In late 2009, Laura "Lola" Baltzell, initiated a “crazy and enticing” collaborative art project: making a collage from each page of her old Russian edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The War and Peace Project, when complete, will include more than 750 individual collages.
Each collage is 7 inches tall and 5 inches wide, made on velum paper, and incorporates a page of Tolstoy’s Russian text along with images, text, maps torn and cut from old books, guides, newspapers and a variety of other materials.
Ms. Baltzell and her project partner, Lynn Waskelis, have assembled a small group of friends dubbed “Team Tolstoy.” Team members are Lucy Arrington, Otto Mayr, Lucy Zahner Montgomery, Emma Rhodes, Adrienne Wetmore. Otto Mayr who lives in Berlin is the team’s long-distance participant. From time to time the group invites guest artists to contribute a collage. Each artist is free to use their own style, yet the individual pieces are unified by use of the Russian text as well as from working side by side throughout the process.
There are few rules: each piece must use at least one word of the original text; the artist may not go back and touch up or re-do any collage. Each artist is free to respond to the story line or not. The group is delighted to view their project as a "loose and baggy monster", a term Henry James used to describe War and Peace. “It’s a mash-up of personal bits and random detritus washed up from the universe of print” says team member Lynn Waskelis.
For the team, it’s been a wonderfully unexpected and rewarding collaboration that has posed some pithy questions, such as: What business do we have ripping apart Tolstoy? Why War and Peace? What does it mean, if we’re not exactly illustrating this classic? What relationship do each of us establish with its text and the words and images? Is the effort academic? Artistic? Destructive? The team is pleased to admit that they’re not in complete harmony regarding these issues. It’s what keeps the whole thing interesting.