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Julie Chen shows art of books

Mills College Weekly

“Octopus,” “The Veils,” “Bon-Bon Mots,” “Leavings.” These could
easily be film titles, works of poetry or a new collection of
paintings. Works of art they most certainly are, but you won’t be
visiting a movie theater, art gallery or consulting a poetry book
to find them. These are titles of book arts, created and published
by Mills book arts professor, Julie Chen.

Chen, who received her B.A. in printmaking and sculpture from
U.C. Berkeley, and then an M.A. in book arts from Mills in 1989,
said that she discovered her passion by chance.

“I was visiting my sister who went to Mills at the time, and I
fell in love with the campus,” Chen said. “I wanted to get my M.A.
and saw the book arts program in the Mills catalog.”

Chen said that the program sounded interesting to her. She
already had an interest and a degree in printmaking and enjoyed
working with her hands. Book arts encompass binding, letterpress,
printing and printmaking, combined with three-dimensional art,
explained Chen. The finished products are unique three-dimensional
pieces of art that include text.

After completing her Master’s degree, Chen launched Flying Fish
Press, which has been publishing limited edition book arts (under
100), including her own, for 15 years. She has been teaching at
Mills for the past seven years and has taught at other institutions
around the country, including California College of Arts,
University of Arts Philadelphia, PA and Oregon College of the

Students and colleagues at Mills find Chen to be an

“From Julie, I am learning how expertise, patience as well as
discipline interact in the learning process,” said Padcha
Tuntha-obas, MFA student. “This is an experience I really

Book arts director at Mills, Kathy Walkup is Chen’s supervisor
and former professor.

“She inspires students and other artists through her work,” said
Walkup. “Her books are creative, with a high degree of craft
content, and she is highly prolific, launching at least one new
project each year.”

When not teaching classes at Mills or running Flying Fish Press,
Chen travels to teach workshops and seminars around the country and
has gained very high acclaim in the local book arts community of
the bay area.

“My company has a reputation for putting out very high quality
books, because of our attention to detail,” Chen said.

She is also one of the best-known book artists in the country
according to Walkup.

“She exhibits and teaches all over the country,” Walkup

Markets for these types of book arts are usually institutions of
higher learning, libraries, museums, as well as some individual
collector’s. According to Chen, Mills has a large and impressive
collection, due in part to the fact that the book arts program has
been alive for a long time at Mills. Chen also points out that
Mills, which offers a minor in the subject, is one of approximately
10 schools that still have an extensive book arts program in the

Chen said that of all of the places she has taught, she prefers

“One thing I love about teaching at Mills is that it’s a liberal
arts school,” Chen said. “I get a very diverse group of people, and
I get people who develop projects that reflect their own

To see Chen’s work, visit her web site or tune in to channel 9
KQED on March 3, at 7:30 p.m. to see Chen featured on “Spark”, a
local arts program, featuring works on paper.