Enter the World of “Dreams”
By Sam Gerrish
Currently on display on the University of Puget Sound campus is “Dreams,” an international collection of book art two years in the making and jointly presented by the 23 Sandy Gallery and Collins Memorial Library. Located in The Link, on the building’s main floor across from the circulation desk, the exhibit is but one of many brainchildren of previous Library Director, Jane Carlin.
“Dreams” is special because it’s the library’s first international juried exhibition — a show in which the art on display has been selected from a greater pool of submissions. In this particular case, only a third of more than 150 artist applications for inclusion were accepted. “Dreams” was juried by Carlin; Sha Towers, Librarian and Associate Dean for Research & Engagement at the Baylor University Libraries; and Erin Mickelson, owner and director of 23 Sandy. A number of the artists featured in the exhibit are based in Washington State or the greater West Coast area, but some are from as far as Norway or Italy. Many of the works are special because they are single editions, meaning that they are distinct pieces that have not been replicated.
As written in the jurors’ statement on 23 Sandy’s website, the exhibition “represents the work of 51 artists each sharing a unique window into their own dreams whether they be memories, historical events, aspirations or even quite literal. Some of the books are quite serious and moving and others have a bit of humor. There are books which reflect personal dreams, journeys, hopes and aspirations.”
This topic has become particularly relevant in the wake of a global pandemic. “We really wanted to identify a theme that would address a post-Covid environment and offer opportunities to explore hopes and dreams,” said Carlin, who has recently retired after fifteen years with the University.
Carlin’s own dreams for the Collins Library have had considerable impact. It might be surprising to learn that The Link wasn’t always a gallery. It was Carlin who recognized its potential and worked to make her vision for the space into a reality, just as she worked to establish and develop a book arts program at the University. “In my mind, it was a high traffic area that could attract a lot of attention and a place where people walk through on a daily basis. So what better place to showcase our unique materials and gallery exhibits?” she said.
In the years since its creation, the space has served as the temporary home to a diverse assortment of exhibits. Many highlighted the special collections, rare books, student work, and archival materials from the University itself. Others showcased traveling galleries or provided a platform for local book artists. While the display of artist books in The Link is most common, shows such as “Sparking Imaginations” – which highlighted the historical development of and contemporary debates around electricity – and “Science Stories” bridged the gap between the sciences and the humanities. In addition, Carlin is especially proud to have hosted the Puget Sound Book Artists annual exhibition every year since its formation in 2011, of which she was an integral part.
“Every summer we have hosted the Puget Sound Book Artists annual exhibit, so we’ve been doing that for 12 years. And that’s really become almost kind of a Tacoma tradition. I mean, I have people that come in that have nothing to do with Puget Sound, but they know they’re coming to that book art show,” Carlin said.
The space has also served as a gathering place for the greater Tacoma community, which Carlin finds particularly meaningful. “Earlier this year, the Tacoma community lost an incredible artist, an illustrator by the name of Chandler O’Leary, and we were able to host a retrospective of her work in May. And there was standing room only in the library. It was really heartwarming to be able to have that show in the Collins space, and to see the community come and recognize her work,” Carlin said.
It’s clear that the gallery has grown in significance to a community that extends beyond the University itself. According to Carlin, book arts aren’t commonly displayed in museums; this makes the Collins Library a regional destination for work of this kind and provides local book artists with a vital opportunity to showcase their work where it can be received by more prominent audiences. A peek at the “Dreams” guest book suggests that there’s a great deal of appreciation for these exhibits by the University community as well. Campus community members, prospective students, and alums all voiced their regard for the exhibit and the many shows that have taken up residence in this space. “I am always inspired by the creative book exhibitions at Collins library. Someday I will make a book,” one entry read.
Carlin herself has received similar feedback, and she feels that the benefits of these exhibits are profound. She said, “When you walk through the space it also just is a chance to stop, reflect, kind of have a creative moment and carry on you know, it’s it’s just really important in our lives when everybody’s so rushed and working so hard that you have a chance to just look at something beautiful and think, somebody made that.”