A new take on art from old book pages

Cane and I don’t live in Portland. We live in a suburban city east of there. In fact, we live in one of the most reviled ‘burbs around here, referred to by one local blogger as “the armpit of East Multnomah County.”

So, we don’t really identify as Portlandians. In fact, we take a little pride in our efforts to embrace our ‘burb, something we once thought we’d never do, and we don’t really appreciate the smug stance that many Portlandians take when talking about it,even though we both used to do the exact same thing when we lived in other places. (If you want to know more about our conversion, you can check out this early post, a sorta love letter to our adopted hometown.)

However, hipster snobbery isn’t really the topic of this post. This is the topic of this post:

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It’s the latest exhibit on our kitchen art line, and it’s one of our favorites so far. It comes to us courtesy of what we’re thinking of as our own personal Portland Moment.

Last weekend we were walking around the Buckman neighborhood in SE Portland,* when I realized we were by a vintage wares shop that I like.

“Oh, we’re right by White Rabbit! Let’s go look!”

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Cane wasn’t as excited as me, probably because I never ever buy anything there. I just like to look at all their lovelies, but I almost never buy anything in any vintage shops because the prices are a little too rich for my blood. Still, you never know. Every once in a while you see a perfect something you might just have to have.

I was so disappointed when we turned the corner and I saw that White Rabbit was no more. It’s now Ex Libris Anonymous.

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I’m not sure if the Ex Libris wares are famous outside of Portland (you can find them at this Etsy shop), but we recognized them immediately: Journals made from the covers of old books. We’ve seen them all over town.

We peeked in the windows (the shop was closed), and I snapped a few photos, and we were just about to head on our way, when one of us noticed the recycle bin at the front of the store.

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And then we noticed all the cool pages of old books inside the bin.

We loved some for their old art and typography:

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And some we loved because they made us laugh:

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We sincerely hope no children were injured in the making of this book. Because we laughed our heads off at this one.

We plopped ourselves right down on the sidewalk and spent a good 15-20 minutes sorting through the treasure, setting aside the pages that we loved.

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“What are we gonna do with these?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Cane said. “Something cool, though.”

I have to say: It pained me to see these gorgeous old book pages set out to be recycled. I was reminded again of why I never do any of the projects I’ve seen made from the pages of old books.

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I’ve picked up books from thrift stores full of intentions to make some awesome something from them, but I can rarely bring myself to cut into them. It feels like cutting up a piece of history, and I just can’t do it.

My first thought was that I could do that with these pages. The books were already destroyed. But even though these pages are no longer in books, they are still intact pages. I might be able to cut/glue/transform the ones that just contain text, but we quickly realized that we can’t do it to the ones with art.

That is largely why we aren’t going to do any projects with these pages, great or otherwise. We’re just going to hang them up in our kitchen, where we can admire them in their nearly-original state.

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I’m not judging the owners of Ex Libris Anonymous. I know nothing about where the books come from or how the bulk of the pages are disposed of. Maybe the books are already damaged in some way? Maybe these books were destined to be tossed out whole, and at least the covers and a few inside pages are now being preserved in a different way.

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Still, it made me sad to see these pages tossed out like trash. I mourn the passing of our paper-based systems of storing and transmitting story and information, partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly because digital seems like a very fragile medium in which to entrust our collective knowledge. I worry about the prospect of going entirely paperless at some point in the future.

Not to sound like some conspiracy-theory Armegeddon-mongerer, but what happens if the grid collapses?

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I know it’s not as simple as Paper Books = Good, and Digital = Bad; therefore, we must preserve paper. It’s a wall we seem to keep bonking our heads on lately, the one where every choice seems to have its negative costs and we’re not really sure which of the evils facing us are the lesser ones.

So, we did what we seem to keep doing when we hit those walls: We make the best choice we can, given what we know and can control.

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We’re happy to have these pages on our wall. Some are flat-out beautiful. Others make us smile with their old-school charm. They flutter when a breeze comes through the window, like petals.

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Corny as it may sound, they make something in my librarian-wannabe heart bloom.

And I’m writing about it here because I know that some of you are Portlandians. Or, like us, you’re suburban Portlandians. And I’m thinking that you might love and appreciate these book pages as much as we do–so much so that you’ll go on a little book page rescue mission of your own.

Maybe you’ll do something crafty with them. Maybe you’ll make great cards from them (like Portland writer-artist Kristy Athens does and sells in this Etsy shop). Maybe you’ll just hang them on your wall, like we are.

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I don’t really care–I’d just like to see as many people as possible do something that extends the life of these pages a little longer. We found them near the corner of 29th and Belmont. We scored them on a Sunday afternoon. No one seemed to care that we were sitting on the sidewalk pawing through a recycle bin. (‘Cause, you know, it’s Portland.)

We’d love to know if you know anything about these books or if you get some for yourself or if you have any other great ideas for what people might do with these pages. Hope you’ll share with us in the comments.

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I know this picture has nothing to do with the book pages. I just love these roses from our garden.

*Walking around Portland neighborhoods with our cameras is our idea of fun. We usually share the best of those expeditions on our Facebook page. Hope you’ll Like it if you haven’t yet. That’s where we share lots of stuff that doesn’t merit a full-blown post here. Think this is our favorite image from last weekend:

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Also trying to get the hang of the Twitter thang. (Yes, I know exactly how unhip that sentence makes me. Don’t care.) Most of the lighter content makes its way there, too.

If it’s Thursday, it means we’re sharing over at Pancakes and French Fries with our William Morris compatriots.