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Jane Kaufmann Unframed

Potter Jane KaufmannSEACOAST BOOKS

An incredible new book documents the life of one Seacoast artist and paves the way, potentially, for a whole new genre of volumes to follow. We attended the book signing of  JANE KAUFMANN UNFRAMED at the Levi Lincoln Gallery in Portsmouth, NH. Here are a few photos from that event and a wild ramble on the importance of this monumental volume. (Continued below)

 

Mary Johanna Brown doesn’t know how important this book is. Mary Jo is the publisher of JANE KAUFMANN UNFRAMED and owner of Big Brown Book Publishing. She has no clue that this oversized picture-rich volume is one of the greatest books ever published around here. She doesn’t know it is a game-changer, a boat-rocker, and a prototype for what could be a revolution in locally published art books. She’s so unaware of the genius of this project that she spells the name of her new publishing company without capital letters.

Jane Kaufmann too hides her light under a bushel. While inscribing our copy at the Levi Gallery in Portsmouth the other day, she labeled it an “unreal book.” But Jane is very very wrong. This is one of the realest books I’ve ever seen. It is Jane’s life exploded onto the page. This beautiful heavyweight book is underpriced at $38.

 

Publisher Mary Johanna Brown with art lover Phyllis Bennett / J. Dennis Robinson photo

I haven’t read it yet. Maybe I never will get through all the words, and maybe that doesn’t matter. Like all good coffee table books, it lives primarily in its pictures and captions. The pictures – big and bold and bleeding off the margins – trace Jane’s evolution as a potter, painter, illustrator, sculptor, and whatever-else she wants to be. The captions are hand scrawled scrapbook style, often written right on top of the photographs. The effect, for the viewer, is welcoming and intimate, as if we have purchased a copy of a scrapbook or journal we were never meant to see.

This is ultimately a catalog of the artist’s work with an extensive photographic gallery of small fired clay figures to huge ceramic orbs. It is secondly a biography, the life story of how and why the artist did what she did. And what she did was teach herself to make a living as an artist. There is a hint of apologia here, as if the craftsperson needs to apologize to the fine arts. But there is also a middle-finger defiance. Fine art, the craftsperson seems to be saying, is in the eye of the beholder. If people pay $30 for a work of art, do they cherish it any less?

Jane Kaufmann Unframed by Big Brown Books

CONTINUED NEXT PAGE


JANE KAUFMANN UNFRAMED (Continued)

POtter Jane Kaufmann signs her new autobiography by J. Dennis Robinson

Even without reading the text, the viewer can see Kaufmann wrestling. She is a potter fighting convention, an artist struggling with form, a business person battling the marketplace, and an activist suppressing her need to act out. As publisher, Mary Jo Brown has wrestled all that conflicting energy into a book that sits elegantly on the coffee table – until you open it. She has tamed the lion, temporarily. But once opened, the powerfully designed pages leap out and rip a hole in your couch. They bite your finger and tease your sensibilities, just as Jane’s art does.

I was privy to this book before it appeared. I saw a spiral bound draft. I was impressed, and I said so. But neither Mary Jo nor Jane are willing, as yet, to recognize the great thing they have accomplished together. They are uncharacteristically shy. Putting an entire life between covers is no small task. The book is Jane’s legacy, the sum total of her time on this planet, a retrospective and her raison d etre.

Maybe they don’t see what I see.Neither Jane nor Mary Jo are writers.  What I see is a book like this for each of the extraordinary artists in this region. I said just that to blacksmith Peter Happny when I saw him at the show. I can imagine a book of the same size on his metal work. I can see a book like this for painters, glass blowers, sculptors, photographers, and wood workers.

Artwork by Jane Kaufmann

Of course few artists could afford a book of this size and scope. The design work alone would cost as much as a mid-priced car. And then there’s the printing cost on top of that. These books would not sell in large quantities – one or two thousand copies at best. So there needs to be some sort of grant or sponsor money involved. If a few benefactors could set up a seed fund, then the proceeds of one book could go back into the pool to fund the next. That model has worked elsewhere. It might also be possible to find 100 or more subscribers to kick-in say $100 in advance to sweeten the deal.

Inside the cover each book would be wholly different. The artist would frame the design by the nature of his or her work. Jane Kaufmann is also a wordsmith, so her narrative flowed naturally. Some artists are almost silent, so a writer would be needed to draw them out. Each book would be a mix of biography and catalog with some how-to details thrown in. Eventually we would have a library of the great and talented artists who live among us. And when they are gone, these books will survive to remind and enlighten and inspire those who hand their works of art down through the generations.

What Brown has done here is to treat Kaufmann like a major American artist. She has created a catalog for collectors, a marketing device for artists, and a research tool for historians. Like it or not, there is a formula in the making. It could be replicated and yet remain wildly creative. And it will never work as an e-book. These projects require paper, bulk, design, book jackets, and bindings.

So step up ladies, and take a bow. This could be the start of something big.

© 2012 by J. Dennis Robinson for SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.

Jane Kaufmann orb art at Levi Lincoln Gallery in Portsmouth, NH

Ceramic figures by potter Jane Kaufmann / SeacoastNH.com

Exhibit at Levi Lincoln Gallery in Portsmouth, NH

Text and photos (c) 2012 by J. dennis Robinson / SeacoastNH.com


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