French-language classmates produce new book
As students in a local French class, visual artist Anita Jacobson and poet Joan Turner found their takes on the world often felt entwined, or entrelacé.
Spurred on by the assessment of their teacher, Jacqueline Coumans, that “their talents would show beautifully together, side by side,” the women have produced a book, Entrelacé, which they call “a labor of love and friendship.”
The women previewed the book at the Desmond-Fish Public Library in Garrison recently and will do so again with an exhibition of Jacobson’s collages that opens today (Feb. 3) at the Garrison Art Center and continues through Feb. 12. At 3 p.m. on Feb. 11, the art center will host a reading by Turner and a talk by Jacobson about their process and inspiration. It will be followed by a sale and signing of Entrelacé, which was designed by Clara Pereira and includes 19 poems and images, to benefit the art center.
The book’s genesis was the French lessons, which Coumans began in 2017, initially over Zoom. Participants are required to speak in French. Turner said something that struck Coumans’ fancy, and “she asked me: ‘Why don’t you write a poem?’” Turner recalls. “I thought it was French homework. She then turned to Anita, asking: ‘What about you?’
“We’re both a little shy about our work, but Jacqueline kept encouraging us — saying that, ‘this is going to be a book.’ She was a real coach, mentor and friend. It was a great intellectual expansion for me.”
Jacobson recalls that “every time we’d meet, she’d ask ‘Et alors?’ (‘And, so?’), until finally it took off, independently. All of this was during COVID — a wonderful way to escape.” Turner thinks that more “marinated in my brain” during the pandemic. “My thoughts were more serious about the world,” she says.
Initially, Turner would send a poem to Jacobson, who would attempt to capture it in a found-objects collage, without being too literal. “That was the challenge: to get people to look beyond what Joan was saying,” Jacobson says. “To meet it in my own way, I started to get more abstract.” Turner noticed. “I felt Anita was constrained trying to fit into my words,” she says. “We felt our way and shifted into going back and forth, picking out things that struck us.”
Turner’s background is in anthropology and gardening. Jacobson studied art history at New York University and co-founded the New York Tenement Museum.
“This project brought out all these submerged qualities we both had,” Turner says.
Jacobson cites the works joined under the title “Sunday Morning.” Her collage, a depiction of pollution, embodied by a bird drinking oil, was done first. Then Turner interpreted that portion of the collage:
A nearby finch bends to quench its thirst. Even the tiny cricket chirping in his quiet corner echoes the rhythm of time, accepting what is here. At peace with the unknowing mystery of life.
“It was entirely different from what I had intended,” Jacobson says. “We just laughed. With art, everyone comes to it with a different mindset, different facets. To me, that’s just stunning.”
In another work, “The Changing Breeze,” Turner wrote the poem first. Jacobson made the last line, “How much sorrow can a tear retain?” a focal point of a collage, working from “more ideas than words to get the feeling of what Joan had to say.”
The poem is “a little sad,” Turner says, but Jacobson says “the imagery isn’t, so it balances out the sadness. I love the iciness of the image. For a face, I used a button, doctoring it up, pushing it through other objects. I got the background from a National Geographic image of a cherry with dewdrops. I copied it and it came out blue — there was something wrong with the machine. I also pulled a rubber necklace apart and added beautiful, transparent paper.
The Changing Breeze
By Joan Turner
Winter leaves reluctantly
Leaving behind its snowy tatters.
The days are longer, brighter
The more fresh and clear.
The warm breeze stirs the dormant plants
While the Robin announces Spring.
My thoughts linger on the pleasure of the moment.
Yet, I wonder if this will be my last.
How much sorrow can a tear retain?
“I collect a lot of stuff and use a lot of pieces and parts of it: In this one there are spiral paper clips, moss and butterflies, which reminded me of a headdress. I’ll rummage until I locate something that’ll work. It’s all cut out, done by hand. That’s why I love collage. If you don’t like something, pull it off. If you paint, you’re committed. I like flexibility.”
With the project completed, the women would like to continue their partnership. “I would like to get back to my little world of images,” Jacobson says, while Turner adds: “The human connection through art is a driving force for all of us.”