“Toy store opens in old Winslow Drug.” This headline appeared in the Bainbridge Islander, a local newspaper, when Ruth & I visited this cultured island. This new store will do well. Bainbridge Island is a toy store kind of place. Small and kind of rectangular with lots of bays and harbors, it sits across Puget Sound from Seattle. Still quaint, Bainbridge is experiencing rapid growth that might become detrimental. My brother Jim was with us, hadn’t been there for a couple of years, and was shocked at its growing traffic-choked urbanization. There are only 2 ways to access this island: A busy bridge over Agate Pass or a ferry from Seattle. A woman in the visitor center told me that people getting off boats after Alaskan cruises often climb aboard a ferry and day-trip to Bainbridge.
Washington State Ferries, according to one Bainbridge brochure, carry more people than all other U.S. ferries combined. It seems to me as though most of them are carryng travelers who want to see an island with a surprisingly rich history, non-chain shops, and cozy restaurants. A huge bikers’ destination, Bainbridge has 27 parks, a remarkable number for such a small island. That same brochure gloats, “Bainbridge offers the tranquility of island life at its best.” I hope this remain true.
Bainbridge has only one town, Winslow. This small community has many attractions. My favorite is unusual in 3 ways. First, it’s a quality museum one would expect to find in a much larger urban area, second, it displays Puget Sound artists from the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas and, third, it has a unique collection of artists’ book. The folks who decide what visitors see completely change BIMA’s exhibits 3 times a year. We were fortunate to see Bremerton resident Alan Newberg’s elegant, abstract wooden sculptures. If you don’t make it to Bainbridge before spring arrives, you will not see them here. You will, however, experience exceptional regional art and some artists’ books.
I was not familiar with the term artists’ books before visiting the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA). They are miniature, themed wonders that fold out, fill a box, or unroll in delightful ways like tiny stage sets. Poet William Blake is said to be their originator, and 20th century artists continued the tradition. The craft has made it to the 21st, and BIMA founder Cynthia Sears is the inspiration behind and promoter of this singular art form in the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. I was told with both respect and wonder that each time the museum changes its exhibits Sears selects new artists’ books from her collection to enchant those who enter a very special book room on the 2nd floor.
The staff assured me that other museums and libraries share BIMA’s enthusiasm for this delicate art form. London’s vast Victoria and Albert Museum, the University of Denver, and the Library of Congress are just 3 of the collectors on this list of close to forty institutions that invest in and sometimes display artists’ book. I plan to check some of them out as I travel.