Books On Books Collection – Emily Speed

Unfolding Architecture (2007)

For a collection following architecturally themed book art, Emily Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) is essential. The video above shows how the box’s opening and the title revealed hint at the substance of this work. What cannot be sensed from the video is how the feather weight of the box and balsa-bound book of Mohawk Superfine resonate with the unbearable lightness of being that the main character Gordon experiences as he witnesses his city structure unfold across the twenty-two panels of his story. Here is Elaine Speight and Charles Quick on the work and Gordon:

The diversity of experience enabled by the fold is made explicit in Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) …, an accordion-folded book that recounts the tale of Gordon, a city dweller who witnesses the collapse of public buildings and, ultimately, his own home as the urban fabric begins to unfold around him. Housed in a balsa wood box that, somewhat alarmingly, unfolds upon opening, the fragility of the folded sheet provokes something of the protagonist’s anxiety about the undoing of his city. Yet, … the act of unfolding also produces “an open plain full of possibility” (Speed 2019). As Gordon asserts, unfolding is not the same as falling apart, and the artist’s book suggests that hope and potential may be achieved through the dismantling of existing structures.

The silk-screening adds texture and a just perceptible raised depth to the varying textures of the wood and the Canson Opalux slip that protects the colophon in the bottom of the box. Depth and varying texture repeat themselves in the accordion’s folds and paper attached to wooden covers that seem light as paper.

Gordon’s story ends with paper — an old, rolled up newspaper that reminds him of a tower (an image that appears on the colophon’s cover slip). It is a reminder that comes to him in his recognition that, in the end, “all he was able to do now was to contribute to the re-making” of his flattened world. The newspaper reminds me of the newsprint typo “manmoth” for “mammoth” that inspired Elizabeth Bishop to invent her poem “The Man-Moth”. The Man-Moth and Gordon share a surreality and a hope that resides in the imagination — that solitary tear, the man-moth’s only possession, that slipping from his eyelid, he will palm and swallow if you’re not watching …

… However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

The fusion of title, metaphor, narrative, image, technique of silk-screening, letterpress, texture of paper and wood, the workings of the accordion and box enclosure — all — with one another makes Unfolding Architecture as satisfying as the Man-Moth’s tear.

Unfolding Architecture (2007)
Emily Speed
Double-sided accordion book, attached to balsa wood covers, housed in a hinged, covered box of balsa wood. Book – H190 x W70 x D18 mm (closed), H190 x ~W2280 (open); Box – H203 x W88 x D63 mm; 24 panels, including cover panels. Edition of 90, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist, 24 October 2020.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Emily Speed“, The Aesthetic Trust, 30 January 2012. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Speight, Elaine, and Charles Quick, “‘Fragile Possibilities’: The Role of the Artist’s Book in Public Art“, MDPI Arts 2020, 9(1), 32. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – New England Guild of Book Workers

For 2014-15, the New England Guild of Book Workers have organized a traveling exhibition: Geographies: New England Book Workits itinerary covering each of the 6 New England states.  Last year, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the Wishcamper Center at the University of Southern Maine and the Bailey Howe Library at the University of Vermont hosted it. This year, the show has appeared at Williams College Library and is scheduled for Dartmouth College Library and the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, CT. Criss-crossing geographical boundaries as well as those of book art and the book arts, Geographies calls to mind the last line of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map“:

More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

Or, in this case:

More delicate than the historians’ are the [book-artists’] colors. 

Although born in Nova Scotia, Elizabeth Bishop grew up as a New Englander in Massachusetts with her paternal grandparents. As a far-traveller and visual artist as well as poet, she would have enjoyed this exhibition and found it fitting if it had included a broadside of “The Map”.

Nevertheless, what a range of “colors” from all the New England states and beyond – from historic to modern, from fine and design bindings to traditional and creative bookbinding, from artist books to calligraphic manuscripts, from masters to apprentices and from object to narrative. The latter finds a wintry exemplar in Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining by Laurie Whitehill Chong, retired Special Collections librarian and curator of Artists’ Books at RISD.

Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong Artist Book, Text in Book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress printed using polymer plate and linocut; edition of 25 15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm
Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong Artist Book, Text in Book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress printed using polymer plate and linocut; edition of 25 15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong
Cloth covered binding with flap and front pocket, smythe sewn.
Text in book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out
two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress
printed using polymer plate and linocut. 
15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm 
Edition of 25

The artist made this book the same size as her grandfather’s Appalachian Mountain Club hiking guide. Snow Bound is an invented ancestral narrative, in which the artist uses a surviving photograph and her grandfather’s notes about being stranded with his wife for five days on Mount Washington by a hurricane-driven snowstorm in September 1915 to re-imagine the ordeal from her grandmother’s perspective. Note the slotted front cover into which the flap extending from the back cover fits to keep the book closed, snug against the elements.

Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong
Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong

Julie B. Stackpole’s creative re-binding of Samuel Eliot Morison’s Spring Tides takes us from the New England mountains to the shore as can be seen from the layered binding.

Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965. Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding  21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm  January 2014
Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965. Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding  21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm  January 2014 Spring Tides
by Samuel Eliot Morison
Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965.
Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding
21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm
January 2014

In Stackpole’s words:

The traditional tight-joint binding is covered in navy blue Niger goatskin with waves in the lower parts created by paring before covering. Cut-outs in the onlays of the lighter blue leather of the water help it transition from the dark of the navy to the sky’s azure. Onlays of other leathers create the forested landscape of the shoreline and hills. These blues were chosen because the only blue leather in a large enough piece to cover the whole binding was the dark navy, while I only had scraps of the water and sky’s blue. The endpapers are a Cockerell marbled paper over-painted with blue, with leather hinges.

Pictures of the works in the catalog (and others not) can also be found at the Williams College Flickr site (for now). I say “for now” because they will be  pushed downstream inevitably in the way of today’s digital flow.  They may even disappear; although as Matthew Kirschenbaum has explained in Mechanisms, something digitally forensic will remain. That boundary of the tangible and the digital, the haptic and the virtual, is only lightly but evocatively touched in this collection.

When Julia Stackpole writes in the online catalog about that Cockerell marbled paper that it “felt to me like the waves and the shoals and ledges of Maine waters”, you long to lay hands on the Spring Tide. Anne McClain’s Place includes photographs taken digitally of places on Maine’s midcoast that have been special to her her “entire life and will continue to be a constant as other things change and move on”. What is captured digitally is reproduced physically to fix those places that will “continue to be a constant”. But places do change.

Anne McClain, Place Drum Leaf Binding  19 x 15 x 1.8 cm  February 2014
Anne McClain, Place Drum Leaf Binding  19 x 15 x 1.8 cm  February 2014 Anne McClain, Place
Drum Leaf Binding
19 x 15 x 1.8 cm
February 2014

Rutherford Witthus’ contribution touches the boundary between the digital and physical most directly. His artist’s book is entitled 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, of which there are eleven copies.

Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014
Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014 Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window
casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014

In these 11 copies, Witthus digitally reconstructs the windows of Charles Olson’s apartment at 28 Fort Square where he wrote his main work, The Maximus Poems, and covered the window casings with meteorological data. The artist book “presents for the first time all of the images of the window casings”.

Rutherford Witthus 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts Artist book Edition of 11 42 x 28 x 2.5 cm 2014
Rutherford Witthus 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts Artist book Edition of 11 42 x 28 x 2.5 cm 2014 Rutherford Witthus
28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Artist book
42 x 28 x 2.5 cm
2014
Edition of 11

Athena Moore, chapter secretary of The New England Guild of Bookworkers, produced the catalog for this itinerant exhibition organized by Stephanie Wolff, Exhibitions Coordinator and Todd Pattison, Chapter Chair. If you have the chance to see the exhibition in its next venue, take it.

Just as Elizabeth Bishop questioned the depiction of the boundary between land and water on her map – “Shadows or are they shallows at its edges …”, you will find the juxtaposition of these works reminds you that the boundary between book art and the book arts can be shadowy or shallow indeed.