"Oh, oh," said Dick, "See Spot go." "Here comes Spot," said Jane. "Here comes Spot to the boat."
I learned to read during the era of the "Dick and Jane" primers—stilted syncopated narrative style reader that relied on the method of sight word reading and repetition.
Like all elementary school students, I progressed to readers that were accompanied by vocabulary flashcards where new words used in each story chapter were reproduced (in 72 pt Century font, I later learned) on oak tag rectangles. "Ahead." "Canyons." "Goldfish." Seeing the words isolated and out of context made them mysterious, yet more powerful as coded visual symbols. I was fascinated by the cards an never tired of handling the, rearranging them, and building phrase combinations. Words became things to hold, language as found object, and text as open ecology.
As a visual artist, a maker, and a noticer of surfaces, images, words and spaces, one of my affinities is for fossil records such as dictionaries and encyclopedias where words are alphabetized, indexed, and otherwise removed from traditional narrative structures. As noted in a recent feature article on artists' archives, if you look up "abacus," "alligator," or "akimbo" in an old Webster's dictionary, you will see my college faculty advisor's illustrations, "providing a visual definition of those words." Professor Anita Rogoff deepened my text/image obsession.
Many of my artist's books are rooted in these early experiences with wordplay and disrupted narrative. They are investigations of letterform perception, of reading comprehension, and of giving tangible form to the poet's quiet voice. By physically dismantling the book structure and recombining its parts (spine, page, table of contents, etc.), meaning is reframed through layered intersections of art, typography, and page design. This new configuration then become the larger field or "page" through which context is revealed or veiled, and our understanding of words and the reading process is altered.
About the Artist
A visiting instructor of art at Kenyon College, Sheffield is a graduate of The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and the Cleveland Institute of Art. She is the owner of Unit IV Arts, and her work was recently published in 500 Handmade Books Volume 2, (2012) and 1,000 Artists' Books: Exploring the Book as Art (2011).
Selected exhibitions include those at CODEX V International Book Fair, Richmond, CA (2015), The Dairy Barn, Athens, OH (2014), J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT (2014), Denison Museum, Denison University, Granville, OH (2013), The College of Wooster Art Museum, Wooster, OH. (2012), The Word and Image Gallery, Bright Hill Literary Center, Treadwell, NY (2012), and the School of Fine Arts Gallery, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN (2011).
Sheffield has received two Ohio Arts Council Individual Arts Fellowships, and her work is represented in the collections of the Beinecke Library, Yale Collection of American Literature at Yale University, the University of California Riverside, The College of Wooster and Kenyon College Special Collections.