San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo's Micro-Libraries and Art-Object Books


As readers around the world continue to lead increasingly digital lives, local residents in San Luis Obispo are experimenting with traditional methods of reading, lending, and publishing of books. These artists and librarians share a unique reverence for bookish things.

An idyllic neighborhood in San Luis Obispo plays host to a very small library. It measures approximately 32 inches high by 12 inches wide. It sits atop a solitary fence post situated curbside in front of a family home. The library is filled with an assortment of books, primarily children's books, waiting for little hands to reach in and borrow or return. Cal Poly University Art Gallery director, Jeff Van Kleeck and his wife, graphic design professor, Charmaine Martinez, handcrafted the library. Their two children Ian, age eight, and Lily, age five were the impetus for the construction of the library.

The Van Kleeck-Martinez family library is modeled after the ever growing "Little Free Libraries" movement founded in 2009 by Wisconsin resident Todd Bol. "We installed our library in June 2013 prompted by little library global project," said Van Kleeck. "My wife Charmaine is an alumna from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the concept was featured in a campus magazine article." Little Free Libraries resemble miniature houses whose concepts are simple; Take a book. Leave a book.

Little Free Library in a San Luis Obispo neighborhood. | Photo: Jeff Van Kleeck.

"Our library is a small replica of our own house. We used the template from the global site-- though ours is oddly tall to accommodate the height of over-sized illustrated children's books," described Van Kleeck. The family's children were hands-on when conceptualizing and decorating the library. "It took forever and a day to actually come up with the design," added Van Kleeck. "The building of it didn't take very long though, it was the design and art direction process fronted by Ian and Lily that took the most time. They had very specific requirements; like making sure it was child-height and placed in the shade of a nearby tree." The family also hand painted charming imagery onto the sides of the library.

The positive reaction of their neighbors was instantaneous. "We didn't really know anyone in the neighborhood," described Van Kleeck. "But as soon as the library went up we got to know all of them." Van Kleeck observed many families in his San Luis Obispo neighborhood create weekly routines focused on the library. "It is fascinating to watch family rituals center on the library. One family stops by every Wednesday to drop by and select new books or exchange for a new one," recounted Van Kleeck. Their neighborhood is located near a convalescent home and seniors from the home often stop by and select a book or leave a book. Van Kleeck suspects that perhaps this is how the three books written in Polish appeared.

For many bibliophiles the battle between digital and traditional is a never-ending struggle. "No one reads the physical book. It's all digital digital digital," lamented Van Kleeck. "But at least now my books get a lot of mileage."

Little Free Library in a San Luis Obispo neighborhood. | Photo: Jeff Van Kleeck.

Librarian for 5 days a week; Artist for 365 days a year.

Inspired by the DIY stitching movement and his grandmother's proclivity for embroidery, Cal Poly business librarian Mark Bieraugel has found an uncommon platform for his art; The infamous September issue of Vogue Magazine.

"I was paging through last year's issue of Vogue with Lady Gaga on the cover when I came across a pullout Ralph Lauren ad where the models were sprawled across a field," recalled Bieraugel. "My first thought was there must be lots of ticks." Bieraugel pondered the scene and chuckled out loud at the thought of perhaps embroidering a tick onto the page of the advertisement. This comedic moment sparked a yearlong art project to stitch a page-a-day of the September issue of Vogue Magazine.

Librarian and artist Mark Bieraugel has set out to devise a 365 day project to stitch a page a day on the iconic September issue of Vogue Magazine. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Detail of citrus by artist and librarian Mark Bieraugel. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

The artistic process Bieraugel devised was out of practicality and necessity in order to juggle his busy career as faculty librarian for the College of Business at Cal Poly. " My Vogue project is based on found image art," explained Bieraugel. "I have a full-time job and I aspired to develop a methodology that would adapt my interest in stitching into an art form that could be accomplished in just one day. The magazine structure fit so well. One can page through it... see the trends and experience my art in an extremely tactile way. Taking something you read and typically toss out transformed into a mobile art piece is fantastic!" He described his approach of using trace paper to develop the pattern as a way to phase his stitching onto the page. "I have 24-hours and one shot to get the piece done right. Once I puncture my needle through the page there is no going back."

His fondness for all things stitchery most likely stems from a leisure suit embroidered in 1976 by his grandmother. "My grandmother always had her 'tatting' at arms length," explained Bieraugel. "One year she produces this amazingly kitschy leisure suit for me to wear to the Opera. I was like in sixth grade and here I am wearing an outfit head-to-toe in McCall's patriotic bicentennial embroidery patterns...full-on liberty bells and eagles. This could be my true stitching root."

Detail of handstitched piece by Librarian and artist Mark Bieraugel. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Detail of handstitched piece by Librarian and artist Mark Bieraugel. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Cross-stitching and fabric arts became more than a hobby after taking a class taught by Jenny Hart of "Sublime Stitching" when Bieraugel was a librarian based in Seattle. "Something in the class triggered my fervor for stitching. It could have been Jenny's philosophies and encouragement or perhaps my secret passion for design finally found a place in my life." Encouraged by the class his first piece was a "Green Eggs and Ham" depiction for his brother. "But as a total newb I stitched it backwards," laughed Bieraugel.

For Bieraugel, there is scholarly and visual overlap as a librarian and artist. "I was making pieces during down time at Tacoma Community College Library, when a fellow librarian Kendall Reid suggested I enter a juried show at the college's art gallery. My pieces were thoughtful and well researched. Often mixing science, sex, and humor -- not necessarily in that order."

Gold-toothed Julia, an altered magazine piece by librarian and artist Mark Bieraugel. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Detail of handstitched piece by Librarian and artist Mark Bieraugel. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

He has found a supportive arts community in San Luis Obispo. "The local art community has really embraced what I create," explained Bieraugel. "When I moved down to SLO I met up with two very talented designers and stitchers Shannon Genova-Scudder and Amy Goldsmith Sheridan. We met for coffee and stitching in Pismo Beach. Artists and curators Melinda Forbes and Julie Frankel have also been very encouraging and supportive in the more political angles of my artwork."

Blending his information science discipline and pedagogy into his Vogue project comes naturally to Bieraugel. A Michael Kors ad (Day 38 page 77) features a hand-stitched outline of a citrus fruit, inspired from experience gained from a retail position he held while attending library school. "I worked at Neiman-Marcus at their fragrance counter and learned about the notes of a perfume, the head, the heart, and the base note," said Bieraugel. Being the polished librarian that he is, Bieraugel added, "From my research I learned that Michael Kors' Spicy Citrus has a head note of mandarin orange. From there I mashed those ideas and the image of the ad together to make my daily piece."

Pages of Vogue Magazine transforming into a tactile read. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

The artistic platform of choice for artist Mark Bieraugel: The iconic September issue of Vogue Magazine. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Whimsy and tongue-in-cheek humor are prevalent on the stitched pages of Vogue. Portrayals of stitched sharks, whales and a gold-toothed Julia Roberts are clever statements on consumerism, beauty and in some cases, placed because the page needed an additional architectural element to add to the aesthetic. Bieraugel has done little promotion and has relied solely on social media such as Flickr and Instagram for his 365 day Vogue project. "Followers just found me from my hashtagging I suppose. I have followers from all over the world including followers in the modeling and magazine industry."

Asked what happens on day 366 of his Vogue project Bieraugel wryly shared, "On day 366 I want to look over what I did during the past year and figure out what ideas might be expanded into a larger more complex and ambitious artwork. I am also interested in taking photographs of bearded men with my stitching on their beards. Do you have a great beard and live close to SLO? Contact me."

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Meryl Perloff is redefining the book.

Artists' books are unconventional pieces of art, indistinguishable by page, cover, or format. Occasionally, there are no words at all. Many Central Coast artists have chosen to work in this medium and the format of their books are as a diverse as the artists themselves. Some view their work as more sculptural in scope, while others embrace the more traditional sense of limited editions -- either artist-run or produced by small presses. All of these examples make up an unusual blend of book-related endeavors and are one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Artists' books essentially encompass all artistic mediums such as handmade books, limited edition books, bookbinding, papermaking, paper marbling, calligraphy, letterpress printing, sculpture, poetry, literature, photography, lithography, woodcuts, and typography. The possibilities are endless.

For San Luis Obispo-based artist, Meryl Perloff redefining the book form has provided the perfect format for her art. "I have always been multi-disciplinary and three-dimensional in my artistic practice, so when I was first introduced to book arts through a workshop, I felt I had finally found the home for my creativity," described Perloff. The catalyst for change in her art began in 1978, as a newly single mother to three young boys. "I needed to find a medium that I could easily tackle," explained Perloff. "My art at the time was jewelry-based and I needed a format that fit my busy life. I gravitated towards fabric arts and collage and held true to that form for many years, then eventually found book arts."

Detail of handmade artists' book by Meryl Perloff, St. Joseph's Altar. | Photo: Deborah Denker.

Mixed-media artists' book by Meryl Perloff. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Perloff's work focuses largely on sculptural objects with dimension and mobility that evoke a thoughtful response towards family and childhood memories growing up in New Orleans. Her whimsical recreation of California architect Julia Morgan's playhouse is a spirited example of Perloff's talent, as is her bell tower structure titled "Early California Missions." "The piece is compiled from empty sardine tins that reference California's canning industry and serve as the display vehicle for multi-layered photographic images of each of the 21 missions," described Perloff in her colophon.

Perloff credits her enduring artistry though a supportive group of women artists who refer to their collective as 'The Group.' Perloff has been meeting once a week with a select group of San Luis Obispo women artists for the past 35 years. "Being part of this community of women artists is very important to me. We inspire each other and learn from each other. It is an artistic energy unique to our group and found through our sharing and collaboration," said Perloff.

Handmade artists' book by Meryl Perloff, St. Joseph's Altar. | Photo: Deborah Denker.

Handmade artists' book by Meryl Perloff, St. Joseph's Altar. | Photo: Deborah Denker.

The group is an invite-only collective with a limited number of members, which hovers around twelve women. "Over time the format has changed," shared Perloff. " At one time we were all very serious and would bring work to critique and analyze. Now we meet for lunch once a week. It is as though we are a family; there is no one in the group that I couldn't call at 3:00 a.m. and say, I need you." Perloff runs down the list of beloved San Luis Obispo County women artists who are members such as M'lou Mayo, Roberta Foster, Kathy Friend, and Deb Spatafore. Many of the women in the group would later form the San Luis Obispo Arts Council (now Arts Obispo) and developed programs locally such as Art in Public Places.

Perloff's books are held in several university libraries and private collections and are included in the catalogs of dealers of fine press books and artists' books. Expanding her artistic reach into social media, her books are held in the collection at Cal Poly's Robert E. Kennedy Library have been made into Vine videos.

Perloff is delighted that her work is represented in local academia. "San Luis Obispo has played a strong role in my education as an artist. I am always learning and growing. I draw upon my dear artist friends in the women's group, and courses like Cuesta College's Book Arts classes -- it all feeds into what I am doing in my art. Education is never lost, even at my age."

Artists' book Louisana Statehood by Meryl Perloff. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Detail of Meryl Perloff's artist book. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

Meryl Perloff's one-of-a-kind Artists' Book on exhibit in Kennedy Library, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. | Photo: Catherine Trujillo.

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Top image: Handmade artists' book by Meryl Perloff, St. Joseph's Altar. | Photo: Deborah Denker.

About the Author

Curator Catherine Trujillo has worked with designers, artists, architects, and photographers to create long-standing contributions to the cultural life of the Central Coast. Originally from East Los Angeles, and heavily influenced...
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