ARTIST: Cara Barer


Pine Street Art Works was gorgeous space. The first time I saw the showroom at 404 Pine Street in Burlington I recognized the great bones. Although it was not living up to it's potential then, it was easy to see what the former fiber factory could become. High ceilings, brickwork, skylights and wooden beams made this a former city dweller's fantasy space.

photo ©Caroline Bates. pine street art works, burlington vermont, photo by carloyn bates
Pine Street Art Works. Photo by Carolyn Bates.

I divided up the 4,000 sq. ft space into three rooms and a hallway with walls that didn't go all the way up, interior vintage divided light windows and doors to add more light and charm to the rooms. And I painted the walls. It took three of us to paint, using many layers of custom blended paint, hand ragged and wiped...but what an effect. If I could have sold the ambiance I'd be a millionaire by now. People would walk in and just go, "Wow. Love your space." It didn't hurt that I also added halogen lights to show off the art, and lots of ambient lights for added coziness and atmosphere. Throw in a series of leopard print rugs, vintage furniture and, of course, the ever changing art on the walls, and you pretty much have my dream space. 

Pine Street Art Works 404 Pine Street burlington vermont
Pine Street Art Works 404 Pine Street burlington vermont photo ©Liza Cowan 

When I closed the gallery another organization moved in. First thing they did was prime the walls white. They took away all the color. They either left on the primer or didn't chose their whites carefully.  Now, I know that there are wonderful whites and a space can, I suppose, look grand if it's done in the right tones of white. Kauffman color specializes in finding just the right whites for gallery spaces and seem to do a great job. I've read their books and learned a lot from them about how to color a wall. But the walls here are dingy and cold looking. 

Then they took away all the ambient light. Not a good idea. Next, they covered up the show window - a main source of warm south light - with a backdrop wall. I understand the makes one more show wall inside and in some ways makes it easier to do a show window...but in my opinion the trade off is a disaster.

The floors...well I liked the look and history of the well-worn concrete, but I placed area rugs all over for pizazz and to soften the standing surface. They added visual appeal and much needed cushion for the legs and texture for sound absorption. Concrete is hell on the legs and all that brick and concrete makes sounds bounce all over.  

404 pine street under new management all white
404 Pine Street...under new management.

Why would anyone re-do a place so that it looks worse? I can't say. And I won't say who is running the place now...but I will say it's an arts organization and in my opinion they should know better. At first I was embarrassed because I was afraid people would walk in and, not knowing I'd closed Pine Street Art Works, would think I'd lost my mind. Or my taste. Now it just makes me sad and a bit mad. 

I try to avert my eyes when I walk by.

Saying goodbye to Pine Street Art Works

Next week Pine Street Art Works will be closing. After five years. I will be opening another small shop, with a much tighter focus, so I'm excited about that. But meanwhile here's a small photo review of most of the shows I've curated since 2005.

Kids in the window '05

My kids used to like to sit in the window and pretend to be mannequins. Liza Cowan Photo 2005


Klein:fake window

same window without kids. David Klein, Beanie For Peace. Liza Cowan photo 2005


Klein fake show

David Klein, Beanie For Peace. Liza Cowan, FAKE! photo by Liza Cowan 2005


Psaw card flash+hunter
postcards for Flashbags and Charlie Hunter Show. 2006


Keith wagner pods in window
Keith Wagner, pods, in show window. Hunter/Wagner show 2006. Photo by Liza Cowan


Hunter:wagner show
paintings by Charlie Hunter, sculpture by Keith Wagner. 2006. Photo by Liza Cowan


Psaw card cara+putnam
Show postcards for Cara Barer and David Putnam. Liza Cowan design. 2006


Cara barer show
Cara Barer show. 2006. Photo by Liza Cowan


Barer butterfly with pucci mannequin
Cara Barer, Butterfly. Mannequin by Ralph Pucci. Photo by Liza Cowan circa 2009.


David putnam show
David Putnam show. Photo Liza Cowan. 2006


Bread and puppet at psaw
Bread and Puppet Theater, benefit performance at PSAW, photo Liza Cowan 2006.


Psaw card artifact+goodman
Show card for Artifact, Liza Cowan design. Show card for SP Goodman, SP Goodman design. 2006

Window sp goodman
Show window for SP Goodman. 2006


Psaw card paper play double
Show cards for Paper Play, Alison Bechdel and Phranc The Cardboard Cobbler. Liza Cowan design 2006

Psaw card myra+steig
20th Century Works on Paper Show, and general use postcard. William Steig poster 1944. Ralph Pucci/Maira Kalman mannequin. Card design by Liza Cowan.

Psaw card denis+anderson
Show cards, John Anderson, Denis Versweyveld. Liza Cowan design 2007.

John anderson prepping show
John Anderson setting up his show. Liza Cowan photo 2007.


Versweyveld in green room
Denis Versweyveld show in Olive Room. Photo by Liza Cowan 2007


Paint by number card
Paint by Number Show. Paint by number painting,  image based on Norman Rockwell painting. Design by Liza Cowan 2007

Pbn show
Paint by Number Show. Mark, the postal carrier, enjoys the work. Liza Cowan photo 2007.

Psaw card nakki+connie
Show cards for Nakki Goranin's American Photobooth and Connie Imboden. Design by Liza Cowan, 2007 and 2008.


Sow postcard orange front
showcard Amadou Sow. Design Liza Cowan 2007

Painting by Mr. Masterpiece. Show 2008


Gombar postcard

Show card Richard Gombar. Design Liza Cowan 2008



Heinrich Harrer photographs, Seven Years In Tibet. Curated by Leslie DiRusso. Card design Liza Cowan. 2008


Studio glow in window
Studio Glow lamps and sculpture in the show window. Photo Liza Cowan 2008


Tim Matson. Pilobolous photographs show. 2009


Bloom postcard front
showcard for Bloom show. Liza Cowan design. 2009

Show Card David Powell. David Powell design 2009


Aline postcard

Showcard Aline Smithson. Liza Cowan design 2009.


Aline Smithson photos at Pine Street Art Works. Photo Liza Cowan 2009


TMNK postcard front
Showcard TMNK- The Me Nobody Knows, design Liza Cowan 2009


TMNK hanging his show. Liza Cowan photo 2009


Holiday 09 window
Winter Holiday show window. Liza Cowan photo 2009

Showcard Carol Golemboski. Design Liza Cowan 2010


Front showroom, Carol Golemboski Show. Photo Liza Cowan 2010


OK, well that's the brief tour.

I'm moving, reinventing, reincarnating, all of those things. Opening Sept 10th at S.P.A.C.E Gallery 266 Pine Street in Burlington.

As soon as I'm settled, Seesaw will continue as usual.








Judging a book by its cover: covers + blogs about book cover design

Yes! I do judge a book by its cover. So do you, probably. Most of my readers are pretty design savvy so you know you are critical, but even those of you who are not are still having a subjective response to the books you chose. Sure, we chose our books by author, by title, by subject or by a review we liked. These days, who is going to buy a book just for its brilliant cover?  Yes, I see some hands rising. But what if we are wandering around the bookstore? Or reading a review with a picture of the cover? What catches our eye? More importantly, what thrills us? What demands our attention? The cover.

  Ian Shimkoviak, The boodesigners, How wel live and why we die, book cover design, the human body details, cell illustration

Ian Shimkoviak: book  design. I love this!  The images are from The Human Body, by Cyril Bibby and Ian T Morrison. Puffin Picture book No. 102. Shimkoviak found the image here at SeeSaw. No worries, he's been generous on twitter and Facebook,  and I don't own the image anyway.

There are books I will pass by in the store simply because the covers are bad. They offend my eye. They do not thrill. Sure, for my favorite authors I'm willing to forgive almost anything just for the pleasure of the read, but a bad cover diminishes the thrill, and will likely kill random bookstore sales.

Authors have little or no control over the visual packaging of their books. It's not their fault if the design department of their publishing house has bad taste. But I do blame the houses for hiring  designers who crank out...visual garbage. Such a shame.

That said, there are so many brilliant book designers and so many ways to enjoy their work,  on the books themselves and through their websites and design blogs.  Book design is a good enough paying gig not only for the designers but for the artists and photographers whose work they often feature. Here are some  book covers featuring work by artists who have shown at Pine Street Art Works, or who are related in some way.

First, a photo by Cara Barer, whose work is always available at Pine Street Art Works. What can I say? Cara's work is stunning. Nicely featured here, with no distractions. Image relates  to the book topic  in an almost metaphysical way. Although it is a book of theory, the cover itself is lyrical.

 Cara Barer, ted striphas,
The Late Age Of Print. Photo by Cara Barer. Design by David Drummond. Columbia University Press.

Next, Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. Alison's original ink drawings from her comic series, Dykes To Watch Out For, are available here at PSAW.

 FunHome, Alison Bechdel
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel. Illustration by Bechdel.

Next, a photo by me, Liza Cowan, for Laurie Essig's Queer In Russia: A Story of Sex, Self,and The Other.  I took this picture in Moscow in 1994.  The publisher made it blue and photoshopped it so that the figure of the author stands out. I'm satisfied with the cover, which I didn't design, although I would have right - justified  the subtitle and changed the line spacing to make it closer together. Would have made the Q smaller too, since it's huger than the head, but still, I'm proud of it. Not so pleased that they never paid me, but I was new to the field, and didn't understand that cover photos actually pay quite well. They said it would be good publicity for me. Hah. Fool me once.


 Queer In Russia, Laurie Essig, Liza Cowan photo
  Queer In Russia: A Story of sex, self, and the other. Laurie Essig author. Photo by Liza Cowan. Duke University Press.

Next: American Photobooth by Nakki Goranin. Nakki exhibited images from this book at PSAW in March 2008. We look forward to exhibiting images from her next book on Tintypes. In this cover images sell the book. Anything but a simple title would diminish their power. 

 American Photobooth, Nakki Goranin
American Photobooth, Nakki Goranin. WW Norton, publisher.

Next, Connie Imboden, Reflections, 25 Years Of Photographs. Another photography book, the image is left to speak for itself, which it does eloquently. Connie showed her work at Pine Street Art Works in September 2007.


 Connie Imboden
Connie Imboden, Reflections, 25 Years Of Photography. Insight Editions, 2009

Next, Alix Dobkin's My Red Blood. Alix will be doing a book signing here at Pine Street Art Works in May. This cover uses an old snapshot of Alix in her girl with a guitar folkie phase. I saw the original mock up for this cover with a very different typeface, and it was weak. With this the title in bold caps, right justified, the cover becomes a symbol of strength, played against the sweetness of the muted rainbow tinted image. I would have made the subtitle shorter (not the designer's job) used upper and lower case of the same font family as the title. I don't really like the juxaposition of the two typefaces, but on the whole, the cover works well for me. In case you are interested, Alix writes about me in the last chapter. 

 Alix Dobkin, my red blood
My Red Blood, Alix Dobkin. Alyson Books, 2009.


If you are interested in book cover design here are some great resources. Enjoy!

blogs and websites about book design.

Caustic Cover Critic

Book By It's Cover

premiere de couverture

book covers anonymous

The Book Design Review

Faceout books

Book Cover Archive

Jacket Mechanical

Readerville Journal

covering photography

some designers:

My Book Covers: Megan Wilson

Good is dead: Chip Kidd

Helen Yentus

Elsa Chiao

Beyond The Covers: Ian Shimkoviak

Chin-Yee Lai

Everyday design goodness:

Design Observer



Houston photographer Cara Barer has scored again, with a stunning cover photograph on the new book, The Late Age Of Print, by Scott Esposito. Published by Columbia University Press - kudos to them as well, for having the great taste and style to publish one of Cara's 

The late age of print cara barer photo whirigig
cover image Whirligig, by Cara Barer.

Cara has had two solo shows at PSAW and we always carry an assortment of her prints.


Cara Barer, whose beautiful photographs have been showing at Pine Street Art Works for almost three years, just made it to the cover of Domus, the Italian Design Magazine.

Cara barer civer domus mag
Domus Magazine, December 2008. Cover by Cara Barer.

Mille Congratulazioni, Cara. Ciò è meritata bene.

AND... today Cara became one of the Photolucida 2008 Critical Mass Top 50 winners in their annual juried competition. Very big Mazel Tov on that, Cara.


Cara Barer was interviewed in Conversational Reading (an online literary quarterly)  Issue 12, summer 2008. The article is about book art featuring Robert The, Cara and Jacqueline Rush Lee. Essay by Elizabeth Waddell.

"Behind their playful solemnity, these books that flaunt their pages and pose as insects have an oddly wistful, fleeting quality. The ephemerality of books, not just individual volumes but the future of books, is one thing that led Barer to embark on the project. "I'm afraid the printed word will become a rarity, and the next generation will rely on the ephemeral word—the digital kind that only exists through a computer monitor, or a sort of virtual book that can hold thousands of titles. I'm not saying that's a bad idea—I only hope that the paper version continues to be exist for the people that want the real tactile sensation of turning a page and holding the real thing."

Cara Barer, Shitake

Jacqueline Rush Lee's work is something like Cara's but she presents it in it's sculptural form.

"Confronted with Unfurled, a sculpture by Jacqueline Rush Lee, it is difficult to know exactly what we are looking at. Delicate yet durable, its white striations blossom forth like the remains of some heretofore unknown sea creature or perhaps a fossilized fungi. It is neither of these. It is a book, fired in a potter's kiln at high temperatures until, instead of disintegrating, it reached a brittle, "petrified" state."

Endoskeleton by Jacqueline rush Less
Endoskeleton by Jacqueline Rush Lees

Also featured - Robert The:

"Robert The never intended to be an artist. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he double majored in Philosophy and Math and was interested in language and logic, pursuing what he calls the "foundations of truth and meaning." You might say his artwork continues that same search—but in a skewed way. Books are guns, a dictionary is a noose, and bugs crawl out of covers. They seem to mean something, but what? At the very moment that these works create new significations, the meanings float ever-elusively away."

Robert The, book gun
Robert The: Book gun


Cara Barer is one of my favorite photographers. She has had two solo shows at Pine Street Art Works in the past two years and now I have the pleasure of introducing her work to shoppers at Healthy Living Natural Foods. As some of you know, I curate exhibits at Healthy Living, which is  a great place to buy all fabulous foods, local, regional and imported, as well as totally groovy accessories.

Cara barer at healthy living 2 blog
Melaney and Scott at Healthy Living with Cara Barer photos.

Cara barer butterfly 2
Cara Barer, Butterfly 2. Available through Pine Street Art Works

Cara barer at healthy living 1 blog

Cara barer roget's
Cara Barer Roget's available through Pine Street Art Works

Cara barer flurry
Cara Barer, Flurry, available through Pine Street Art Works

Cara has a new blog  -  yay! Cara, so be sure to check out her blog and stop in to say "hi" in a comment.

Cara barer bound to please  
Cara Barer, Winston's on the cover of  Bound To Please, essays on American Writers and their books.

Cara's exhibit will be at Healthy Living until June 6th. The next artist will be Richard Gombar, for the rest of June, after which his work will go up a Pine Street Art Works.


Small_bag_4I cant keep these products in stock. They are my number one best seller this holiday season.

Two years ago Ali Marchildon and Laura Cheeney started making  Flashbags, handmade laminated handbags in Ali's dining room in Burlington, VT. At the same time I was getting ready to open Pine Street Art Works, right down the street. We started collaborating immediately.

Last year the bags sold steadily but slowly. But those gals have a lot of flash, as well as a fantastic product  and two years of hard work and a lot of great business sense are paying off. Their new atelier in Winooski, VT is a hive of sewing and packing activity. They have expanded their line to include checkbook covers, clutches, bins, wallets and placemats. Their new line of Red Sox items are a big thrill for many Vermonters, who consider the Sox their home town team.

This year the bags are flying off my shelves.

On the top is Liza Leger from my series, Fake! Paintings by Liza Leger, Liza Picasso and Liza Matisse.

Midnight_bag_white_bg_2 Flashbags is also now working with Cara Barer, the fantastic photographer from Houston TX, whose series of photos of soaked and shaped books  is a staple at PSAW. Cara's work is  in the Houston Museum of Fine arts as well as in a couple of  other fine galleries in the US. 

You can come here to PSAW- 404 Pine Street, Burlington VT - to shop for your Flashbags bags and accessories or go directly to their site to buy their array of images and products, or, for even more fun, order a custom bag.

Make sure to tell them that Liza sent you. And stay tuned for my new line of bags based on my ephemera collections, coming sometime this winter.