artist book: a work of art realized in the form of a book.
The definition may sound simple, but the world of artist books can be a bewildering place. From the familiar pairing of images and text, to sculptures created out of paper and complicated bindings that create a performance each time the book is opened, nearly anything can be called an artist book if there is intention and consideration. This series showcases artists from different realms of the art world exploring the structure and meaning of the book.
This month’s artist is an anonymous soul, but one whose work you may be familiar with. Early in 2011, a small sculpture was found in the Scottish Poetry Library by librarian Julie Johnstone. The small tree-like form was made of paper and mounted atop a book with a note that read:
“It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree… We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books…a book is so much more than pages full of words… This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas… a gesture (poetic maybe?)”
Clearly painstakingly crafted from the delicately colored leaves to stacked circles of paper that make up the trunk, no small amount of thought and effort went into this work. Next to the base of the tree was a small eggshell containing scribbled words later found to be from Edwin Morgan’s A Trace of Wings.
A few months later another sculpture was found in The National Library of Scotland, this one a carved from a mystery novel titled Exit Music by one of Britain’s best-selling authors, Ian Rankin. Another delicately crafted thoughtful scene, this one a gramophone atop a coffin, with a note containing again: “A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…”
And thus the literary world was ablaze! A series of fantastic book sculptures appearing all over Edinburgh (eventually 11 sculptures in all) delighting book lovers and artists alike, and had everyone speculating who the artist could be. Some pointed to author Ian Rankin (his books seemed a theme among the works) but the true identity of the artist is still not known. Each sculpture was found at a location dedicated to literature and ideas: a local art film house, The Scottish Storytelling Centre, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, etc. What seemed, to me, to start as a random act of art clearly had a bigger goal: to bring attention back to the always wondrous world of books, and thank those who are protecting that legacy.
Here an extra bout of fervor took Edinburgh by storm—Cap and Gloves was numbered 10/10 but was only the eighth sculpture found! And back where the artist had started no less, at the Scottish Museum of Poetry. An extended note was included with this sculpture as perhaps a farewell note for those who had followed the adventure. The artist (revealed as a “she”) thanked the twitter community a few special people who unknowingly helped the project along. “The gift,” she wrote, “the place to sit, to look, to wonder, to dream… of the impossible maybe… A tiny gesture in support of the special places…”
Shortly after, the last two sculptures were found:
We all need a little magic sometimes. Thank you, anonymous book artist, for giving the gift of wonder that we all too readily forget.
Margaret Hall is a book artist and photographer living and working in Asheville, NC. Before moving to Asheville to train in book restoration (and live life in the mountains), she taught book arts at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, where she also received her BFA in Photography with a minor in Art History and Book Arts.