Nora Bernhardt believes everyone has a story to tell -- especially a story of kindness. As an artist who designs and binds handmade books, she recently launched a project that will help people throughout the Chattanooga community share their stories with others.
The Book of Loving Kindness is a leather-bound volume containing 400 blank pages on which people can describe an act of kindness done for them, by them or that they hope to accomplish in the future. Visitors can use photographs, drawings, poetry or writing to convey their messages and boxes of pens, colored pencils, markers, glue sticks and scissors are available.
The book is at Planet Altered, 48 E. Main St., through Friday and will be moved weekly to a new public location. Its journey and future locations are documented at www.bookoflovingkindness.com.
"The book will go to hospitals, shelters, art galleries, libraries and more," said Bernhardt. "Blank pages will also be given to interested schools, groups and organizations to reach more people. These pages will be inserted in the book, too."
The Book of Loving Kindness will be included in the HATCH festival's 10-day exhibition that showcases 100 creative works April 13-22.
Bernhardt has always been inspired by stories of kindness. When she realized that Feb. 13-19 was officially designated as Random Acts of Kindness Week, she decided to create a project that utilized her skills as a book artist. She heard about Planet Altered's Community Arts Funded Events and submitted a proposal.
Peroidically, Planet Altered holds a CAFE Visitors pay $12 to come to the gallery for dinner and listen to three people present ideas for a project. At the end of the evening, the audience votes on its favorite project, and the winner receives $10 of each $12 ticket as a grant to further his or her idea.
In January, Bernhardt won for her concept for The Book of Loving Kindness.
Though she has been making books for about 20 years, Bernhardt found her way to this medium through a rather circuitous route. A native of Louisiana, she received her undergraduate degree from Tulane and enrolled at Columbia University in New York to become a geneticist. However, she changed her major and received an MBA degree instead.
She worked in New York City for a while and then moved to Louisville, Ky. where she became a grant writer and worked in marketing. In 2006, she moved to Chattanooga to marry Bob Bernhardt.
It was in Louisville that she was introduced to book arts. Classes throughout the years at John C. Campbell Folk School and BookWorks in Asheville, N.C., have helped hone her skills. A MakeWork grant from CreateHere further helped her refine her technique through the purchase of a board shear.
"After receiving that grant, I felt that I needed to give back to the community, so I started the Chattanooga Book Arts Collaborative," she said. "It's much like a guild, and we meet once a month and a different person gives a demonstration."
Bernhardt grew up in an artistic family, but decided to channel her creativity into the medium of book arts because she is a tactile person and enjoys handling the papers and other materials involved. Nature serves as the source of much of her inspiration. Often, an experience may overwhelm her emotionally, and she creates a book to document or process it.
"Books are also a way to communicate meaning on so many levels," she said. "Words may or may not always be involved."
The Book of Loving Kindness will circulate throughout Chattanooga until May. Bernhardt hopes that the sharing of stories -- our own as well as reading others' -- will inspire each of us to be more supportive of others and live better lives.
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Email Ann Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org.