Jeffrey Churchill has been collaging since he was a boy, papering the walls of his room with photographs from Sports Illustrated and making collage posters from National Geographic for his friends. His mother wasn’t thrilled about the wall decorations, but the posters were a hit with his friends.
While he was collaging, he was also devouring books. Mr. Churchill’s list of favorite authors has a definite start — Henry James, Nikos Kazantzakis, Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse — but really has no end. This literary background carries into his artwork, where he combines his two loves.
Several of Mr. Churchill’s pieces are currently on display in the Oak Bluffs Public Library as part of an exhibit entitled Sustaining the Bridge Between Literature and Art. One piece features black-and-white portraits of American authors interspersed with quotations, while another features over 300 book covers from works published by Signet Classics in the late sixties and early seventies. The Autobiography of Malcolm X sits next to Travels With Charley, which sits above The Diary of a Madman, and so forth. Mr. Churchill said he determines piece size only after he’s collected his collage materials. The finished Signet piece measures four feet by eight feet.
“I was looking for a project and I came across three crates of paperbacks,” Mr. Churchill said of the Signet project genesis.
“I love the artwork that was on the cover and they were great books, so I went with it,” Mr. Churchill said. He carefully removed the covers from the books — a sacrifice that needed to be made, he said, although he still has all of the paperbacks — and set to work on the collage. Covers were trimmed down and arranged just so.
The resulting piece provides a clear snapshot into the literature scene of the times as well as of today, since the books that were classics then have retained their standing.
“It was an homage to literature that couldn’t be duplicated,” Mr. Churchill said. The piece was shown at the Edgartown Public Library earlier this summer.
The project was first brought to the attention of Oak Bluffs library director Sondra Murphy by Edgartown resident Dick Pratt. Mr. Churchill met Mr. Pratt while staying in one of his rental houses on his first trip to the Vineyard (he was making a collage at the time) and the two became friends. Mr. Pratt showed the Signet piece to Ms. Murphy, thinking it would be of interest.
“She was the first one that, two years ago, put the Signet piece on display at the Oak Bluffs Library,” Mr. Pratt said. Mr. Pratt and Ms. Murphy then worked to plan out the larger exhibit.
On opening night, when the pieces were all hung in the meeting room, “it was astonishing, Ms. Murphy said. “All the walls were covered in art. It was crazy, but in a good way.”
The past month has been a banner one for the arts at the Oak Bluffs library. Earlier in August, the poem Cubes by Langston Hughes was on display in both draft and final manuscript forms. The exhibit was a gift of summer visitor Gil Rodriguez, who had emailed Ms. Murphy asking if the library would like to display manuscripts from the novel Roots. Ms. Murphy readily agreed, but when Mr. Rodriguez picked up the wrong papers on delivery day it became a Langston Hughes exhibit rather than an Alex Haley one.
Paintings by Nancy Purnell of New York city hang on the walls of the first floor along with a print by Renee Balter of Darlings, the old candy shop on Circuit avenue.
“I think the more the better,” Ms. Murphy said. “Who wants bare walls?”
She indicated her own bare office walls and then pulled out a print she had purchased of a diptych photograph by regional high school graduate Lauren Dostal.
Her office walls won’t be empty for long.
The Jeffrey Churchill Editions exhibit continues at the Oak Bluffs Public Library through September 4.