Finding Magic in the Alphabet


Why Lynne Avadenka is inspired by the shape of letters and the meaning those shapes can convey when combined.

About the artist:

Lynne Avadenka creates art inspired by the philosophical and physical presence of books. She was awarded a project grant from the Covenant Foundation that has allowed her to create new work at the Gottesman Etching Center at Kibbutz Cabri in Israel this past fall. In 2013, she was a visiting fellow of the Humanities Institute of the University of Michigan and a visiting artist at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Avadenka was a fellow of the American Academy in Jerusalem in 2011, as well as a Kresge Fellow in 2009. She has received individual artist grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council on Art and Cultural Affairs. Avadenka’s work is exhibited widely and is in the permanent collections of institutions, including the New York Public Library; the Jewish Museum, New York; the Detroit Institute of Arts; and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. She is the artistic director of Signal-Return Press, a community letterpress print shop in Detroit, Michigan.

To learn more about the artist, visit her website at

You have created books based on your art, and artwork based on your books. Were you always interested in both art and books, or did one passion feed the other?

Lynne Avadenka

Yes, I think I was always interested in both. I was and am an avid reader, mostly fiction. I created my own “artist’s book” as a kid, writing and illustrating the story, binding it into a wooden cover with hinges. When I was young, I treasured a Speedball lettering set with an instruction book and multiple pen nibs that I got as a gift. I’ve always loved the look of letters, and the meaning that a combination of letters (pretty abstract shapes when you think about it) can convey. I began incorporating text into my work while finishing up graduate school, and it was then that I founded my press, Land Marks Press and began creating limited edition and unique artist’s books.

You talk about the alphabet being magical with its ability to convey meaning. How do you use or bring that “magic” into your work?

Using a text invites people into the work. Reading is a way of seeing and understanding that most of us share, so incorporating text into an artwork (perhaps) makes it more approachable. Once people engage with words, they are more inclined to view/interact with and think about the visual information that accompanies the words.

How do you choose the actual texts you are going to work with when it comes to creating your art? What are your favorite texts to work with? 

I’ve worked with biblical texts quite a bit. I have slowly been working through the Five Megillot: The Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ruth, the Book of Esther. Somehow Ecclesiastes remains outside my grasp! The others have all been realized in limited edition book formats, with my imagery serving as response to the texts. I have also explored the poetic voices of Jewish women, ancient and modern. I am drawn to lyrical, metaphorical, elegant, compressed texts.

While you were at the HBI, you created “A Thousand and One Inventions,” which transformed the gallery’s architecture into a work of art. Can you describe how you used painting, drawing, and assemblage to create an environment that opens up and reveals layers like a book?

As the first artist-in-residence at HBI, I was involved in the discussion regarding how best to present the work of an invited artist. When I was shown the gallery space for artwork, the exhibition display structure suggested the form of an open book. So I decided to respond to this form and create an artwork informed by the space itself. I combined elements of “By a Thread,” the artist’s book I created (text, format, imagery) with large scale painted forms that echoed and evoked architectural elements of the Middle East.

The book you created imagined a conversation between Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim, and Scheherazade, the teller of a thousand and one tales. Both women spoke up when they could have remained silent, and saved many lives through their fortitude. What spoke to you about this theme?

What I was looking for in the stories of these women was the place where their experiences overlapped. I found there were, in fact, many similarities in their narratives. The most powerful overlap is the fact that both women had only one means of affecting change, and that was their use of language. Esther is often described as duplicitous and cunning, but it was through her clever use of language that the Jews were saved. And Scheherazade’s storytelling prowess was critical in changing the mind of her murderous husband.

What are the thoughts and/or feelings you hope to evoke in others when they engage with your work?

I hope people are surprised and challenged by interacting with my work. I hope they find meaning, beauty, and mystery in what they experience and see.

What are you working on now, and how can our readers see it?

I have several projects in the works, in various stages. I’ve long been an admirer of the work of H.N. Werkman, a Dutch artist/printer working in the 1930s, and am planning a print project as a tribute. He was part of a clandestine group of printers, creating artwork in defiance of the Nazi occupation of Holland. For another project, I will be in Israel this November, working at the Gottesman Etching Center, preparing for a 2015 solo show in New York, inspired by the life and work of poet Rahel (Bluwstein). This project is sponsored by the New York–based Covenant Foundation.

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