I’ve been hemming and hawing about how best to share this thing with you. Even with Sarah’s excellent photography, it’s just a lot more difficult to explain how it works when I can’t hold the book out into space and demonstrate in real time. It’s a problem with every artist book out there—an interactive sculpture, complete with moving parts, that also happens to tell a story is just dern hard to document.
So for now, I’m going to go through the mechanics of the thing, step by step, and go into the whys and wherefores in other posts. And for those of you who might not be familiar with the term artist book, you’re going to find out really quickly that this isn’t your basic hardcover book. The definition of “artist book” is way too broad to go into within this post (click the above link to go to what I wrote on my F.A.Q. about it), but I’m hoping that by the time you get to the bottom of this post, you’ll have an idea of just how broad the term can be—and what crazy things can happily fall into the category.
Okay, let’s start with the box. When it’s all closed up, Local Conditions is almost a cube (a 10-inch cube that’s heavy enough to be hiding a sack or two of flour inside). On the topmost face of the box is the frontispiece, containing the title and a topographic map illustration of the summit of Mt. Rainier.
The north, south, east and west sides of the box are faced with illustrations of the corresponding faces of Rainier, each depicting the mountain at sunset.
(That’s the eastern face on the left, and the north face beside it.)
Now, those two little bone clasps hold the thing together, and when you flick them out of their loops,
the book opens up, revealing a chest of drawers. Keep pulling on the flap you just raised,
and you’ll find that you can take the whole outer wrapper off and read the colophon (see below) printed on the inside.
The other panels on the wrapper include detailed instructions on everything the book does.
Next, let’s open the drawers—nested in the bottom one you’ll find a Viewing Box (yeah, I know … a box, within a box, within a box … sorry.) that consists of a window, a background panel, and two tabs that stick out from either side.
The tabs match up with the grooved unit at the top of the chest of drawers, and the Viewing Box slides into place.
So now the box is fully expanded, and the book is assembled for use. Now comes the fun part.
Take a closer look at the Viewing Box, and open the top two drawers.
Inside the drawers you’ll find a series of cut-out cards, each printed with a different image. These little image flats slide right into the slots of the Viewing Box,
and face out the window to form an instant picture—kind of like an old-fashioned stage set.
Now here’s the thing:
There are 120 flats to choose from. One hundred and twenty. Each one hand-printed, hand-painted, hand-cut.
By combining, layering and switching the flats in and out of the Viewing Box, you can create seemingly endless scenes of Mt Rainier. I came up with one hundred, and documented them as part of the book (again, I’ll elaborate later), but I’m more interested in how many you can dream up.
(Hint: a lot. Thousands. Millions. To be precise, 1.4 x 1015, or 1.4 quintillion, if you really wanted to push the envelope.)
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Local Conditions: One Hundred Views of Mt. Rainier (At Least)
Edition size: 26 numbered books and 5 roman-numeraled artist proofs
Book size: 10 x 8 x 8 inches when closed
Viewing window: 3 x 5 inches
Artist book consisting of viewing box and 120 image flats, illustrated and compiled from data collected in person, on location, over the course of two years. Housed in a set of drawers with nested stab-bound book and Japanese-style outer wrapper. Images and maps are hand-drawn, letterpress printed and individually hand-painted with watercolor. All image flats are hand-cut.
Edited to add (November 2011): As a supplement to the artist book, I also created a suite of 15 limited-edition letterpress prints, featuring some of my favorite scenes from the book. Just like the flats in the book, each print is letterpress printed and hand-painted with watercolor. You can find all 15 prints in the shop.
Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1759 – 1849) is perhaps best known for his seminal works, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji. The two series of woodblock prints, published from 1829 to circa 1847, depict the sacred peak within the context of landscapes and scenes of daily life. At the heart of the series is Hokusai’s own obsession with immortality, and his fascination with Fuji’s eternal presence.
Therein lies the rub: Fuji is anything but eternal. Beyond the usual, abstract geologic transience of eroding rock and drifting continents, Fuji is an active stratovolcano. Its days—and those of the lives and lands at its base—are numbered.
Here in Washington state, just forty miles southeast of my home, lies Fuji’s taller, more volatile, American twin. Variously named Tacobet, Tahoma and Ti’Swaq’, among others, by the region’s indigenous peoples, or simply “The Mountain” by contemporary locals—its most arbitrary moniker, coined in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver, is the one that stuck: Mount Rainier.
It’s easy to forget Rainier’s impermanence. It has presided over thousands of years of indigenous culture, followed by the encroachment and permanent occupation of white settlers. It oversaw the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the fever of the Klondike Gold Rush, the splendor of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. It stood in judgment while the American descendants of Hokusai’s countrymen were imprisoned beside the wooden-frame rollercoaster of the Western Washington Fairgrounds, at the internment center nicknamed Camp Harmony. And it has watched the rise and decline and rise again of Tacoma, the City of Destiny lovingly misnamed in its honor.
Yet all the while, Rainier has changed as much as the tableau at its feet. Its volcanic restlessness shifts its form, as our capricious Northwestern weather masks its appearance. It hides, or dominates, depending on the time of day or year. Even we have proved a catalyst, as our warming climate chases its alpine glaciers into retreat at the speed of industry.
And one day—whether tomorrow or in a million years, in an explosion of ash or by the erosion of time—Mount Rainier will disappear completely. I can’t begin to predict the future, but I can attempt to capture the present moment. One hundred present moments, to be exact. If nothing else, Local Conditions is a reminder of the lesson of this place: that here in the Ring of Fire, we never see the same Mountain twice.
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Illustrated, designed, printed and bound by Chandler O’Leary, through freak snowstorms, record heat, and a thousand gentle rains in Tacoma, Washington. Each of the book’s 120 image flats is illustrated and compiled from sketches, photographs and data collected in person, on location, from September 2008 to October 2010. All text and images were letterpress printed in Hokusai’s indigo ink, down the street at Springtide Press. Images and topographic map patterns are hand-drawn and watercolored.
For making it possible to turn this crazy idea into an even crazier reality, many heartfelt thanks to Jessica Spring, Sarah Christianson, the Tacoma Arts Commission, the University of Puget Sound Collins Memorial Library, and the Book Arts Guild. Thanks also to the weather, for always, despite a notorious reputation, seeming to hold just long enough for me to grab the camera and jump in the car.
Produced with the support of a Tacoma Artists Initiative Program grant from the City of Tacoma Arts Commission.