The Alternative Field Guide (Review)

The Lloyd Library inspires imaginative works of art

Nov 19, 2008 at 2:06 pm

The Lloyd Library doesn’t receive as much foot traffic as the public library a few blocks away. Most people probably don’t realize that its quiet Plum Street building houses a phenomenal collection of medical, botanical, natural history and travel books dating as far back as the 15th century. Although it’s highly specialized, the Lloyd continues to find ways for non-specialists to engage with the collection.

In July, book artist Kate Kern served as artist-in-residence at the Lloyd Library, funded by a grant from the Ohio Arts Council. The library invited local educators, scientists, students, artists, librarians and others to take part in Kern’s residency program. Thirteen works of art, made mostly — and remarkably — by non-artists, now represent the workshop participants in The Alternative Field Guide, on view in the Lloyd’s gallery through Dec. 30.

In her artist’s statement about the program, Kern wrote that she “was thinking of our participants as guides into the knowledge/memories/experience contained within the Lloyd Library and Museum. I saw each of us as entering the liminal space of the library and, while bravely following our own path, also creating a trail to guide others in their own search for connection and meaning.” The interactions between the books and creators are diverse, ranging from emotional to intellectual to spiritual.

Outside the gallery, the library has displayed the original books that inspired each artist, accompanied by their artist statements. This not only offers a glimpse into each participant’s creative process and synthesis of ideas, but also gives a taste of the library’s diverse holdings.

Nineteenth-century volumes on hydrotherapy, or the water cure, inspired Cecie Chewning’s “Flow,” an installation in the form of a shower. Illustrations reproduced on Mylar show various prescribed remedies — the “Cataract,” the “Water Sheet Pack,” the “Leg Bath.” A nearly life-size diagram of the human circulatory system suggests the theory behind hydrotherapy — the flow of water harmonizes the flow of blood within.

Katherine Meyer looked to an 1863 book called Memorials of the Oak Tree and early-19th-century English and French botanical books to compose her highly personal mixed-media work. “The Gift of the Oak Leavings” expresses her mourning of hundreds of trees that were illegally cut down from her land.

Viewers are invited to select a leaf, represented by a card imprinted with selections from the books, and secure it to her artwork by wires twisted so organically they mimic tree roots or branches. The work connects the leaves of trees literally and ideologically to the leaves (pages) of books and also evokes the cycles of nature. In her artist statement, Meyer wrote that she wanted viewers to “change the seasons by adding, subtracting or letting (the leaves) fall to the earth.”

Diane Glos created a “Shaman” collage from reproductions of insects, plants and body parts. She interspersed descriptions of surprising folk remedies (such as eating spider webs will cure asthma) throughout the hybrid human figure. The work suggests the intersection between the body and nature as well as between the physical and spiritual world, the realm of the shaman.

It’s refreshing to see the melding of so many disciplines in this show — creative works inspired by scientific, historical and even medical sources — and the use of the sequential form of the book to inspire non-sequential, non-narrative responses.

Most of all, in this age of electronic media, it’s thrilling to see people reveling in the joy of the book.

THE ALTERNATIVE FIELD GUIDE continues at the Lloyd Library and Museum through Dec. 30. Get gallery details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.