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Retrospective exhibit at RAM shows Harper’s bookish interests

Retrospective exhibit at RAM shows Harper’s bookish interests

Harper's Bookish interests shown in retrospective exhibition

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Printer, photographer and artist Katie Harper found a fascination with the process of letterpress printing, setting type letter by letter, as an undergraduate at the San Francisco Art Institute where she had been majoring in photography.

Setting type, constructing sentences, operating a real, inked press, printing a page and finally binding pages into a book with her own hands pleased her creatively. But she is no Luddite who shuns technology. Even as she moved through fine arts programs at different colleges, completing an MFA degree in book arts/printmaking from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Harper worked in commercial graphic design using computers and graphic design software, proficiently and with interest in the modern digital tools now available.

“What I?do is think about what the content needs. You enhance the content with the right form,” she said. “There’s no particular consistency in my work. I do whatever the content needs. I don’t like to be put in a box.” 

“I tell my students when I am teaching the history of typography that digital work has taken some things away, but on the other hand, now, books don’t have to be only a vehicle for information. They can be highly expressive,” she said. “That frees up the book form – to do more.”

A book can express meaning through the materials it is made of. A retrospective exhibition of her work over 45 years, opening June 2 at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, reveals an evolution of her choices of expression. It shows Harper’s explorations into photography and printmaking as well her award-winning letterpress and book arts.

Her books are made in a surprising variety of forms. In the exhibit is a small work of letterpress printing combined with images added by simple rubber stamps. One book, “The Hit” has a clear acrylic cover, shot with a .38 to create a bullet hole.  Other works play on folding. She has created a work to be read as it is folded into a paper airplane; another is based on the idea of a folded paper map. One of her early books, which references the former Goldman Hotel in Fort Smith, is in the dimensions of a brick.  

After moving all over the country to pursue her academic and commercial graphic arts career, Harper is appreciative of the chance to exhibit in her hometown. Besides faculty exhibitions, her work has not been shown here.

She graduated from Southside High School before studying and working in San Francisco, at Memphis State and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she was able to maximize passions for design and creative writing with both old and new technologies in her bookmaking work.

Harper taught at Ball State University in Indiana, the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, Northern Kentucky University, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Dayton and Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. In addition to teaching, she also worked in the design industry, with positions such as digital design director for ad agency CF2GS in Seattle; creative director for advancement at Suffolk University in Boston, and creative director for marketing at Houghton Mifflin Publishing in the Boston area.

“When I was asked to take the graphic design teaching job at UAFS I moved here, presses and all, in 2008,” she said. The printing studio, first set up in the basement of the Gardner Building where it became named Underground Ink. Its new home in Windgate Art & Design building is bright, spacious and well-appointed with more presses, equipment and student workspace.

An opening reception will be held from 5-7 p.m. June 1; free for members, $5 for non-members. Admission is free Tuesday–Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sundays 1-5 p.m. Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, 1601 Rogers Ave., Fort Smith, Ark. 479-784-2787 fsram.org

This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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