Exquisite Caren Heft Retrospective

Sep. 22, 2012
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For those who appreciate photography, poetry and book art, Wisconsin artist and independent printer Caren Heft features an exquisite display of her art at Woodland Pattern Book Center. The exhibition “Paradise in the Smallest Thing” presents work from her own Arcadian Press along with Heft’s personal pages and as she notes in the exhibition program, her collaborators in this fine art medium:  Alan Grovenar, Jeff Morin, Brian Borchardt, Judi Conant, sculptors Kristin Thielking and Keven Brunett, and the students Heft teaches at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

The poem Paradise in the Smallest Thing written by Grovonar begins the journey through Heft’s artwork: you know your sight/with new eyes you can/ invent paradise now/ in the smallest thing/the only way to stop/ what happens next is/ to hold on/ growth comes untouched.

Continue walking slowly through the gallery, stop and view each hand bound, made or printed books (often letterpressed) that provide a paradise for those who appreciate the superb technique and frequently found objects applied to Heft’s pages. Bernard Koebel’s vintage catalogue featuring highly tattooed women with Grovenar’s poem written over these old photos offers one glimpse of a certain paradise, especially when noticing the women’s smiling expressions. The fold out book titled Cold Earth juxtaposes warm flesh with the delicate words from the poem, which can be read in its entirety on one page at  the end.

Another poignant piece by Heft titled Momento Mori (1996) honors her pet, the joyful dog Tarragon Heft who died that year. The print appeared to be a holiday card from the wording although the most telling phrase could be read at the bottom fringe where Heft’s “root river abaca [paper] is ephemerally thin to remind us we all must die.”

A red bookcase holds projects from Heft’s students, and many can be viewed after placing the white gloves on one’s hands to retain the purity of the pages. Even when clean, hands and fingers carry skin oils that could damage the books over time, so when appreciating them, gloves should be worn.

Heft shapes the pages in another somber book similar to a fold in an American flag, the accompanying triangular wood box reminiscent of the flags given to survivors after a serviceman’s or veteran’s burial. Heft claims in her piece the book becomes a tribute to the Vietnam War perhaps because she notes it was “the most misrepresented and misremembered war.”

Other prints surround the book and wooden case under glass in tribute to those who gave their life, the borders from other pages letter pressed with states' names and a number following, those who died. Sublime and subtle, the pages reflect the pain and sorrow like printed prayers to war’s final and solemn aftermath. 

Woodland Pattern’s mini-retrospective from Heft’s work and collaborations covers 1989 through the present. While the nature of this medium can often be difficult to exhibit, the center makes it readily accessible for quiet admiration and reflection. In this exceptional marriage of art and literature, Heft illustrates why she’s a master of this printed technique and the treasures it produces. Heft's exhibition of small pieces and text envisions a paradise of the viewer’s imagination. 

Woodland Pattern Book Center presents “Paradise in the Smallest Thing” by Caren Heft through October 31. Heft offers a workshop on October 27, 1:00-4:00 p.m. with registration and workshop supplies available online at






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