Bay Area Attractions: Donna Seager Gallery

08 Sep 2011 12:08 PM | Anonymous
Traveling from San Francisco, if one crosses the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Pennisula and follows Route 101 to San Rafael, a book art enthusiast can find Donna Seager Gallery. Founded and directed by the luminous Donna Seager, a pioneer in incorporating artist books into the broader context of contemporary art, the gallery first opened its doors in 2005.

Seager, a native of New Orleans, has a degree in Art History and English from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating, she began her career in galleries working at a gallery in her home city, and eventually moving to Boston to become the director of Marlborough Gallery on Newberry Street. In 1998, she relocated to the Bay Area, and spent time working in several galleries, including Elins/Eagle-Smith Gallery in San Francisco's 49 Geary Building, before opening her own space in San Rafael.

From the very beginning, Seager knew she would incorporate artist books into the gallery. Before she has started her own space, Kay Bradner, one of the artists she now represents, had introduced her to Charles Hobson. Hobson invited her to his home and showed her his personal collection. Upon seeing his books, Seager says she gained,"an understanding that in the right hands, [the book] is the medium for art itself."

Hobson also introduced her to many other book artists in the Bay Area, including Kazuko Watanabe, Julie Chen, Macy Chadwick, Peter Koch, and many others. She came to realize that the Bay Area is a rich vein of people dedicated to book art. With Hobson's help, she put together her first Art of the Book exhibition, featuring book artists from the region. Since its inception, the annual exhibition has grown to include artists from all across the United States, and receives upwards of 400 people at its opening reception and thousands of visitors during the length of the exhibition.

In addition, Seager continues to offer regular talks by book art regional book art luminaries such as Peter Koch, John DeMerritt, or Rhiannon Alpiers. This led to her leading several talks at art fairs, including those in Miami and San Francisco, promoting the book as a medium for art. Seager feels strongly that great art collections have book art, and that it offers something that other mediums cannot have, a kind of intimacy, and so art collectors should collect artist books. She also feels that the best experience of an artist book is not in the gallery, but through ownership, where a reader can explore the multeity of aspects of the book; paper, binding, structure, integration of text and image.

When introducing a collector to artist books for the first time, Seager often begins with a book that has an interesting structure, such as something by Julie Chen, which has all the elements of a book but the structure changes the sequencing somehow that opens minds to the possibilities inherent in book art.  She is most drawn to artist books where the form is in concert with the content. Seager often uses musical words to describe quality artist books, explaining how material and sequence are "orchestrated in harmonic chords" with structure and content.

Seager's Art of the Book exhibitions are renowned for allowing visitors to don gloves and handle the books. However, she says that these shows are now almost becoming "too popular," and while that is fortunate problem to have, she now has some books that cannot withstand the amount of handling from the vast number of visitors she receives. This is not to say that Seager does not still believe in the importance of holding an artist book for its complete understanding. She is currently considering options to best exhibit and protect the books. One of the options she is considering encouraging artists to make "handling copies" for potential collectors to peruse.

Seager encourages students and recent graduates "do what you do," and explore ways of expressing yourself, as well as "get your work out there," through exhibitions. After six years of Art of the Book exhibitions, she is hoping some of the artists she represents have recognizable names, and that people are coming specifically to see their books on display. When considering a book, Seager seeks a high level of craftsmanship and an intimate knowledge of materials. She also looks for a book to be sturdy, something that can tolerate handling.

While in the Bay Area, a visit to the North Bay to visit Donna Seager Gallery is well worth the trip. The hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 AM to 6 PM, as well as on Second Fridays from 5 to 8 PM during the San Rafael Artwalk. The gallery can be found at 851 Fourth Street in San Rafael, CA, 94901.
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