I grew up on a small farm on the plains of North Dakota, a 45-minute dusty drive from the South Dakota border. Summers on that 360 degree sedimentary landscape were sultry hot, filled with hours of farm work. Summers on those plains were also lonely and books helped to fill long ambiguous hours. I consumed books in marathon reading binges on steamy porch afternoons or deep into a flashlight lit night. By the end of my 5th grade summer I had eyestrain and needed glasses.
The bookmobile would appear for one precious hour every 3 weeks. The honk of its arrival was a much-anticipated event and broke the sameness of time. Walking to the stepvan would take 20 minutes down a long gravel driveway, my sister and I each carrying a vertical column of Nancy Drew mysteries and pulp novels. The inside of the bookmobile had a muted darkness, a vintage car/library smell and an engulfing presence of books and shelves towering overhead. The interior space was compressed. A sideways movement was needed to get past another person when navigating down the same aisle.
I wish I could note that I borrowed Ulysses or The Odyssey from the Bookmobile. Reading was the only cultural resource I had besides the occasional family trip to a carnival, rodeo or the Badlands. Yet, the pulp fiction has given way to a richer curiosity of culture and the world. My family bookcase is central to our home and is filled with books of contemporary literature, travel writings, art history and art process, world mythology. Over the years neighborhood children have borrowed from our library for school research projects of history, physics, as well as art.
I have a personal section devoted to non-fiction: nature writing with scientific essays on geology, geography, history of land and water rights/usage, prairie gardens/restoration and environmental issues. I don’t treat these books gently. Pages have dog-eared corners and are underlined with notes, especially those that have references to landscape, the elements, and passage of time. A peek into my sketchbooks/journals will find as many quotes from my library as thumbnail drawings. This has been a major source of inspiration for decades of imagery.
bio: Bernice Ficek-Swenson is a Minneapolis artist working with copper and polymer plate photogravures. Ficek-Swenson, a printmaker and photographer who has been working with photogravure since 1995. Her work is inspired by the four elements and landscape and she uses stones, ashes, fire and water to create constructed photographs.
Ficek-Swenson’s photogravures are in numerous collections including: Polaroid, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Museum of Contemporary Photography @ Columbia, Chicago, North Dakota Museum of Art, Arizona State University Art Museum-Tempe, Frederick Weisman Art Museum, MN and the Athens School of Fine Arts, Greece.
Her work has been shown in national and international exhibits with solo exhibitions at the AIR Gallery, NYC, Cervini Haas Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Technohoros Gallery, Athens, Greece and in an alternative photo exhibition sponsored by Galerie-Par-ci Par-La, Lyon, France. Bernice has been an artist in residence at Anchor Graphics in Chicago and most recently she spent a month as artist in residence at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. She’s been a recipient of two Polaroid Artist Grants.
Ficek-Swenson’s gravures have been published in books on both photography and printmaking: The Polaroid Book, The Best of Printmaking, An International Collection, Printmaking in the Sun and the North Dakota Museum of Art. She is a Professor of Art at the University of Wisconsin River Falls where she teaches printmaking and drawing.