With apologies to fans of Danielle Steel, an artist has found perhaps the best possible use for the author's novels: not as reading material, but as building blocks for a stunning work of art being unveiled at the Bakersfield Museum of Art tonight.

Los Angeles artist Mike Stilkey has incorporated 924 volumes -- from trashy beach reads to classic works -- as the foundation for his sculpture "A Day of Celebration," whose focal point is a whimsical painting of an elephant in jaunty top hat and bow tie.

The piece is part of a collection called "Out of Print: Altered Books," one of four distinct exhibitions debuting tonight. BMoA curator Vikki Cruz came up with the concept -- an elegy of sorts for the printed word in an increasingly digital age. The challenge to the nine artists who partcipated was to deconstruct and repurpose books, magazines, even the Yellow Pages (not to worry: no first editions or other rare volumes were harmed in the making of this project).

"I have always been drawn to paper and the tactile quality of books themselves," said Cruz in a tour of the works at the museum Tuesday.

Perhaps the most striking of the pieces -- certainly the largest at 103 inches deep by 122 inches wide -- is "A Day of Celebration" by Stilkey, who glued together dozens of library discards, yielded from several successful Dumpster-diving expeditions.

"I was really surprised at all those books," said Cruz of her reaction when the shipment arrived. "There were no more than 10 books glued together per stack, but they were numbered and that's how we put it together."

Hawaii sculptor Jacqueline Rush Lee is showing seven of her intricately detailed works. One of the objects, "Slice," resembles a sushi roll and was created by soaking and drying several books and screwing them together. Two other standouts from Lee are the delicate, hand-painted "Anthologia" and "Lorem Ipsum II," a dragon-like shape that transforms the lifeless paper into a beast that bursts with movement and energy.

Visitors will want to spend some time with the works of Alex Queral, who has come up with the most inventive use yet for old phone books: He removes the pages and carves incredibly accurate likenesses of famous faces into the books, the background sprinkled with listings for dry cleaners, Chinese restaurants and dog groomers. Among the seven visages on display at BMoA are those of famous artists, humanitarians and wits, including Gore Vidal, Georgia O'Keeffe and the Dalai Lama.

"It gives the book a new life," Cruz said.

The other artists whose work will be featured in "Out of Print" are Doug Beube, Jim Rosenau, Guy Laramee, Cara Barer, Brian Dettmer and Mary Ellen Bartley. Stilkey and Lee are expected at tonight's reception.

'Paul Strand: The Mexican Portfolio'

Also on display is a collection of 20 images from the late photographer and filmmaker Paul Strand, a towering figure of 20th century modernism. The work comes from the period Strand spent in Mexico in the 1930s documenting the landscape, religious iconography and especially -- and most potently -- the plaintive faces of the people at a time of great social and political tumult in the country.

"Strand's works reflect his interest in using the camera as a tool for social reform," according to information displayed alongside the exhibit in the Ablin Gallery.

'Christopher Stott: New Realism'

Christopher Stott's fascination with books makes his collection of paintings a natural companion to the "Out of Print" exhibit. The works of the contemporary realist likely will prompt several double-takes, so lifelike are his depictions of books and other prosaic items like clocks, cameras and typewriters. The ordinary objects are anything but when rendered by Stott, who captivates the viewer with his attention to shape, light and composition.

'Long Road: Paintings by Laura Borneman'

The Bakersfield College art instructor has been fascinated by the Central Valley's terrain since arriving in Bakersfield from Philadelphia a few years ago.

"My setting affects my mindset very much when painting," Borneman said in an interview with The Californian earlier this year, when she was featured in Eye Gallery, the paper's annual art series.

"Coming from the East Coast, where the light is often very gray and muted -- especially in the winter months, when I first moved here -- I was very struck by the difference in the quality of light and how bright it is here."

The 10 abstract pieces Borneman has contributed to the fall exhibition beautifully showcase two of her finest qualities as an artist: a sophisticated, nuanced color palette and gift for shading.