So many things to love about old reading primers….the Century Schoolbook font, the compact size, the simplicity of the stories: “They had eggs for dinner. They had milk. They had cake. They had ice cream.” Enough said.
I am using the remaining pages of a 1927 “Child-Story Readers Primer” book to make a new encaustic piece today. This book was “The Property of the State of Texas,” which seems very important, and was issued to a young girl named “Rita” who had lovely penmanship, or perhaps, Rita’s teacher or mother had lovely penmanship. The Child-Story Readers predated the better known Dick and Jane series and follows the exploits of Jack and Jane (hmmm…. copyright antennae twitching), their feisty dog Terry, the aptly named cat Kitty, and the wildcard pet goat Billy on their madcap adventures involving milkmen, monkeys, seesaws and elephants. The price of the Primer was fixed at 37 cents and “any deviation therefrom should be reported to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction,” which means I should probably report Uncommon Objects (my favorite store in all of Austin) for charging me $9.63 over the fixed price.
When I bought this this vintage gem I thought I was going to use it in one of my folded paper pieces, but the pages are so brittle they practically disintegrate in my hands. A folded, three-dimensional work was out of the question (although I included a few pages in a piece made primarily from Big Chief writing tablet sheets). The color palette of the book is so lovely that I have held onto it for several years. I often let the color scheme of my source material drive the overall color palette of the artwork, and this book has a fantastic assortment of unexpected color combinations: vivid orange, turquoise and lime green along side dull ochre, pale blue, peach and grays. As is true for most of my work, although I am drawn to the original “discarded information” and develop a connection to the material as I work with it, the artwork itself is really not so much about the actual information—in this case the primer book— as depicting abstract texture and history that evokes an intangible feeling associated with the material. For me, the book pages are just another art media, on equal footing as paint, charcoal, pencil or ink.
This piece was a bit tricky because of the fragile nature of the pages, and while the encaustic medium (a combination of beeswax and damar resin) soaks right into the paper and protects it, the medium tends to darken the color palette somewhat unpredictably. On the flip side, encaustic paint creates depth and layers and subtle color shifts better than any medium I know, so the result seems worth the unpredictability. Plus, how great is it to spend your day creating artwork with a book that utilizes the word “jiggle-ty jolt” more than ten times?