Local artist Dawn Rosendahl finds inspiration between the covers of epic books

By : Susan Clary
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Maitland – Most sculptors use clay, stone, metal, ceramics or wood for their three-dimensional artwork, carving, welding, molding and casting a final masterpiece.

But Altamonte Springs artist Dawn Rosendahl scours thrift shops and used book stores for the ideal materials to create her stunning, surrealistic sculptures. 

Rosendahl’s unique book carvings, including a 9-foot totem pole comprised of 75 books, will be featured through Jan. 5 at the Maitland Art Center. An opening reception for “Altered Book Sculpture” will be 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 13. From there, the exhibit will move to the CityArts Factory in downtown Orlando from Jan. 16 to Feb. 20.

“Her work is amazing and photos don’t do it justice – in person,” says Gretchen Miller Basso, Director of Program Marketing for the Art and History Museums Maitland. “I look at her work and am like ‘Wow,’ Not to mention, she is one of the nicest people I know.”

Rosendahl, 54, didn’t start out planning to work with books as a medium. Originally from California, she studied painting and sculpture at the American Academy of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. She moved to Florida in 1986 to work for Disney.

It was there that she met her partner, Cheryl Turner, 60, also an artist. They worked together on the iconic sculptures atop the Swan and Dolphin Hotel. They started their own business in 1989 and for the next 20 years worked on scenic design and production along with LGBT themed relief sculptures.

They traveled extensively for shows and festivals.

In 2011, after Rosendahl’s father died, she purchased an e-reader for herself. She was going through her books and picked up a utility knife and began cutting into the pages of an American literature textbook. She found herself on an archaeological dig.

“I had no idea what was going to be exposed in the colors and words,” Rosendahl says. “I knew there would be an art to it, so I kept at it and I fell in love with it.”

When Turner saw the first piece, she was excited with the possibilities. Rosendahl had her first show at the Museum of Florida Art in Deland, followed by the Boca Raton Museum of Art. She won a United Arts 2013 Artist Development Grant.

To date, she had made 20 pieces and sold six of them. Each project takes her between three weeks and five months to complete. They range in price from $2,500 to $14,000. She works 12 hours a day at a drafting table and changes blades every 30 minutes. Though she sacrifices books for her artwork, she does not think books are obsolete.

“Sometimes I start cutting them up and I think, ‘Dang, I wanted to read this!'” Rosendahl says. “I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about it. I’ve always loved the feel and texture of books and so many people share that love.”

Rosendahl was chosen to be an Arts and History Artist-in-Action for 2013. The program provides emerging artists a beautiful non-residential studio space at the Maitland Art Center. At times, visitors have the chance to watch them work. Current Artists-in-Action are Rosendahl, Robert Ross, Trent Tomengo, Camilio Velasquez and Chris Ware.

Some of Rosendahl’s pieces on exhibit are: “Keywords,” “Fishology,” “American Vision” and “When Fish Fly.” She is currently working on an orchid book and recently picked up an old edition of Grey’s Anatomy.

“It’s mostly about the shape, size and thickness of it,” Rosendahl said. “A good book is about five inches thick.”

In the future, she would love to be featured in additional shows – with a goal to appear in Art Basel Miami Beach, a world-renowned contemporary art show in south Florida. She would like to see her work in hospitals for patients to enjoy.

“I’m following this where it takes me,” Rosendahl said. “I’ve been very fortunate.”

More Info
WHAT: Altered Book Sculpture by Dawn Rosendahl
WHEN: Opening Reception: 6-8 p.m. Dec. 13; Exhibit through Jan. 5
WHERE: Maitland Art Center, 231 W Packwood Ave., Maitland
INFORMATION: ArtandHistory.org; 407-539-2181

Additional show
WHEN: Jan. 16-Feb. 20
WHERE: CityArts Factory, 29 S Orange Ave., Orlando
INFORMATION: ArtGalleryOrlando.com/City-Arts-Factory

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