Frank Brannon, a book artist from Dillsboro, has been selected for the first Mary B. Regan Residency Grant for a project to revitalize the Cherokee language through his artistry as a letterpress printer.
Brannon’s one-year project is based on his work with a program he supports at Southwestern Community College in Swain County, near Cherokee, where students are learning the art of printmaking by printing materials using the Cherokee syllabary. The 85-character syllabary was developed in 1821 by Sequoyah – a silversmith, blacksmith and artist – making it possible to read and write the spoken language of the Cherokee.
Working with translations from the Cherokee Studies Program at Western Carolina University, Brannon uses manual printing techniques to preserve the language and its original Cherokee syllables. In a series of public workshops, members of the surrounding communities will produce prints that will culminate in an edition of handmade books. The workshops will be held at the Southwestern Community College printing studio as well as Brannon’s own studio in Dillsboro.
“Like many languages around the world, the Cherokee spoken language is struggling to continue as there are fewer and fewer speakers,” Brannon said. “As a book artist I thought about how we might print in Cherokee in this way to support Cherokee language revitalization.” His M.F.A. thesis was Cherokee Phoenix: Advent of a Newspaper, which focused on the historical 19th-century newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, which was printed in both English and Cherokee.
The Mary B. Regan Residency is a one-year community artist grant named in honor of former N. C. Arts Council Executive Director Mary B. Regan’s 39 years of service to the arts and artists of North Carolina. The $15,000 grant, supported by donations, will allow Brannon to focus on revitalizing the Cherokee language in partnership with students and the wider community in Swain and Jackson counties.
“When I think of myself as a community artist, I think about the ability of a person to use art to support or transform a community, and combined with visual arts, I expect my artwork to be a catalyst for change using a visual approach,” he said.
Brannon focuses his work on three areas: hand papermaking, hand bookbinding and letterpress printing. Working with book artist Steve Miller, Brannon produced the paper for a limited edition print of Voyage by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. He was commissioned to make 200 copies of Absalom, Absalom! celebrating William Faulkner’s birthday. The commission, for Square Books, featured letterpress printing on handmade cotton rag paper.
He has also explored expanding the concept of the book form to include installations featuring imagery and text on handmade paper filling a gallery space and is experimenting with outdoor installations where the paper will interact with the environment.
Brannon has an M.F.A. from the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama. His work is in almost 50 library collections and he has been in four solo exhibitions and an exhibition that traveled to six venues in the Southeast.
He is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, Southeastern College Art Conference and a past board member of Hand Papermaking, Inc.
For more information on the arts in North Carolina visit www.ncarts.org.