Book Artist Lost the Plot and Gained a Whole New World

By: Lee Stevens

Patti Fertel knows what to do with a good book.
Portrait by Lauren Rutten

When Patti Fertel picks up a book at a flea market, a secondhand bookstore, or other used-book outlet, she sees more than an opportunity to sit quietly in a patch of sunlight with a cup of tea and read. Instead, she views the book for its potential to be transformed into one of her unique sculptures. Fertel notes not its literary merit but its size, its subject, the color of the binding, and the pages. 

To form each piece, Fertel first folds the pages in a pattern determined by the subject of the sculpture. She then adds vintage photographs, drawings, and advertising materials, as well as cutouts of human and animal figures she makes herself. 

Siphonophores

“I began each book sculpture with the subject of the book dictating the art,” Fertel explains. But now she frequently flips the paradigm: “As I’ve continued to expand my work, it’s sometimes the theme of the art that determines the book to be used.”

The subject of each work even determines the type of folding she uses on the pages of the book in the first step of the process. For example, when she does a butterfly-themed work, she folds the pages to show the butterflies in flight in a more dramatic way.

Butterflies Book

Themes are meant to reflect, interpret, and provide a new narrative of the natural world. Butterflies, which Fertel considers symbols of hope, appear frequently in her work, in addition to birds, marine life, and themes of music and dancing.

Fertel originally majored in art history in college, but switched to the social sciences after a summer internship doing social-outreach work. While she first chose the career path of a therapist, she never stopped making art. Today, she sees a link between her two major life interests and the ways that each can inform the other: “Therapy provides new ways of looking at one’s personal world, and encourages new growth and knowledge. The creative arts can also provide the same effect by expanding a worldview.” 

Butterflying Off the Page

She moved to Asheville three years ago from Columbus, Ohio, where she had lived for 43 years. Knowing she would be changing focus in retirement, Fertel chose Asheville for its creative environment, opportunities for artistic growth, and natural beauty. She also wanted to be closer to family. 

Dressing Vesalius

The restrictions of COVID, while interfering with every other aspect of her life, did not stop Fertel’s evolution as an artist. She spent the last 18 months exploring different aspects of making art, returning to some earlier mediums, and increasing her productivity.

The artist’s process involves a complex folding method.
Photo by Lauren Rutten

“I continue to look for new themes and ideas. I have several that I’m considering at the moment, and am gathering material for future work.”

Patti Fertel, North Asheville. The solo exhibit Art on the Page: Book Art by Patti Fertel opens at Pink Dog Creative (342-348 Depot St., River Arts District, pinkdog-creative.com) with a reception on Friday, Nov. 26, 6-8pm. The show runs through January 2, 2022. For more information about the artist, see pattifertelbookarts.com. 

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