Marine on St. Croix’s Wendy Fernstrum Wins Minnesota Book Artist Award

A book artist turns a familiar form into thought-provoking visual art.
Wendy Fernstrum’s book is art in both form and function.

From her secluded studio in Marine on St. Croix, Wendy Fernstrum creates intimate, cerebral meditations on language, love and identity. Her paintings, prints and artist books have been exhibited locally at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA) and the Walker Art Center, as well as at libraries across the country.

Her most recent artist book, which explores themes of wholeness and isolation, earned her the 2016 Minnesota Book Artist Award, presented annually by the MCBA and the Minnesota Book Awards. The inspiration for the book, One is the Holiest Number (#2), came from “Spirit + Matter,” a 2014 exhibition at Augsburg College in Minneapolis that included some of Fernstrum’s work. One of her pieces incorporated the continuous unpunctuated phrase, “one is indivisible and all are one is indivisible and all are.”

“My work throughout the past few years had been moving toward this theme of being one,” Fernstrum says. “I was interested in how we’re all connected, and I wanted to explore further this never-ending sentence.”

The book is both playful and contemplative. Readers are confronted with words like “atone” and “alone” on an otherwise blank page, but a flip of the book reveals the same words reconstituted as “at one” or re-imagined as “all one.”

“I like to play with words and perspective,” Fernstrum says. The book’s layout, she adds, “encourages the viewer to slow down and be mindful and aware in the present moment.”

Fernstrum prints and binds all of her books herself, enjoying the smell of paper and ink after a day spent at a computer for her full-time job as a content strategist. She became a book artist after taking a class at the MCBA when she was 35. “I was hooked,” she says. “It’s a fascinating art form that is intuitive but organized, like a big puzzle.”