Published February 16, 2021

Initial Project Guidelines sent to Book Arts Members on June 21, 2021, by Bonnie Bernstein

Hello Book Arts members.

The project committee for Saints Alive! met this week to set initial guidelines and officially launch the 2021 member collaboration.

Our project will have two components, both inspired by folk art traditions in Central and South America:

  • Ex votos: Individual artists will each produce and edition one votive print, including narrative caption and art, to venerate “patron saints” who have interceded on their behalf during the pandemic or in some other recent difficult situation. The edition will likely be the number of participants plus 10 (for VCB).
  • Retablo – The enclosure for the full collection of ex voto prints will be a gatefold portfolio designed to open like a retablo, or small Peruvian altar box, and also serve as a display stand. A template for this triptych structure will be developed by book binders and workshopped with participants in the fall. Artists will craft their own retablos (one each). Volunteers will craft retablos for the VCB copies. 

We are focusing first on the individual prints so that members can begin to conceptualize and sketch over the next two months. Here are guidelines we think will help unify the collection:

  • The title of each print will be “Patron Saint of ___.” So for example, you may express gratitude to the Patron Saint of Fulfillment Centers for the warehouse workers who kept you safely supplied during the pandemic, or the Patron Saint of Jigsaw Puzzles, who helped whittle away the hours of isolation, or the Patron Saint of the ER, who watched over the exhausted nurse who held a dying friend’s hand. Venerate whoever (or whatever) has helped you or a loved one to cope, survive or pass the time with their humor, skill, selflessness or compassion.
  • The patron saints themselves might appear in the image as they do in Mexican ex votos, as iconographic figures floating above the scene.
  • The prints will be relatively small (about 5” x 7”), and have a vertical orientation (portrait style).
  • Folk art in the Americas is vibrant. Project participants must use more than two and as many as six designated hues. Relief inks will be pre-mixed. Hand-coloring is permitted.
  • Demos and workshops will be offered for members who want to learn multicolor relief printing methods such as reduction prints, or for those who want to do digital color separation for polymer plates (for letterpress).
  • Prints may incorporate  some digital elements or thin collage materials so long as they maintain the folk art style and palette and are primarily work made by hand.

We hope that’s enough to get you started! Members of all skill levels can participate – we’ll all help each other along the way. But for now, your goal is to choose your patron saint, sketch your vignette, and draft a narrative caption that tells the story and expresses your gratitude.

From here on, we will send updates and announcements only to those of you who “opt in” to a project-specific email list. If you plan to participate, or want to be kept informed of the project’s progress, please send a message to Garrett. He will generate and maintain the new email list.

And please send queries, ideas and comments to me and I will forward them to the project committee (Kristin Adolfson, Janet Eden, Lyall Harris, Nancy Kober, Yolanda Merrill, Michael Swanberg, me, and of course, Garrett). 

The committee met at the book center and it was so good to see each other! We all look forward to working in person with many of you on the Saints Alive! project.


On Thu, February 15 Bonnie Bernstein wrote:
Here’s a love poem you all might want to read per our conversation about a possible focus for the member project — quite the Whitman-esque celebration of countless ordinary worthies!

Project Organization Notes

2021 Collaborative Project Pitch Guidelines

Project Proposals:

Proposal by Ramona Martinez

(a variant on Ramona’s original Saints proposal)
Proposal by Bonnie Bernstein

More Links of Interest:

Alan Birch’s Covid Saints Series

Retablos on Pinterest

Infinitas Gracias – Mexican Retablos And Ex-Voto Paintings

Understanding Ex Votos

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