- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

Carol Schwartzott is an artist's success story. Her "Kimono/Ko-sode: A Decorative Study of the Kimono" artist's book just won the National Museum of Women in the Arts 2002 Library Fellows Award.

Her work is in the Art Scholars Library of the National Gallery of Art; the Rare Book Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum; the Joseph Cornell Study Center of the Smithsonian Institution; and the Library and Research Center of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), among other collections. The artist, 57, has shown in Washington; Honolulu, Hawaii; Mesa, Ariz.; New York City; and Canada.

She lives on a secluded 14 acres of rural land near Ithaca, N.Y., with her husband, Peter, a retired professor of design. Mrs. Schwartzott worked as a weaver for 25 years out of the dining room and attic of their former home in downtown Niagara Falls, N.Y., where she also raised three children. The artist then studied printmaking at the University of Buffalo and now makes unique, prize-winning artist's books such as "Kimono/Kosode."

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"The whole idea of making an artist's book is to have it playful and full of surprises, like a 'curious thing.' The viewer becomes a participant in an artist's book. This is what makes it different from an ordinary book," she says.

Inspired by reading Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" (1997) and Lady Murasaki Shikibu's 11th-century "Tale of Genji," the book artist became fascinated with Japanese stories. She came across an old Japanese fairy tale, "The Story of the Old Bamboo Hewer," rewrote it for modern audiences with a friend and made 30 editions of it in the winter of 2000/2001.

"The research made me think about the history and form of the kimono/kosode. I had always loved Asian art through my design background and decided to apply for the 2002 NMWA Library Fellows Award. I love Japanese art, but am really humbled by it. I'm delighted I had this opportunity to explore my interest through book art," the artist says.

"I had submitted a proposal for a limited edition artist's book that would evoke the many graceful layers of that traditional Japanese dress. The book uses a repeated design of a cutout kimono shape and tri-fold panels covered with Japanese Chiyogami papers of varied patterns and colors," she says.

Part of the book's fascination is its two- and several-dimensional combinations. When "Kimono/Kosode" lies flat, it pulls out level from its 11-inches-high by 6-inches-wide by 2-inches-deep matching slipcase. On putting the book on its edge with the pages flipped open, it becomes a tiny, multidimensional theater seen through the cutout kimono that acts as a window.

When viewers open the book, it becomes a sculpture. "Kimono/Kosode" has a hinged construction of basswood dowels with six rigid sections, each forming one tri-fold page. Each tri-fold section holds a text that gives a brief history of the kimono. Brad Benedict, Mrs. Schwartzott's neighbor and collaborator, printed the letterpress text on hand-dyed Japanese Yohko paper. She then hand-applied the text to the mat-board surface that serves as a holder and "frame" for the book. The artist does the work herself, without helpers.

One of the book's many joys is the way she uses papers of different designs and colors. Mrs. Schwartzott says she uses five "colorways:" blue, black, red, green and brown. In the red one, the first tri-fold turns into pages of shimmering gold-red-and-black designs of cranes, stylized chrysanthemums and gold curves. The text page begins with, "The kimono is a distinctive Japanese garment, simple in shape and economical in material use. Its basic T-shaped design, with wide-open sleeves and a wraparound body, allows for freedom of movement and circulation of air."

Other sections cover the Heian and Momoyama periods, the history of the kimono, Noh theater, bibliography of the book and a colophon. She dyed the Japanese Chiyogami papers herself as she could only afford the white ones. The papers feel almost like the fabric of her earlier career.

The artist, who is also an avid gardener, wrote about the joys and difficulties of making the edition of 125 copies in "The Making of Kimono/Kosode, A Brief History, May 2002," the booklet that accompanies the work and chronicles its progress:

"DECEMBER 2001: I rough out a structure, figure out how it will look, if it will work [for the grant application]. It is based on a structure by Hedi Kyle called the Piano Hinge. I manage to ship the whole thing off, including the budget, under the deadline.

"JANUARY 2001: It just started to snow, and it snows every single day.

"APRIL: I start some plants under the lights, get ready for the book fair.

"MAY: I can't believe it. I got the grant! WOW! So now I start the ball rolling.

"JUNE: I write and rewrite, it just doesn't flow sounds stilted. I redo it, hand it over to Brad. We are now ready for typography.

"JULY: I am busy on the garden and ordering supplies. Brad and I have mapped out a production schedule.

"AUGUST: Nancy J finally returns and I order my papers and then the mat boards. I start looking for chopsticks. My veggies are all ripening, the warm weather has given us an early tomato crop.

"SEPTEMBER: I start refining the book format. All of a sudden I discover that the diameter of the chopsticks is too large for the thickness of the mat board page. My next choice is bamboo. I work with it, and it just doesn't fit right. The knobs and bumps make it impossible to pass through the hinges. I settle on basswood dowels. I order 300. I'm getting nervous now. The mat board is still on back order; and the paper hasn't arrived. Then [September] 11 hits and everything freezes. I am worried about the paper from Canada. Finally, about the third week in September the paper comes. Since I have to dye it before Brad can print, I quickly do some color tests, and cut the large sheets down, ready to dye.

"OCTOBER: Things start to move. Brad is working on the type for the text. I now have the Chiyogami papers and the text paper; and am waiting for a warm day to dye it grey. I string clothes lines all over the place and dip-dye the paper.

"NOVEMBER: Brad starts printing the text.

"DECEMBER: The month just disappears.

"FEBRUARY: Work, work, work!

"MARCH: I am working between 50 and 60 hours a week. I finally finish the books and the boxes and am ready to assemble. By the end of March just about everything is done, except the labels.

"APRIL: All that is left is the invitation. I have sent Krystyna several books, slides have been taken, and the end is near. As each book is signed and editioned, I check it over once again for flaws. Nine cartons go out to the museum and arrive safely. A long journey comes to an end."

Actually, this particular journey is just beginning. The NMWA's Library Fellows program, established in 1989 under the directorship of Krystyna Wasserman, makes artist's books like this possible and benefits the Library and Research Center. Fifty supporters contribute $1,200 annually to the Library and Research Center to produce an artist's book in a limited edition of 125 copies. Books created in past years as part of the Library Fellows program are available at the Library and Center.

"Kimono/Kosode" is available for $395 until Jan. 1, 2003, and $450 thereafter from the NMWA's museum shop, or by mail by calling 800/222-7270. This is a unique and extraordinary work of art. It's a good idea to hightail it to the museum while copies last.

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