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Local artist makes and repairs books in an effort to preserve 'the feel of a book in your hand' 

Having spent the last 44 years living on the Central Coast, artist Meryl Perloff has found a strong and supportive arts community to call home. And it didn't take her long to find it.

"When we moved to California, I became acquainted with a group of women, all of whom are artists in the area," Perloff told New Times. "It was like having a giant playground."

click to enlarge NOT THE AVERAGE BOOK Meryl Perloff's book titled Spectrum of Diversity features pieces that pop out of the cover and a rainbow of colors. - PHOTO COURTESY OF 23 SANDY GALLERY
  • Photo Courtesy Of 23 Sandy Gallery
  • NOT THE AVERAGE BOOK Meryl Perloff's book titled Spectrum of Diversity features pieces that pop out of the cover and a rainbow of colors.

And while Perloff has experimented with a wide range of artistic media over her many years of contributing to the arts community in San Luis Obispo County, there's one unusual and charming type of art that she mainly practices today: book art.

"It starts with the premise that the end product is a work of art. Even though it has characteristics of traditional books, it takes it much further," Perloff said of her unique artistic specialty.

Perloff doesn't just construct the cover, pages, and artwork in her books, she also fills the pages with her creative writing, making her work a true front-to-back original creation. The multifaceted process requires that Perloff wear a number of artistic hats to bring her ideas to life.

In one set, each of the books folds out like an accordion and features a golden-colored cover patterned with red circles. These particular books fit perfectly into slots that fold up into themselves, resulting in a compact, cube-shaped storage container. In another book—this one with lime green pages and delicate, zig-zag stitching—part of the words pop out when a reader turns the pages. The intricacy of projects like these shows the careful planning that Perloff pours into each of her books.

"All the art processes that I've learned during my studies are all viable mediums to use in the composition of the books," Perloff explained. "There's nothing that's off limits: If you can make it work—valid. Artist books, as they're termed, deliver information, not in the traditional way that a single page-turner book does, but in an unusual and nontraditional way so that the book can take any form."

Perloff shows her work around town, most recently at the SLO Museum of Art. But she doesn't stop at the local level.

"I've shown my work all over the country and internationally as well," she said. "My books also have found their way into a number of university libraries that collect artist books, including the New York Public Library. So it's been very rewarding to see my work accepted in these venues."

In addition to making artist books, Perloff also applies her skills to repairing books.

"It began when a friend asked me if I could repair a book that had belonged to her mother. So she brought it to me, and I put it back together," Perloff said. "It looked like and felt like a book that was almost new. I stabilized it to the point where it would certainly be serviceable for years to come."

click to enlarge SURPRISE INSIDE Meryl Perloff shows one of her accordion-style books while standing in her home studio in San Luis Obispo. - PHOTO BY MALEA MARTIN
  • Photo By Malea Martin
  • SURPRISE INSIDE Meryl Perloff shows one of her accordion-style books while standing in her home studio in San Luis Obispo.

Through repair jobs that range from faded images to torn pages to covers falling off their contents, Perloff has learned to take on each project as a new challenge. Anyone interested in her book repair services can submit a request on her website.

"I've done Bible repair. I've done books where the cover was missing. I've done a number of books where the original artwork that comprise the endpapers of the book had been torn or destroyed in some manner. I've been able to find your original artwork online and digitally reproduce it," Perloff said. "There's just all kinds of things to discover and ways of doing things. I learned something new with every one I do."

Though book artists may not be as common as oil painters, Perloff said she is not alone in her bookmaking endeavors on the Central Coast.

"There really are a lot more people doing book art than you would imagine, and Cal Poly's Kennedy Library has a big collection of artists' books," she said. "If you were ever to go up there and take a look at what's available, you would be amazed, and the amount of people whose work is collected is just endless. ... There's so much out there that people aren't really immediately aware of. But once they see it, they begin to seek it out." Δ

Arts Writer Malea Martin is opening a new book. Send arts story tips to mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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