Gallery welcomes art and literature lovers

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LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ TTN Attendees at Booked! add words and pictures to the story wall on the first floor.

Homeskooled Gallery and Soapbox Gallery collaborated for the first time at Booked!, with exhibits and activities for artists, writers and everyone in between.

On Saturday night, Mary Tasillo and Charlene Kwon had a full house.

The two share a nondescript home on 51st Street in West Philly, which they moved into two years ago. But the home is not only their own, but also that of the Soapbox Gallery, a creative space for authors and creators of book art, which resides there with the goal of providing resources and instruction in printmaking and self-publication.

After meeting Kwon, who holds a master’s degree in writing, and coming to Philadelphia herself to explore the book arts and zine community, Tasillo said there was a “naturally trajectory” with what would come next.

“How do we create a space with our own ability to make stuff, and also something accessible to a larger group or community?” Tasillo said.

That evening, on Feb. 25, their three-floor home was packed with authors, artists and enthusiasts of all creative endeavors for Booked! – a collaboration between the Soapbox and HomeSkooled galleries. HomeSkooled Gallery claims its own space as well, as a destination for members of the art community to share their artistic endeavors and explore contemporary art.

“Ultimately, we’re looking to diversify the type of crowd that enjoys art,” said Ellen Owens, one of four HomeSkooled Gallery founders. “Soapbox’s crowd tends to be book people, people that are poets, writers or book artists, and these people aren’t always necessarily typical artists.”

“It’s about empowering people to feel like they can be artists themselves, and not just view things,” Owens added. “Thinking about all this and who would be interested, SoapBox was a good candidate to be involved.”

Just inside the front door, a “Frankenstein story” lined the wall, and creative juices flowed as attendees contributed words, pictures and magazine cutouts to the group storytelling project.

Venturing toward the back of the house, one encountered a small tent pitched in the corner of the room and outfitted for two with headsets and recordings of various readings and excerpts.

Upstairs, the “naughty reads” exhibition heralded back to visitor’s childhoods, simulating the experience of reading under the covers by flashlight after bedtime. Guests were given flashlights to view paintings, drawings and written pieces.

During the event, which filled the house with guests wall to wall on every floor, Owens said she was pleased with the feedback from those in attendance.

“People are engaged, talking to each other, participating and that’s exciting. We want it to be a comfortable experience for people,” Owens said. “Sometimes, art viewings are more ‘don’t touch this, don’t say that, everything you’re doing is not correct.’ We’re sort of the antithesis of that.”

As guests participated in the literary and artistic activities, the lines between a traditional book reading or art gallery exhibit became totally blurred. Kwon said this was a prime intention in formulating the Booked! event.

“I think that’s exactly how it should be,” Kwon said. “For example, [Tasillo] has an MFA in book arts and comes from a very artistic, hands -on background. My background is mostly prose fiction and writing, and I came to book arts very late.”

“I think that people interested in book arts are people who can only tell a story through text and image,” she added. “We’re telling stories but the imagery speaks more to what they want to tell, so it just appeals to certain kinds of people.”

In expanding its clientele and partnerships, SoapBox offers several resources to Philadelphians interested in printing and book arts. Its basement studio includes a sign-maker press, wood type, book press and a saddle stapler.

Looking to the future of both of the relatively new galleries – HomeSkooled was founded in 2009 – further collaboration seems to prove key in the visions of both the SoapBox and HomeSkooled, in terms of imminent endeavors.

Owens said that although no formal plans have been established, she hopes to hold events with the Philly Tool Share – essentially, a West Philly-based library for tools – as well as Habitat for Humanity.

“We’re looking at other places that have a different mission that we could bring our loyal, excited crowd of participants to and really gel together and get people activated for a cause, whatever that may be,” Owens said.

For Tasillo, the idea of collaboration means more people using their 51st Street space, and bringing more ideas into and expanding the realm of printmaking, through processes including screenprinting and papermaking.

“Largely, we see growing what we started and the idea of having more people involved – more people’s imaginations coming into the picture of what this space can be,” Tasillo said.

And with the rising popularity of online publications and the growing use of technology including Nooks and Kindles seeming to disregard the written word in its tangible form, Tasillo sees it as an opportunity to prove the importance and significance of books and book art.

“With more material going into an online format, there’s more room for the book as an object, as a handheld thing to be a more exciting format,” Tasillo said.

She said she sees letterpress printing – one of the tools that their studio offers – and other printing mechanisms of the like, as a “backlash to digital culture.”

“I don’t know if I’m worried about people reading or not, I think people are reading online,” Tasillo said. “But I think reading a handmade book allows people to slow down and engage more deeply with the narrative instead of Facebook surfing, blog surfing. There’s a question of slowing down and being able to focus on a narrative in a different way.”

Kara Savidge can be reached at kara.savidge@temple.edu.

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