie created a limited edition of 35 folios and 25 books that combine monotype drawings of the milkweed pods with her own poetry as well as excerpts from the journal of Swiss philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel that speak to the patient enjoyment of the mysterious and the unexpected. 
 
The real gift of an artist in residence award is the time and resources it gives artists to complete their projects. "The residency at MMW+C was life changing for me," said Valerie. "Six weeks of uninterrupted time, coupled with a beautifully renovated studio, meant that I could focus on my work without the distractions of daily life. I became fully engaged in my art practice, pursuing a complex project that would have otherwise taken me over a year to complete." Although their residencies are now complete, we're looking forward to seeing these artists back in our book arts studio very soon. Both Richard and Valerie are scheduled to teach workshops here in 2016. 
 
Maine Media appreciates the generous donations that made these residencies possible. You can help provide opportunities like this for other book artists by MAKING A DONATION TODAY.
 
The application deadline for our 2016 Book Artist in Residence is May 6, 2016. To learn more, CLICK HERE. We also offer a wide range of book arts workshops. VIEW OUR WINTER/SPRING BOOK ARTS COURSES. Summer workshops will be live on our website in mid January. Be sure to check back to see all the new courses offered!