Keeping an eye on war and peace

Celeste Goyer's entry for The Peace Library is titled 'Peaceful Day.'
Celeste Goyer's entry for The Peace Library is titled 'Peaceful Day.'

Atascadero gardener Melinda Forbes, who describes herself as an art activist and community activist, also plants seeds of peace.

She and other kindred souls who don't want peace to be shelved during times of war started The Peace Library six years ago.

For the current Peace Library exhibit, now at Steynberg Gallery, artists were asked to submit their concepts of war, peace and the state of the nation, a mix of politics, philosophy and art, in book form.

“It was an idea that I had a long time ago,” said Melinda Forbes, who instigated the inaugural exhibit six years ago with fellow artist Julie Frankel. Forbes said that The Peace Library provides a way for the community to communicate about how they feel about war and peace.

Forbes learned to create book art through David Prochaska's Cuesta College class. “I dreamed these fantastic tales,” she said. “That's what inspired me to take the class at Cuesta.” In the eight years since, she's been teaching book art at her Atascadero studio.

Forbes coordinated the entry in the current exhibit titled “Eye Contact.” In this collaborative work, two dozen artists contributed a single eye, in various media, on Formica samples that Forbes supplied. She said the work has multiple meanings: “watching out for each other and paying attention to what is going on in the world, as well as who is watching us.” The eyes are not just those of humans, but various animals as well.

Photographer Deborah Denker, who helped Frankel and Forbes with the initial Peace Library, had also taken Prochaska's class. “It's a real fun challenge of making book forms,” she said. Denker has since held weekly classes herself in her San Luis Obispo studio.

Also a printmaker, Denker involved members of the Central Coast Printmakers in a collaborative project for this year's exhibit. Denker distributed uniformly sized wood veneer to the artists, who printed on one or both sides of what now forms the pages in the finished book.

Solo projects include a book by Paula Zima, a former resident whose sculptures grace the Mission courtyard and Los Osos entrances. Now a resident of Santa Fe, N.M., Zima did ink and watercolor drawings for her submission. Some are serious; others, such as a woman with forks for hands, combine whimsy with symbolism. Each drawing contains some of Zima's thoughts or Buddhist quotes.

Books in the exhibit are often in non-traditional book form. Cambria poet and multi-media artist Celeste Goyer provided some comic relief to the serious subject with her tromp l'oeil “Peaceful Day.” It's a cereal box with a bowl containing folder pieces of paper, with the instructions: “Unfold and read, then crumple up and pour out some more.”

The exhibit isn't just once a year. Like a mobile library, it has moved to other venues, including area libraries and Cal Poly's special collections.