Creativity shines in MarinMOCA’s altered book show

When coming back from a trip to Idaho years ago, Julia Ross snapped a photo of a beautiful moonrise she saw over a mountain range. It’s an image the Novice artist could never quite capture in her paintings or jewelry — until now.

Aptly titled “Moonrise,” her piece is one of the 150 book art objects that will be auctioned off as part of the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art’s Altered Book Exhibit and Fundraiser.

“The image kept reappearing and inspiring and I thought, here’s a perfect way of using that image as a jumping off point,” says Ross of the work, which features mountains made of old-fashioned envelopes and various deconstructed book parts.

In its 11th year, the exhibit, which opens July 25 and runs through Aug. 29, allows artists to run wild and see what art they can create using books. Its jurors, San Francisco Center for the Book co-founder Mary Austin and Seager Gray Gallery’s Donna Seager, discuss book art and more at a livestream at 5 pm July 25.

“A lot of people don’t know that Marin County is really a central location for the book arts, and that’s mostly because of the tireless work of our co-jurors,” says Nancy Rehkopf, MarinMOCA’s executive director. “For people who want to stay current on what’s happening in the art world, they really should be altered book fans and check out the exhibit.”

MarinMOCA, like many art galleries and museums in the county, has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, so support for the fundraiser especially now is much needed, Rehkopf says. Although the exhibit is normally shown in-person culminating with a live auction, this year’s show will pivot online. Check for updates at

‘An artist leader’

Ross is no stranger to the show. For the past 10 years, she’s enjoyed challenging herself to see what she could make. Some of her crafty creations by Ella have included a reading lamp with a stack of books as its base and a music-inspired piece using her grandmother’s gloves and old music sheets. There also have been “a few duds,” she says with a laugh.

Since Ross became a MarinMOCA member in 2006, she’s made her mark at the museum. Beyond showing her work from her, she’s been a board member since 2009 and was board president for the past few years.

“She’s a very special person,” Rehkopf says. “I like to think of her as an artist leader because she does her own work, in all kinds of media, but she’s so great at encouraging other artists, and she does that by buying their work, showing up at their receptions and encouraging them on-line.”

finding inspiration

Growing up in Sausalito, Ross was inspired by the natural world around her, from nearby Mount Tamalpais to backpacking adventures with her family.

“My dad was not much of an outdoorsman as a young kid, but eventually he became very outdoorsy, and it was like let’s go hunting, let’s go fly fishing and if my brothers went, I went. I was the equal,” says Ross, who once owned a fly fishing shop in Larkspur.

Those experiences and Marin’s beauty still inspire her nature-themed works.

Love of watercolors

Ross’ foray into art began early, drawing at her dining room table. From there, she doodled hippie imagery with friends, took painting classes locally and did illustrations for the master’s thesis for her biology teacher at Tamalpais High School.

That’s when she fell in love with watercolors.

“An early influence was a woman named Leah Schwartz. Her son de ella and I were good friends, ”says Ross, who also credits painters Charles Demuth, Paul Cézanne and Winslow Homer for inspiring her. “I was going off to college and I had been dabbling around with watercolors and colored pencils. I went to her house de ella and I said, “Can I have a list from you of what colors to start with?” and it went from there. I just had a nice feel for it and a nice knack for it.”

After attending Humboldt State University, she focused on her craft at the California College of the Arts, where she got a bachelor of fine arts in painting in 1979.

“I was in graphic design. I moved to New York City for 10 years and got a lot of art influence there,” she says. “My aunt was a curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and she was a big art influence in my life.”

These days, Ross, who is in her 60s, is not doing the same kind of work she did when she started out.

“I don’t feel the need to hold to the detail like I used to,” says Ross, who has been working on jewelry and drawings at home during the pandemic. “It’s a different sensitivity. It feels very organic. It’s not like I’ve made a conscious effort that I am going to do something different. It just kind of happened.”

If you happen to see her MarinMOCA piece in the upcoming exhibit, she hopes it whisks you away.

“I wanted people to go hiking in those mountains and watch the moonrise,” she says. “Something to question and go on your own little journeys. I think that’s what art can bring to people.”

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