Bookmarking Book Art – Monique Lallier

Monique Lallier: A Retrospective
Guilford College Art Gallery

North Carolina can be a quiet state of hidden gems. Particularly those of the book arts, book art and publishing variety. The art gallery fronting the library on the Quaker-founded Guilford College campus in Greensboro is one such gem. Within that gem for the next two months is another.  The Gallery’s director and curator Theresa N. Hammond has marshaled its collection of Monique Lallier’s bindings and dozens of others from around the world for a retrospective on forty-six years of work by Lallier.

Lallier’s roots are in the tradition of fine French binding, which goes back to the practice of book buyers’ purchasing unbound books and taking them to their favorite specialist binder for customized binding, most often in leather. Lallier has written here about the technique in detail. While it is true to call Lallier a bookbinder, it misses what the displayed works say she is: a sculptor and artist of the book. For anyone lucky enough to visit Guilford College Art Gallery, the comments and photos below offer a handful of pointers to details and background supporting that statement. The exhibition catalogue including an insightful essay by Karen Hanmer as well as multiple views of the works displayed and several outside the exhibition will clinch the argument.

Be sure to take in all angles provided by the mirrors behind many of the works.
Theresa N. Hammond, the Gallery’s director and curator, reflected here behind La Lune (1971) and its swiveling “phases of the moon”, rounds coated in eggshells of differing colors.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Lallier’s artistry is her innovative use of materials: eggshells in La Lune (1971), her own hair in L’Eloge de la Folie (1974), translucent agates in Portes Sud (1979), silver in Histoire de Minnie (1982), wires from old telephones in Lignes (1986) and pewter in The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s (2002).

L’Eloge de la Folie (1974)
Rarely does Lallier use on the cover an image from within the book at hand. Here is one of the exceptions. The cavorting monks from Erasmus’ satire come from Albert Dubout’s 1951 illustration of the classic. Lallier, however, couldn’t resist using her own hair to form their tonsures.
Portes Sud (1979)
Note in the reflection the light coming through the agate embedded in the cover.
Histoire de Minnie (1982)
In the exhibition, be sure to look at the back cover where Lallier has used the silver piece, embedded in the front cover, to stamp the back cover.
Lignes (1986)
This is Lallier’s only collaboration from scratch. For a Montréal exhibition whose organizers set the theme of “lignes” or lines, she conceived the cover design. Sharing only blank pages and not the design, she then asked Claude Péloquin to provide text and illustrations on the theme.
The “telephone wires” attached to the front cover are loose and manipulable by the reader — a tongue-in-cheek form of interactivity with lines of communication in the pre-Web age. 
The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s (2002)
Visiting a Parisian builders’ store with a friend selecting decor items, Lallier was entranced by sheets of pewter and its varying thicknesses. She bought some. The inspired result above sits alongside another in the exhibition — The Enchiridion of Epictetus (2003); be sure to look at the reflection of The Enchiridion to spot the use of pewter in the interior.

The odd materials chosen are frequently highly apropos of the book in question. In the catalogue, take a look at Le Papier, Le Livre (2015), which has embedded pieces of a wasp’s nest, entirely in keeping scientifically and historically with the subject. In 1719, the French naturalist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur published an essay to the Royal Academy of Sciences on the natural history of North American wasps and hypothesized how man could adopt their natural papermaking industry.

Another element of Lallier’s work to look for is the form of binding — not just the covers but the interior structure. Despite the glass cases protecting these items, it is easy to spot and enjoy the structural features, for example, the book in the form of a distinctively shaped Southern lady’s fan for The Birthday (1990). The catalogue shows a dos-à-dos (back-to-back) binding of the volumes of Pilgrim’s Progress (2003), a daring rebinding of a rare 18th century production. The Friends of the Library at University of Alberta made the courageous right decision.

Pilgrim’s Progress (2003)
Dos-à-dos binding, showing the first part of the book, in which Pilgrim sets out on his journey in darkness, which Lallier marks with a black leather circle with a palladium dot at its center. 
Photo credit: University of Alberta.
Pilgrim’s Progress (2003)
Dos-à-dos binding, showing the second part of the book, in which Pilgrim arrives at the Celestial City, which Lallier marks with a gold tooling radiating from a gold circle. 
Photo credit: University of Alberta.

Some of the interior and exterior forms are more subtle. Lallier has made extensive use of the stub binding technique (see below), and there are several examples of cross structure binding (see below).

Look for this style of binding called montage sur onglets or stub binding that allows pages to lay flat or even be easily detached. Look for Le Chevalier Troyen (2014) and Inside the Book (2016), displayed side by side in the exhibition and showing this form of binding.
Le Livre des Origines  / The Book of Origins by André Ricard, 2005
In the exhibition, be sure to look closely at the spine’s deliberately exposed cross-structure binding in full goatskin leather. 

Le Livre des Origines is another one of those rareties where Lallier uses on the cover something from within the book. Stamped on the front, the phrase alternating in English and French comes from the text relating the Huron Nation’s creation myth as recorded in French by ethnologist Marius Barbeau, reinterpreted and rewritten by André Ricard. The alternating roman and italic presentation of languages reflects the book’s alternating pages of English and French. Note how the simple design in black and red with the diagonal onlays of green leather captures characteristic elements of the art of the Wyandot tribes, which can be explored here. A design philosophy of using imagination and craftsmanship in service to the book exemplifies itself again and again throughout the exhibition.

Which brings us to another characteristic of Lallier’s art to seek out: the painstaking handwork. For this, Pantagruel (2016) is worth a long look. Lallier once observed a student engaged in kumihimo braiding (the Japanese technique of using a disk to gather multiple threads of different colors into a single strand) and asked to be taught.  Inspired by André Derain’s illustrations of Rabelais’ riotous satire, she set out to use braids for the title’s letters, filled and surrounded with the colors from the illustrations. Some of the leather inlays are handpainted; all — even the smallest — are handcut, beveled, tucked in the covering leather and tooled. The series of process photos below — all courtesy of the artist — provide a look behind the scenes.

Pantagruel (2016)
Awarded one of 25 Silver Prizes at the International Competition of Designer Bookbinders (2016)

Shakespeare: Les Sonnets (2012) is another case in point of craftsmanship. Creation of this work began with a drawing (shown below) and then a maquette to enable Lallier to visualize the sculptural and aesthetic implications of multiple layers’ surfaces and edges being seen from all angles. The boards were cut out and lined with a green goat skin. The covering leather was also cut out and lined with green Japanese paper before covering. The doublures (linings of the book cover) received the same treatment before being applied to the inner boards.

Shakespeare: Les Sonnets (2012)

There is a sense of movement in this three-dimensional, sculptural treatment of the cover, which brings us to a final pointer for visitors. Lallier’s signature and most original technique — the front cover panel that swings open along the fore-edge to reveal a hidden design. 

Excerpts from the Humorous Writings of Leonardo da Vinci (1996)
The open panel reveals a geodesic dome in leather with gold and palladium tooling. With the panel closed, the front cover’s design echoes a Da Vinci machine.
Lost and Found (2014)
The illustrations inside the book come from previously lost engravings by Rachel Reckitt, some showing the blitz of London from which Lallier has drawn the inspiration for her hidden panel.
Vendredi ou la Vie Sauvage (2015)
Opening on layers on layers of carved foliage, the panel evokes the island on which Friday finds himself castaway in Michel Tournier’s version of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. In the exhibition, stand on tiptoe or someone’s shoulders to see the top edge’s coloring. Extraordinarily it resembles flower petals submerged in water. 
Les Escaliers de Québec (2013)
Bound in black Morocco leather in the “drop spine” technique, this work unites the stair-stepping accordion form of the text with a gold-tooled title climbing the steps of the front cover panel, which opens on a hand-colored pop-up set of Escher-like stairs.

Lallier’s unity of design with the text by Luc Bureau and illustrations by Ghislaine Bureau celebrating the famous thirty sets of stairs between the upper and lower parts of Québec can hardly be excelled.  Except that she does — again and again — with the examples on display.  This retrospective resoundingly affirms Lallier’s intention always to serve the book in front of her. Go judge for yourself.

Monique Lallier: A Retrospective runs from 29 October through 6 January 2019 at The Guilford Art Gallery on the campus of Guilford College. For more background on Lallier’s work, there is a series of interviews with Erin Fletcher of Herringbone Bindery here.

Bookmarking Book Art – in medias res … Andrew Hayes

When Andrew Hayes told me it was e.e. cummings’ 100 poems he had found in the middle of the stacks of books awaiting a bookshelf he planned to build, I winced. Cummings has always been hard for me to figure. I was hoping for a more accessible book as a pretext to kick off our interview.

If you have not encountered one of these  interviews on Books On Books, I should explain. The idea is that the book artist selects a book from the middle of the home or studio bookshelf, opens it to the middle, and tells me the author, title and page number. After tracking down the book, I send off some questions and so the interview begins.

Stalagmites of books in the home of Andrew Hayes, book artist
Stalagmites of books in the home of Andrew Hayes, book artist

It turned out that cummings was hard to access for Andrew as well. He wrote:

As I took the book from its place in the middle I had to take care, as you can see this is not the most efficient way to retrieve a book. I was able to carefully remove the book with out the top half toppling down, this time…

Just like extracting the meaning from the poem that just happened to be bookmarked in the middle of the cummings volume. The poem begins:


(of sort of) 

A soursweet bedtime

and ends:



into the not 

merely immeasurable into 
the mightily alive the 
dear beautiful eternal night

Until Andrew carefully pulled out this volume bookmarked by his partner Kreh Mellick, he had not read it. “To be honest, I do not read as much as I would like, ….” Still, I wonder if, as his eyes moved through the broken-up layers of syntax and the juxtaposition of the “soursweet bedtime” story with “the mightily alive the/ dear beautiful eternal night”, he recognized something of his own?

Hade, Andrew Hayes Steel, book pages, and copper 16'' x 6'' x 3'' 2013 Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Hade, 2013
Steel, book pages, and copper
16” x 6” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

The title of this piece is Hade. “Hade” is a geological term, like Placer and Lode (titles of these other striking sculptures).

Placer, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 10'' x 7'' x 9'' Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Placer, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
10” x 7” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Lode, 2013 Steel and book pages 16'' x 7'' x 2.5'' Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Lode, 2013
Steel and book pages
16” x 7” x 2.5”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Hade refers to “the angle of inclination from the vertical of a vein (geology), fault, or lode”. In Hade the yellowed pages slip between the parenthesis of steel plates like the sense lode through the fractured syntax of e.e. cummings’ poem. This is book art for the sensualist, much as most of cummings’ better poems are words for the sensualist. It exudes appreciation and care for the material of which it is made. That comes through clearly in Andrew’s response to my question “As an artist whose work has an intimate relationship to ‘the book’, could you describe the effect this has on you when you are reading books in general?”:

… as I read a book I love watching it wear and change as I pass through the pages. I’m sure this happens with everyone’s books, but I love this transformation. I find it happens best in shoes and books. I have a hard time keeping my hands clean so my books take a beating, I almost don’t need a book marker because I can just turn to the first clean page. It is funny I don’t like to dog ear pages I feel like that is almost disrespectful in a way, but I just like seeing what happens to the book as it serves its function. … for me finding a book that has been seasoned is like finding two stories. I like figuring out who read the book before and reading the notes and things I find in the books I end up using for sculpture.

An e.e. cummings poem can amuse like a Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson contraption, but always with a sting at the end.  Andrew clearly has a love of contraptions, words and paradox as well.

Ballistae Steel and book pages 16'' x 8'' x 3'' 2013
Balastae, 2013
Steel and book pages
16” x 8” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

“Balastae” is an ancient variant on “ballistae”– the oversized Roman crossbow,  comparable to a catapult or trebuchet. Its kinetic energy is captured here in the potential energy of the pages of words poised to fly over the steel. The contrast and tension between the kinetic and potential, between noun/verb and tool/rest, between paper and metal, characterize many of Andrew’s titles and works, for example, Kedge and Plow.

Kedge Steel, book pages, and brass 9.5'' x 18'' x 9'' 2013 Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Kedge, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
9.5” x 18” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

My favorite works are Shift, Waver, Swarm and Kedge. The latter, in particular, captures the paradoxes in Andrew’s works; the word is noun and verb (transitive and intransitive) all in one: a nautical term for a light anchor, also the term for the act of warping a vessel and the term for moving a vessel by pulling on the anchor. Shift and Waver capture the kinetic energy of his works and beg to be circled and viewed from every angle like any of the dynamic figures of Giambologna.

Shift, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 11'' x 5'' x 2'' Reproduced with permission of the artist Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Shift, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass 11” x 5” x 2”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Waver, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass, 16'' x 9'' x 9'' Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Waver, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass, 16” x 9” x 9”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

And Swarm – ah, yes – like swarming bees, words have gathered across the splayed edges of the pages, whirling up framed by brass-riveted metal. Swarm is one of the biologically allusive pieces along with Divaricate, reflecting how Andrew’s imagination ranges over the words, objects and concepts in so many domains: the architectural (Prohedria, Mullion),

Swarm, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 13'' x 14'' x 3'' Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Swarm, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
13” x 14” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

nautical (Helm, Kedge), agricultural (Harrow, Plow) and military (Sentry, Citadel) as well as others ripe for verbal and visual puns. Witty as well as sensual, there is almost something of the Metaphysical poets about his work. One such work of metaphysical visual and verbal punning is Wry. Definitions of the word invariably include “twisted”, “distorted”, “lopsided” and apply it to facial features such as “a wry grin” or “wry mouth”. Now take a look at Wry:

Wry, 2013 Steel, book pages, and brass 7'' x 8'' x 3'' Reproduced with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography
Wry, 2013
Steel, book pages, and brass
7” x 8” x 3”
Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Photo credit: Steve Mann, Black Box Photography

Book art can easily fall off into mere craftwork. On the one hand, the book artist requires the freight that the book’s content and form carry, requires it somewhat analogously to the way Eric Gill required Hopton-Wood Stone for his sculpture. But the degree to which the freight weighs down the treatment, or the handling does not take the material beyond itself, that is the degree by which the work is closer to handicraft than to art. From the way that Andrew writes of his perspective on the freight that his found material carries with it, you can understand why each of his works — solid and dense as they are — translates the raw material beyond itself:

When making work I take my love for the used book and search for pages that I can use in my sculpture. The book pages are a loaded found material. Other materials I use like steel that I find at the scrap yard come with built in history as well but it may not be as universal as the book pages. The books I am drawn to are usually worn or rich with color or deckled edges, but that is just the beginning. It is always a surprise when I cut the pages from their binding. This is when I try to find a way that I can compose the pages into a new shape in combination with steel.

To find a union of metal and the printed page as rich and tactile as that created by Andrew, we would have to hark back to the days of hot metal typesetting or farther still to the chained library. But, while the titles of Andrew’s works may evoke the historical or archaeological, the works themselves do not assume the printed book’s demise; they emphasize and celebrate the material of the book.

It is strange how these objects – books and scraps of metal that have their own individual logic and structural coherence, both material and semantic – become an object of art. In each – book or scrap steel – raw material has been amassed and wrought (words, paper, ink and cloth; or iron, carbon, manganese and nickel) to make a finished thing whose physicality inheres and obtrudes. The ways in which those raw materials are amassed and wrought into objects such as dictionaries or kitchen sinks create meaning and accumulate meanings by use and context. Then along comes Andrew Hayes. Drawing on his experience as a welder, his work as a student with fabricated steel and his time as a Fellow at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Andrew takes these found objects with their own logic and transforms them into this realm we call art.

To see more of Andrew Hayes’s work, visit

Related publications

Sara Baker, “Andrew Hayes – Artist”, American Style Magazine, November 2010, accessed 28 August 2013:

Bookmarking Book Art – Andrew Hayes | @scoopit

Stacy Dacheux, “Sleek Sculpture Combines Metal with Pressed Book Pages”, Beautiful Decay, 7 August 2013, accessed 10 August 2013:

Erin Fletcher, “Artist: Andrew Hayes”, Flash of the Hand, 20 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013:

David Mendez, “Former Tucsonan Has a Warped Way of Using Old Books”, The Range, 9 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013: has-a-warped-way-of-using-old-books

Penland, “Focus on: Andrew Hayes”, The Penland Sketchbook, 15 August 2012, accessed 10 August 2013:

Melissa Walter, “Interview #7 – Andrew Hayes”, Crafthaus, 8 October 2012, accessed 28 August 2013:

Matthew Wengard, “Art As Inspiration: Andrew Hayes”, A Fine Press, 16 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013:

L. Kent Wolgamott, “Lux exhibition ‘Strata’ turns books and metal into graceful sculpture”, Ground Zero, 17 August 2013, accessed 28 August 2013:

Michael Yonan, “Toward a Fusion of Art History and Material Culture Studies”, West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, 20 September 2011, accessed 11 January 2014: Yonan notes the discomfort of art historians in addressing art as I have addressed Andrew Hayes’ work: ‘… fore- grounding the idea exalts art history into a philosophical endeavor, whereas emphasizing matter renders the discipline subject to what could be called “the fear of the tchotchke.” … the trinketization of art.’

Meghan Young, “Artist Andrew Hayes Manipulates Metal and Novels”, Trendhunter, 9 August 2013, accessed 10 August 2013: