CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Look books:<B> </B>Skimming the pages at PVCC

When artist Terri Long heard, "Don't judge a book by its cover," she apparently missed the "don't" and took the rest literally. In fact, she often discards everything inside the volume in order to salvage gold-embossed spines, cloth casings, and marbled end papers to use in her abstract collages and "quilts."

Long is one of six artists showcased in "Book 'Em," an exhibition of book art currently on view at Piedmont Virginia Community College to coincide with the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Whereas Long celebrates the materiality of books, Marie Mennes explores the visual effects of editing their content. Her "Changing Subjects" series features printed pages, framed like specimens, that Mennes alters by pasting over the text with parallel strips of almost-blank paper and, in one case, stitching through the lines with looping black thread. The effect is subtle and disorienting.

T.J. Huff also uses small book pages for canvases, embellishing them with woodcut prints or cartoon-like paintings. Huff, however, leaves much of the printed text visible as a comment on the images he adds.

In "The Perfect and Future Perfect," Huff paints two well-known fertility figures, the squat, fleshy "Venus of Willendorf" and the gracefully slender "Nile Goddess," onto a page from a Greek grammar. Using these ancient symbols, the artist offers a wry observation about our contemporary body-image obsession.

For Mary Jo Sinclair, books serve as literal seats of learning. Careful in every detail, Sinclair builds small chairs from rainbow-hued twigs, paintbrushes, and pencils, quietly incorporating relevant bits of text here and there. In "Centering," a broken ruler reading "ING CENTER" serves as the back slat. From its middle, a tiny red-tipped brush, pasted with the words, "Joy of Spirit," hangs like a plumb line, while the teal-painted book seat reveals, "The reward of it all."

Of the "Book 'Em" artists, Jennifer Van Winkle is the only one to create an actual book. Resting on a black shag bench and bound in white shag, her oversized "Similar Yet Different" features a French-door binding that opens at the center to offer parallel readings on the left and right.

Van Winkle's signature tripartite goat provides the running image, and she cleverly manipulates stenciled letters and shapes to suggest uniformity, while using shading gradations and jumbled components to emphasize variation. Her intellectually rich work fuses wordplay and visuals with the tactile pleasure of turning pages.

"Book 'em," a mixed-media exhibition of works by Terri Long, Jennifer Van Winkle, T.J. Huff, Bo Sterk, Mary Jo Sinclair, and Marie Mennes, is on view at Piedmont Virginia Community College through April 27. V. Earl Dickinson Building. 961-5381.