Behind the Scenes: Artist's book scratches the underbelly of city's history

Jackie Mantey, Columbus Alive

Artist Mary Jo Bole is into some pretty interesting s---. Literally.

Her most recent art book is called "Toilet Worship," a compilation of collages of scatological (read: poop-centric) "meanderings, segues, tangents and autobiographical intricacies of bathroom minutia."

In 2009 Bole created an installation that explored the history of plumbing inside Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, which was one of the first buildings in the country to have running water, even before the White House.

Thus, one should not be surprised to see a page in Bole's 44-page art book, "Combing Columbus: Photogenic Drawings for the Bicentennial," dedicated to her tour of the Jackson Pike Sewer Plant. It includes a painting of a pile of waste with yellow and green dots in it; that would be corn and peas, respectively.

There's plenty of other cool, metaphorically speaking, s--- in "Combing Columbus." Bole spent the last year and a half researching and creating the book as part of the city's public art bicentennial project "Finding Time." The $30 book is available around town at places such as the Columbus Museum of Art, the Wexner Center and Yeah Me Too coffee in Clintonville, and a display of the lithograph plates used to publish the book are on view at the Columbus Metropolitan Library's main branch through the end of the month, Bole said.

The book's pages are dense and bombastic with little-known stories from Columbus history, sometimes because they're not flattering (e.g. The Great Squirrel Massacre Hunt of 1822 or the cartoon of the Chamber of Commerce's cartoon Chris announcing "Advertising can do a job for the long-hairs, too").

Bole's book is a testament to Columbus' weird and/or awesome history. It's a guidebook for anyone interested in finding something just-off-the-radar to do in the city.

"That's something I love about Columbus," Bole said. "You can find what's interesting on your own terms. It's not all a tourist attraction."

Along with that sewer plant tour, she interviewed many Columbus historians to pick the book's subject matter, an editing process she called "brutal," and pulled from her own quirky memory banks.

There's a page, for example, dedicated to Brown Pet Cemetery by the Port Columbus International Airport. Before Bole retired as a professor of art at OSU, she used to take her students on field trips to landmarks and museums in town. Picnics at Pet Cemetery were common.

"People would be say, 'What? A picnic at a cemetery? Oh, that's MJ,'" Bole said, proving that this fun book's author is just like the whimsical art teacher in the movies you always wish you had.

Photo by Meghan Ralston