Books On Books Collection – Erica Van Horn

Living Locally, Nos. 1-40 (2002-2019)
Erica Van Horn
Tab-and-slot cardboard box, H270 x W190 x D60 mm, enclosing thirty-two items produced with various techniques and in various forms and structures (print, accordion, postcard, pamphlet, paperback, hardback). Acquired from Coracle Press, 16 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Since 1996, Erica Van Horn has lived and worked in Ballybeg, Grange, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary in Ireland with the poet, critic and artist Simon Cutts. Her Living Locally series, which has engendered an online blog and an edited collection, has also had this other incarnation closer to book art, four items of which first drew my attention to Van Horn’s work. In her book for Van Horn’s 2010 Yale exhibition, Nancy Kuhl places the series in a section that “illustrates the artist’s long fascination with the ways language both describes and creates community, even as it determines individual identity and shapes personal memory” (p. 9). Over the years, returning Van Horn’s four small items to display on shelves and discovering her earlier painted bookworks via The Book Made Art, I found Van Horn’s fascination with language expressing itself through graphics, binding and other physical forms of publication in such original ways that this cardboard treasure chest could no longer be resisted.

Some words for living locally (2002 ~)

Some words for living locally, No. 1-8 (2002~)
Erica Van Horn
Booklet saddle-stitched with staples. H147 x W105 mm, 20 pages. Edition of 300, of which this is #134. Acquired from Coracle Press, 25 February 2015.Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.

The first work in Living Locally, Nos. 1-40, is this booklet, a copy of which was acquired for the collection in 2015. How is it that what might be simple reminders or observations in a notebook kept to help the writer understand the “locals” become art? For a start, there’s the cover: an altered copy of Van Horn’s Irish certificate of registration. The certificate’s front cover overprinted with the title, the registration number replaced with the copy and edition numbers — these set the stage, telling us that a certificate of registration is a necessary but not sufficient condition for living here. Some words are also required, so the title tells us. Inside the cover, a hallmark of a published work appears: the name of the publisher (Coracle) and place of publication. The photocopied passport photo continues the certificate metaphor, and the signature plays the dual role of registrant’s and author’s signature.

Although there are twenty pages in the booklet, only nine are numbered. Of the nine, only eight display an explanation or comment (in black serif type) facing an unnumbered page with the word under scrutiny (in colored sans serif type). These eight are the “No. 1-8” of the title as given officially in the work’s initial entry in WorldCat and in the complete series’ list.

The ninth numbered page and its facing page are blank. Perhaps in keeping with the registration booklet cover, space has been left for future stamping. Or their blankness might be explained by the preceding double-page spread offering the word or phrase “good-luck” and its explanation on the eighth numbered page:

a farewell expression almost the same as ‘see you later’. Goodbye is final, therefore rarely used.

Perhaps the artist is implying that, “blow-in” though she may be as the locals describe anyone not born of local generations, she is not saying goodbye and plans to record further words for living locally.

8 old Irish apples and 8 old Irish potatoes (2011)

8 old Irish apples (2008) and 8 old Irish potatoes (2011)
Erica Van Horn & Simon Cutts
Concertinas: apples in eight sections (single-sided) and potatoes in five sections (double-sided). Both: H90 x W90 mm (closed), W720 mm (apples open), W450 mm (potatoes open). Editions of 500. Acquired from Coracle Press, 25 February 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.

These are No. 13 and No. 17 of the Living Locally series. On first sight, the two accordion booklets in their acetate sleeves seem to promise images of apples and potatoes. Removed from their sleeves, they deliver on the promise but in typographic and metaphorical ways. There’s a reveling in the pleasure of type impressed on the stiff card surface and of the descriptive or mnemonic names of the pommes and pommes de terre (for example, “Bloody Butcher” and “Yellow Pitcher” for the apples and “Flourball” and “Snowdrop” for the potatoes). Images of fruit and veg would be superfluous.

Born in Clonmel (2011)

Born in Clonmel (2011)
Erica Van Horn
Booklet saddle-stitched with thread. H142 x W104, 20 pages. Acquired from Coracle Press, 25 February 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.

This is #21 in the Living Locally series. Van Horn visited Shandy Hall in 2008. On returning to Ireland, as she explains, she undertook this bit of “living locally” to find out what Clonmel had made and was making of its famous literary son Laurence Sterne. The booklet’s central photo of the Sterne Pub that no longer exists — in the hotel that no longer exists — in Clonmel rises past wryness in the context of the inevitable reader’s snort to which the tale of its non-use on dedication day gives rise. Van Horn’s plain, matter-of-fact observations and graphics would appeal to the original combiner of deadpan text and image in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman — a forerunner of book art.

Too Raucous for a Chorus (2018)

Too Raucous for a Chorus, with Drawings by Laurie Clark (2018)
Erica Van Horn, illustration by Laurie Clark
Casebound sewn. H180 x W125 mm, 64 pages. Edition of 300. Acquired at the Small Publishers’ Fair in London, 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.

Imagine if Henry David Thoreau had had the sense to be born a woman and transported in space and time to consider Irish village and countryside life of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. With wry and gentle humor, he might have written something approaching Too Raucous for a Chorus. Van Horn is a natural and generous collaborator, which manifests itself not only in her works with Cutts but in Coracle Press works such as this. Other artists and writers with whom she has worked include John Bevis, Harry Gilonis, Thomas Meyer and Eiji Watanabe.

Still, as Too Raucous and Living Locally demonstrate, her enduring collaboration is with language and the world around her.

Further Reading

Kirwan, Martha. “In Rural Tipperary, A Printing Press Led by Curiosity, Not Cost“, University Times Magazine, 16 September 2019.

Kuhl, Nancy. The Book Remembers Everything: The Work of Erica Van Horn (Clonmel: Coracle Press, 2010). This book is the only means in the collection by which to gain a sense of Van Horn’s more painterly bookworks such as La Ville aux dames (“second state”) (1983), which appeared in the 1986 Chicago exhibition “The Book Made Art”, annotated here.

Update (31 December 2020): Ms. Kuhl has provided the following links for Van Horn’s works in the Beinecke Library at Yale University: Prints, Papers, Materials in the Digital Library, and the Simon Cutts Constructed Archive

Schroffel, Laura, Annette Leddy and Emmabeth Nanol. “Finding aid for the Coracle Press records, 1953-2013“, Online Archive of California, n.d. Accessed 7 December 2020.

2 thoughts on “Books On Books Collection – Erica Van Horn

  1. Nancy Kuhl 2020/12/29 / 18:06

    Hello–thanks for this wonderful piece about the brilliant work of Erica Van Horn!

    Just in case it may be useful, there are excellent finding aides for Erica’s work and related collections at Beinecke Library:

    Erica Van Horn Prints:

    Erica Van Horn Papers:

    Simon Cutts Constructed Archive:

    And the Beinecke has made many of Erica’s works available in our Digital Library:

    Erica Van Horn materials:

    Sending best wishes,

    Nancy Kuhl


    • Books On Books 2021/01/02 / 10:23

      Thanks for the links, Nancy. I’ve added them to the entry. It’s a pleasure to be able — even virtually to see the works!


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