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Book Arts Center gets full-time director

The Western New York Book Arts Center, a working print museum and exhibition space that opened in 2009, appointed its first full-time executive director this week.

Eric Jackson-Forsberg, a curator for Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House Complex for the last nine years, will begin overseeing the Book Arts Center on May 7. He succeeds the center's co-founder, Richard Kegler, who has served as a volunteer executive director since the center opened.

In his new position, which is funded for two years by a grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation, Jackson-Forsberg said he hopes to amp up the public's understanding and embrace of the organization.

"We've always got to look at the uninitiated and how to bring them in," he said. "For an organization like this, especially where you're looking to increase membership, to increase support on all levels, I think [we] could step back a step or two and say, 'Does everybody really understand what it's about?' We really want to work on focusing the mission and making sure that's easily communicated to the public."

To that end, Jackson-Forsberg wants to include more interpretive material about the center's century-old printing equipment and deep collections of historical wood and metal type.

Over the last five years, Kegler and his wife, Carima El-Behairy, built the center from a small collaborative of like-minded artists into a bona fide print museum with a four-person staff. But he said his departure was necessary in order for the center to move to its next phase.

"For this particular part of my life, I have to just say uncle," Kegler said. "For everything to function and move ahead in a good way, it's absolutely necessary that I pull back."

Jackson-Forsberg, Kegler went on, was a perfect fit for the position, partly because of his experience and accomplishments at the Martin House.

"We're trying in some ways to reassemble some of the printing history of Buffalo that's been cast to the wind. He went about reacquiring historic windows and furnishings of the Martin House," Kegler said. "What he did there is pretty profound. I think those skills can definitely be translated into what we're requiring."

Jackson-Forsberg counts the return of so many original objects and so much art glass to the Martin House as one of his proudest accomplishments there.

"The majority of the collection had been returned to the house by late last year for the National Trust [conference]," Jackson-Forsberg said. "I feel like that was a milestone that I was able to accomplish and it wouldn't feel right to move on before that happened. But now that that's happened, that's something I can be proud of."

During his time at the Martin House, Jackson-Forsberg participated in all aspects of the restoration, including fund-raising, grant-writing, educational programming and strategic planning. He also edited a book on the complex's important art glass. Before coming to the Martin House, he spent four years as an education director and curator at the Castellani Museum of Art at Niagara University.

On the page of Book Arts Center's website containing the organization's mission statement, three categories are simply marked "pending," as if waiting for someone to write them. They are "Vision," "Short Term Goals" and "Long Term Goals."

It will now fall to Jackson-Forsberg to fill them in.