A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Book arts project provides way to reach out to adults with disabilities

Even amidst the clutter of her busy office, a conversation with artist Nicole Hand is an island of calm, with the kind of easy back-and-forth associated with a porch swing or a hammock on a summer day.

Currently a Professor of Art and Interim Assistant Dean at Murray State University, she teaches printmaking, bookbinding and drawing with a combination of grace, wit and wisdom.

A noted artist in her own right, she has 300-plus solo, invitational, and juried exhibitions to her credit. In addition, her work is exhibited nationally and internationally, and she has given lectures and workshops all over the country.

As if that is not enough to fill one person’s calendar, she is also wife, mother, volunteer and co-curator of a Facebook page called “Murray Kid,” which she manages with her husband, Jim Bryant, also an artist and MSU professor.

On top of all that, Nicole is one of the lead artists on “Hope & Glory,” a grant to the Calloway County Endowment for Health Care, focused on outreach to, and celebration of, adults with disabilities. In that capacity, Nicole will be working side by side with adults who have disabilities, guiding them as they create individual book art that will be exhibited locally.

Since I, a person who has never had a hands-on art class, need more information to understand the process of book art, Nicole picks up a long sheet of paper to demonstrate.

“Everyone will create something individually, but they can be put together in a unified series,” she says. “We can use strips of paper too, or even create hanging books.”

While I’m still trying to picture how that works, she snatches a square of paper from her desk and shows me how it has been folded, cut, and glued into an origami-like shape that indeed can hang from a string.

“They can be set on a table too, which is more sculptural. There are all sorts of ways to manipulate the surface. There is color, shape, you can use stickers or words,” she explains. “The process is open to however the participants want to put marks on the paper.”

Paper has always been part of Nicole’s artistry. She began as a printmaker, but became interested in book arts because of the way content is transformed when it is contained in book form. With that thought in mind, she was captivated by the idea of reconstructing the concept of what a book is.

When she took a bookbinding workshop in 2003, Nicole learned the basics. To refine her newly-acquired skills, she spent her first academic sabbatical making a book a day. Now she incorporates book arts into her classes and works collaboratively with other departments on book projects, including MSU students in Creative Writing Professor Carrie Jerrell’s poetry classes.

“My creative work has always had narrative and storytelling elements,” Nicole says. “The things I read inform my visual work.”

Nicole is also interested in how ideas, beliefs and skills are passed from one generation to the next, and the bookmaking workshops designed for adults with disabilities are part of that tradition. The workshops will be scheduled for May, and specifics will be available in April.

In the meantime, readers who are interested in more information about grant activities and programming can contact Keith Travis, VP of Development at the Calloway County Endowment for Health Care at ktravis@murrayhospital.org.

The Arts Access Assistance Grant is made possible through the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, which is supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information about the art of Nicole Hand, log on to http://www.blackdogpress.com/.


Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit her website.

Read all posts by Constance Alexander on KyForward

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Robert Bolick says:

    Readers should take a look at Blackdog Press, too: blackdogpress.com/nicolebooks.html

    Book art is more widespread and varied in how it takes shape than readers might think. Kentucky also boasts one of the most praised book artists: Susan E. King. Her work is held in several museums, including the Corcoran in DC: wp.me/p2AYQg-K1 King spoke at UK over in Lexington just last week. More book art here: books-on-books.com.

Leave a Comment