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Portable Galleries

Mimi Shapiro's books bear only the slightest resemblance to their conservative cousins in bookstores, and for good reason. Shapiro is an artist first, a writer second, and her volumes are pieces of art, with some literary content thrown in for good measure.

The cover of one of the Fort Lauderdale artist's books was made from a Walkman. For another, she tore apart tar paper and painted it with undersea colors. In fact, many of the books are collages made from rusty metal, feathers, telephone wire, and other junk. The Big Cheese features mousetraps as front and back covers; inside is an accordion-folded page with Swiss-cheese-style holes among the words.

Some of her books are handwritten, others typed, and some feature sections of text cut from other books. In one book a story is told with words placed inside of a red box containing items found on the beach.

Shapiro says her books also serve as outlets for her poems, social commentaries, thoughts, and love stories. "Books are very fun things," she adds. "And artists through all of history have been making them."

Jim Findlay, director of the Bienes Center For the Literary Arts at Broward County Library, is so enamored of the art form that the center is putting $2000 up for grabs in the second annual Florida Artists' Book Prize Competition.

Defining "book art" isn't easy. The furthest Findlay will go is to say that the finished product is an "aesthetic object in book form." But even "book form" is loosely interpreted; among last year's contest entries was a box full of pages accompanied by a clothesline and clothespins.

Although artists and writers have been making their own books for centuries, Findlay says that the latest book-art movement began in Los Angeles about 25 years ago. "It was like a portable gallery," he says of the form's appeal. "You could buy a copy and hold it in your hand and look at it in your house. It's affordable, portable art in the form of a book."

Another book-art fan is Fort Lauderdale bookstore owner Robert A. Hittel. "Artists Books, Boxes, Etc.," a book-art exhibit that includes Shapiro's work, will open at his store Sunday.

"When you mix the art and the books together, it's just fascinating," he says. "I think that anyone that's truly interested in books would love this stuff."

-- Patti Roth

The entry deadline for the Florida Artists' Book Prize competition is December 31. Call 954-357-8692 for information. A free opening reception for "Artists Books, Boxes, Etc." will take place from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 26, at Robert A. Hittel, Bookseller, 3020 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. The show runs through August 8. Call 954-563-1752.

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Patti Roth

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