Since moving to Tallahassee last August as the newest resident book artist with Small Craft Advisory Press, I have been honored to follow in the footsteps of so many artists I admire and eager to make use of the amazing facilities FAR has to offer. In addition to working with SCAP’s diverse visiting artists and teaching a bookbinding course at FSU, I have spent the last few months writing, designing, and printing my thesis project in Book Arts at The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
My thesis project addresses environmental and social issues in southern Louisiana through the lens of a marginalized landscape called the batture in New Orleans. This particular landscape is significant due to its hybrid status: it is located between the man-made levee and the Mississippi River, and it has fluctuated between wilderness and civilized land throughout history. However, its cultural history has been quieted because of its obscurity. My background living in New Orleans led to my fascination with this hidden place, and I have spent much of the last two years digging into what is documented of its history. I am thrilled to bring this subject to life in the form of an edition of artist’s books in March.
Last Fall, I extensively examined archived newspaper articles reporting upon a Depression-era colony of “Batture Dwellers,” which consisted of hundreds of residents living in ramshackle structures and homes on stilts peacefully existing under the oversight of the Orleans Levee Board for decades before their eviction in the 1950s. While visiting New Orleans last May, I attended the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University, where I spent hours viewing a special collection devoted to the Batture Dwellers Association, 1949-1958. In this archive, I accessed and scanned correspondences, photographs, legal documents and news clippings that support the content of my project.
While in New Orleans for research, I also spent time with Macon Fry, a batture resident for thirty years, who generously allowed me into his home (and his canoe) on several occasions and shared his own knowledge, experiences, and a personal archive of batture documents. Macon and I continue to correspond and share stories and research findings, and his stories greatly influenced my writing about the place.
Through a series of letterpress printed fragments, the text in the book addresses multiple facets of the batture: its relationship to humans, its physical attributes, and its metaphorical significance as a hidden and unmappable place, or what geographer J. K. Wright calls terra incognita. Batture imagery in the form of architectural and natural attributes were hand-drawn and printed with photopolymer plates and linoleum on handmade cotton-abaca paper. The book’s physical form takes the shape of an accordion structure with fold-outs and sewn-in pamphlets. This structure mimics the riverine landscape and its hybrid status: the batture is always shifting between land and water. The book’s structure, too, flexes and changes in the hands of the reader/viewer.
While residing at SCAP, I have been granted ample space to plan and experiment with the content of the book before beginning press-production. SCAP’s amazing staff, Denise Bookwalter and AB Gorham, have provided invaluable guidance as this project has progressed. I look forward to completing the printing phase of this project in the coming week so that I can begin binding the books, which will be exhibited at the Jim Harrison Gallery in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in March.