By Lonnie Burstein HewittArtist Sibyl Rubottom was born a few blocks from the Hudson River in Manhattan, raised next to an estuary of the Long Island Sound in Mamaroneck, and got her first training in art at the Rhode Island School of Design, near Narragansett Bay.
Most of the major events in her life have been close to bodies of water — from the Connecticut pond on which she was married to the Ganges River in Rishikesh where she went to study yoga, and La Jolla’s Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, where she has been a teacher and artist-in-residence since the early 1990s.
So it’s not surprising that the main installation in her new show at the Athenaeum should be a cenote, her above-ground version of one of the deep and deeply strange, natural pools she swam in while exploring Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Inside the cenote, in the place of honor, is her latest artist’s book.
“I’ve done three big books about water,” she said. “One about La Jolla Cove, one about pool swimming, and now ‘Cenotes,’ which is being unveiled for the first time at the Athenaeum.”
Rubottom, co-founder of Bay Park Press, a small press known for its beautifully-crafted artists’ books, has another new book on display, her second collaboration with her firstborn son, poet Otis Rubottom.
“The Second Quarter” is a quartet of poems about his wife and young son; also on view is “The First Quarter,” which includes one poem dedicated to his father, and another to his mother, who designed and illustrated both books.
“They were a lot of work, but he’s worth it,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t such a good poet.”
Rubottom had her first Athenaeum show, titled “1x1 and then some,” 24 years ago. REDUX, which means brought back or revived, brings back some of her favorite themes: water, astronomy, botanicals, typography and ... elephants! Why elephants? “I like ’em!” she said.
There are 36 pieces in “SIBYL REDUX,” including prints that illustrate dream states and collages that re-imagine Himalayan maps. The “Then Some” part of the show includes iPad drawings — Rubottom loves her iPad — and a wholly delightful Book Arts Shrine, her personalized, portable spin on the kinds of idiosyncratic collections that were popular from the 16th through late-19th centuries and known as “cabinets of curiosity.”
Originally, Rubottom wanted her own “cabinet” to carry samples of her books to her classes. It turned into a repository of books and objects she loves, a box of treasures, roughly 35x14-inch, that sits on a red wagon, with color wheels on its wheels. “It’s a traveling workspace I can bring from village to village, as the Tibetans do with prayer altars when on pilgrimages through the high Himalayas,” Rubottom said.•
IF YOU GO:“SIBYL REDUX: Books, Prints, Collages, & Then Some” is on view through July 26 at Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Closed Sunday and Monday. Also showing are selected books from Bay Park Press and prints by Bay Park Press interns Leah Goren, Anthony Lukens and Morgan Miller III. (858) 454-5872. ljathenaeum.org