Stumbling onto something unexpected is my favorite kind of travel tale.
On Saturday, while in Santa Fe for the world premiere of "The Letter," a big event by any standard, I discovered something small and imaginatively potent.
The Book Arts Group of Santa Fe, known affectionately as BAG, has an exhibition of a whopping 79 works in the Capitol Rotunda. For display requirements alone, it's the kind of exhibit that wouldn't be organized in Durango.
Accordion-style books dominate while others spill out of all kinds of containers - boxes, elaborate envelopes, a lampshade, a tiny watch casing and, most intriguing, Fairley Barnes' work titled The Cloud Appreciation Society. Inside a common leather case for glasses, pages with tiny bits of text unfold behind the lenses.
In addition to cloud gazing, the books chronicle other passions - dreams, prayers, tributes, family stories, travel experiences, pilgrimages and important deaths.
They appear in many forms - sequential journals, scrolls, grids, pop-up books, even tea bags. Altered books fan open in elegant whiteness or with inelegant but meaningful burnt edges.
Existing documents take on new meaning through creative manipulation - an old mortgage, a Victorian travel guide, playing cards, maps.
Andrea Cypress has taken an old social guidebook, How to Be a Man, and combined it with a hairless doll and various artifacts - all squeezed into a picture frame.
Cramped into its space, the doll tilts awkwardly and lies on top of faded pictures of men and boys from the last century. Provocative?
What artists' books offer so tellingly is intimacy. Ideally, they are hand-held. Most are small and reveal themselves page by page.
Each one suggests a quiet, one-on-one conversation, and the passage of time is implied.
When I stumbled upon two works by the remarkable Durango painter, calligrapher, and book artist, Louise Grunewald, the experience took on even deeper meaning. A long-time member of the Santa Fe Book Arts Group, Grunewald moved to Durango several years ago and is one of the founders of Friends of the Art Library at Durango Arts Center.
Along with Mary Ellen Long, Grunewald has been responsible for consistently organizing the most interesting exhibits in town.
The Grunewald-Long team has invited leading printmakers, painters and book artists to exhibit and offer workshops at DAC.
Two of Grunewald's most recent works, "The Heart and the Flame" and "Home," are in the Santa Fe show.
Demonstrating her enormous gift for integrating color, texture, imagery and letter forms, Grunewald also writes her own material.
Formerly a highly successful graphic artist in the greeting card industry, Grunewald has turned to private projects where she taps deeply into her fine arts background with great sensitivity and sophistication.
The Rotunda show is free and runs through Aug. 21.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at Jud_reyn@yahoo.com.