MAHOPAC, N.Y. - It’s true that one should never judge a book by its cover. That’s something that can be particularly hard to do if you don’t know what you’re looking at is indeed a book.

A visit to the latest exhibit of the Putnam Art Council (PAC) and you will come to understand “Freed Formats: The Book Reconsidered,” a traveling “book arts” exhibition that features 135 works of book art by 53 artists from 17 states and two countries. 

 “Counterintuitive is one of my favorite words, and that’s a great way to explain this exhibit,” said Alice Walsh, a Mahopac resident, who co-curated “Freed Formats” and is a book artist herself. “The definition of book art can vary. It can be a handmade unique book. It can be an object or sculpture that was fabricated from a book. It can be an object that tells a story but is in a completely different format than a traditional book.

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“Because book art is so hard to describe, we encourage people to come and see it for themselves and experience all the different formats that it can take,” Walsh added.

Last week, Walsh gave Mahopac News a tour of the exhibit, a show so large it needed two venues to display it. The exhibit opened earlier this month at the Putnam Arts Council’s A. Eric Arctander Gallery, 521 Kennicut Hill Road, Mahopac, and will remain on view through June 9.  But even more book art works can be seen at the Third Floor Gallery at the Mahopac Public Library.

At the gallery at PAC, Walsh pointed to what appeared to be a little black cocktail dress hanging from the ceiling. She said it was a definitive vision of what book art can be.

“The dress is made from a building material called Tyvek,” she said of the work created by New York City artist, Beatrice Coron. “Tyvek looks like paper, but it is very tough, and you can cut it with an X-Acto knife. If you get close, you can see it includes words and you can actually read it.”

Walsh said the dress could be worn, but she didn’t recommend putting it in the washing machine.

Some artists played with the conventional book format by altering the cover and/or pages within. A piece by Viviane Rombaldi Seppey called “Flying Words” is a book with its pages sewn together so it looks like they are flying away when you open it.

“It’s very exciting to be participating in this show, to see paper works, materials, concepts, converging to the form of artist’s books,” Rombaldi Seppey said.

Peekskill artist Elizabeth Castaldo’s piece looks like a regular book, but when you open it up, what comes out is in the shape of a star in three different layers.

Greg Silvas, a retired librarian from the University of Maryland, created a spherical paper sculpture made entirely out of pages of Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”

Another sculpture was a pink cake cut into slices with a different word on each piece, such as “slice,” “savor,” and “enjoy.” It’s called “How to Eat Cake.”

“Think of it like a child’s book with a single word on the page,” said Walsh, explaining how a cake sculpture came to be book art. “We are happy to discuss or debate whether these objects are actually books. It is our interpretation that all of this work is book art, but you might disagree.”

Walsh said it took her and her co-curator, Chris Perry, two years to curate all the pieces. It got so big, not only did it take up two spaces in Mahopac, but Walsh and Perry decided to turn it into a traveling exhibit so more people could have the opportunity to see it.

“We spent a lot of time researching and inviting book artists,” she said. “Some we knew personally. For example, Jean Tock, a Carmel artist, has two pieces in the show. Chris is from Ridgefield, and he knows many of the Connecticut artists. So, we teamed up together to research the other artists and when we started to invite them, we realized that the show was going to be bigger than we envisioned and that is how it became a traveling exhibit. It was first in Ridgefield and Redding, Conn.; now it’s here in Mahopac. Next, it moves to New Haven and then Torrington, Conn.”

Deborah Chodoff, who has three pieces in the show, said she was honored to be part of Freed Formats’ “rich and wonderful variety of artwork.”

“I’m amazed at the diversity of the work,” Chodoff said. “Each artist takes the form of book art and makes work which is incredibly original. Every artist takes it in a different direction.”

Freed Formats programming also includes book-making classes for youth and adults and artist talks. PAC gallery hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 12:30-3:30 p.m. and weekends from noon to 4 p.m. Visiting the gallery at 521 Kennicut Hill Road is always free, but parking is limited. Call 845-803-8633 to find out more.