Bookmarking Book Art – Helen Hiebert

Alpha, Beta … (2010)

Alpha Beta (2010)
Helen Hiebert
Lantern-structure book in open-sided box. Closed, H158.75 x W114.3 mm; opens out to 2971.8 mm. Box size: H171.45 x W114.3 x D133.35 mm.Edition of 25, of which this is #22. Acquired from the artist, 17 February 2021.

Each panel displays an alphabet letter cutout casting a shadow against a second layer of handmade paper. Appropriately, the letters follow in the Arts and Crafts style font designed by Dard Hunter, “the father of hand papermaking in 20th century America”, renowned scholar and author of Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft.

The book’s flexible hinges between the panels allow it to be set up in a variety of ways. As can be seen above and below, the right-reading alphabet appears on the less colorful side of the structure. When viewed from the more colorful side, the letters show in reverse, which is, of course, more evident with C-B-A than Y-X-W. The swirling strokes that shadow the right-reading letters reveal themselves on the more colorful side as asemic characters watermarked into the handmade paper. A fusion of paper, letters, form and meaning.

On the reverse side: C-B-A and Y-X-W.

The Secret Life of Paper: 25 Years of Works in Paper (2016)

The Secret Life of Paper: 25 Years of Works in Paper (2016)
Helen Hiebert
Artist-made paper covers sewn over two signatures with an original string drawing in the center. H282 x W218 mm, 22 pages. Acquired from the artist, 4 April 2016.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Catalogues like this are works of art about works of art. It came about as a result of an exhibition held at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center and the Waldo Emerson Library at Western Michigan University. The catalogue contains an illustrated chronology of the artist’s art and career up to 2015-16. Not only does it contain that work of string art in its center, its cover is hand bound and features a pulp stenciled handmade paper.

Curated Paper Collection #1 (2021)

Hiebert has begun a series of curated collection of papers from around the world. The first collection contains eleven papers. The largest sheet comes from Laureli Spokes: a handmade recycled rag paper from India (100 gsm), 357 x 502 mm. It features an exclusive retro two color silkscreened design that features a retro two-color silkscreened design. The smallest sheets are ten 200 x 200 mm squares of Kite Paper at 42 gsm in brilliant colors. Similar to waxed paper, it is translucent and folds well.

In material and process, the two most interesting papers are Tangram Watermark (100 gsm with thinner watermarked areas, 310 x 460 mm) and Portugese Cork Paper (140 gsm, 255 x 255 mm). Handmade with 100% bleached flax fiber and deckle-edged on all four sides, the Tangram Watermark comes from the Helen Hiebert Studio. The first image below shows the deep impression left by the watermark design cut out of a thin vinyl material and adhered to the papermaking mould. The second image, created with the sheet held up to the light, shows more clearly the tangram design left as a sheet is pulled. The cork tree sourced is highly renewable and organically grown. Handmade in Portugal from the tree’s outer bark, the naturally water-resistant sheet consists of thin layers of cork laminated to a coated base paper. The cork is acid free, but the backing paper, shown in the last image, is not.

The next two curated papers show similarities and differences arising in the Japanese and Korean traditions. The Nanohana Washi (48 gsm, 315 x 470 mm) is a “nature paper” from Awagami Factory in Tokushima, Japan. The images show the changes under different light and from views of different sides. Traditionally, Japanese washi (like Korean hanji) is made from mulberry plant fibers. Here, Awagami has used the nanohana plant (related to broccoli). It grows along the local Yoshino river, and Awagami collects the florets each Spring to mix into these sheets of washi, resulting in the green and yellow flecks. The lightweight hanji (15-19 gsm, 325 x 490 mm) is made from 100% dak (mulberry) fiber, grown and harvested in Korea by Seongwoo Jang, a fourth generation papermaker at Jangjibang, a hanji mill in Gapyeong, Korea. Hiebert notes, “The sheet was formed using the traditional Korean technique called webal or heulim ddeugi, where the slurry flows onto and off the frame in multiple directions, resulting in a strong sheet without a prominent grain direction”. The images in the middle row aim to show this with the sheet laid atop dark art paper in full sunlight and draped over the hand. The detail of the corner in the last row shows the two-ply of the sheet, where — in another interesting difference between the washi and hanji –two thin layers were couched together to form a single strong hanji sheet.

The next two papers are paired for uses and decorativeness. The silk-screened, matte-finish Italian Carta Varese Origami Paper (100 gsm, 350 x 500 mm) is heavier than traditional origami paper, it has a smooth surface and creases well with crisp folds. Smooth-surfaced and creasing well for turned in corners, this sheet with its red scroll pattern would serve well for endpapers. Debra Glanz designed the next set of papers — Paper Assembly (28#-32# text weight, 305 x 305 mm) — with that use, among others, in mind for book and paper artists.

The next two papers demonstrate the curator’s attraction to painterly surfaces. Silkscreen printed by hand with a lacquer-like ink, the Red and Blue Dragonfly Pattern Japanese Lacquered Yuzen Paper (140 gsm, 330 x 485 m) has the depth, texture and glow Japanese lacquer ware, which the first three images attempt to convey. The painting base consists of kozo and wood sulfite. The sheet of paste paper (230 x 305 mm) in the last image comes from the late Louise Lawrence (Larry Lou) Foster. It has an op-art feel to it. More of her unique papers painted with pigmented paste can be found in the limited-edition book The Paste Papers of Louise Lawrence Foster and in the Metropolitan Museum’s Thomas J. Watson Paper Legacy Project.

A blend of abaca fibers and cotton rag, Bistre Mixed Media (150 gsm, 280 x 360 mm) from Kelsey Pike’s Sustainable Papercraft in Kansas City, Kansas, is at once hard, resilient, durable, bulky, thick and soft. The images below attempt to show the sheet’s homogeneous surface and smooth, fine grain texture, intended as the name suggests for all fine art media – pencils, charcoal, conte, pastel, acrylic, watercolor, ink, gouache, etc.

For the Books On Books Collection, Curated Collection #1 presents a challenge for display and storage alongside Fred Siegenthaler’s Strange Papers and the Gentenaar-Torley’s first seven books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial. Helen Hiebert’s contribution to book and paper art warrants that place. With Curated Collection #2 on its way, the search for a solution is on.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection. 10 October 2019.

Fred Siegenthaler“, Books On Books Collection. 10 January 2021.

Baker, Cathleen, and Frank Brannon. 2009. The Paste Papers of Louise Lawrence Foster. Whittier, North Carolina: SpeakEasy Press.

Hunter, Dard. 1978. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, 2nd ed. New York: Dover. Republication of the second, revised and enlarged 1947 edition.

Hiebert, Helen. 2012. The papermaker’s companion: the ultimate guide to making and using handmade paper. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Kurlansky, Mark. 2017. Paper: paging through history. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Müller, Lothar. 2016. White magic: the age of paper. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Books On Books Collection – Fred Siegenthaler

Strange Papers: A Collection of the World’s Rarest Handmade Papers (1987)

Strange Papers (1987)
Fred Siegenthaler
Wooden, felt-lined briefcase, containing a large box enclosing a book and 101 rare handmade paper samples in individual portfolios. Covering paper for the box and book is two-layer handmade paper from Nepal made with the bast fiber of the Daphne papyracea. Briefcase: H x W x D mm. Box: H x W x D Book: H x W mm, 127 pages. Portfolios: Edition of 200 copies, of which this is #28, signed by Fred Siegenthaler.  Acquired from Berkelouw Rare Books, 13 Aug 2020.
Romana-Butten cover paper from Papierfabrik August Koehler in Oberkirch, W. Germany. 
Printed by G. Krebs in Basel, Switzerland. 

As Siegenthaler explains in his preface, this is the work that started an international organization: the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA). By 1986, Siegenthaler was well positioned to start this international association focused on paper art and the craft and science of papermaking. Since the late 1960s, he had been experimenting with strange material for paper — glass beads, hay, leather waste, stinging nettles, tobacco, wasps’ nests and much more. By the 1970s, he was supplying handmade custom papers to Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg among others. Travelling the world for business reasons (Sandoz), he began collecting paper samples from like-minded artists and papermakers in Mexico, Thailand, Viet Nam and more than 87 other countries. And he was “convinced that [he] had a duty to include these exclusive, beautiful and rare creations in [his] collection and preserve them for posterity”.

So, in November 1985, he began writing (by hand) to his network and, later, new association colleagues telling them of his plan for assembling Strange Papers. With the 200 samples of each paper, each selected contributor also provided a structured description of the raw materials and process used. The resulting book not only delivers a wealth of knowledge on the portfolios of samples but also contains items worth placing alongside the portfolios in an exhibition: a sample of a Taoist sacrificial money note on handmade rice paper with embossed gold leaf, plant drawings by Marilyn Wold and small samples of shifu and kinu-shifu (woven papers).

To hold a piece of papyrus and feel its natural curl toward scrolling, its roughness on one side and its smoothness yet segmentedness on the other, brings the history of paper alive. The differences among all the samples — in touch, appearance and, for some, even smell — is extraordinary. It is hard to choose what is most enjoyable about Strange Papers: reading the entries, holding each sample up to the light to examine it, comparing one sample with another, or deciding which is the strangest raw material.

The text — Browsing and reading the entries yields fascinating tidbits. Hawaii’s Akia plant has poisonous bark, roots and leaves, which are discarded in papermaking, but, according to Pam Barton, Hawaiians pound them, put them in a porous container and sink it in salt water pools to narcotize fish to be caught. Donna Koretsky advises observing the Fancy Manila Hemp paper under varying angles of light to see how the coloring changes. From the region where the Hollander beater was invented, De Zaanse Molen’t Weefhuis cites a letter from the paper scholar Henk Voorn that in large shipbuilding works, Moss Paper “was nailed to wood with so-called paper nails under the copper skin of the hull.” In making Jute Paper, Natan Kaaren in Israel “used old sacks … cut up into shreds and placed to rot in a barrel of water … about a year.” The confluence of patience, planning, sense of tradition, attention to detail, awareness of function with creative exuberance is the chief effect of the entries.

Inspection and comparison — Each of the 101 samples calls for inspection. Holding each one to the light and turning it side to side to see the change in effect is seductive. Photographing each paper backlit through its portfolio’s oval cutout shares some of this pleasure of inspection. To the oval cutout’s left, the number-stamped side is shown; to the right, the reverse side. Each sheet rests on its portfolio folder and is angled for viewing the surface. The six similarly named papers of the twelve composed of some form of grass leap out for comparison.

Sample 1.1 Composed of Poaceae — poa annua, poa trivialis. Netherlands. Not of the same family as the following sample, which goes to show how the same common name does not always identify the same substance. Both Lawn Grass samples were cut by lawn mower, but 1.1 was harvested over a longer period and fermented. Both were cooked for two hours, but 1.1 underwent another half hour of boiling. This sample’s darker color and slightly greater heft may be due to its difference in family or the washing process. Both feel brittle and make a crinkling sound when flexed.

Sample 19.5 Composed of Stenotaphrum secundatum. Israel. With this sample, the pulp was washed for a further two hours after boiling and then strained through a screen under high pressure, which may account for its greater translucence. Sample 19.5’s wrinkles are more shallow than 1.1’s and resembles wax paper. Both samples have a pungent dry grass smell.

Sample 14.2 Composed of Cortaderia selloana. Australia. The color and texture differ greatly from those of the next sample. This one is almost linen-like, not fully apparent from the photo, and is lighter, more flexible and less brittle than the next sample. It has almost no smell. The sample’s description is not extensive, which limits comparison of processing.

Sample 22.1 Also composed of Cortaderia selloana. USA. The darker color may be due to inclusion of stalks and fibrous plumes and possibly the season of harvesting. This sample is far less dense and far more brittle than 14.2. Where 14.2 has that linen-like texture on its number-stamped side, 22.1 is actually more polished between the bits of stalk or leaf. Its smell is slightly metallic.

Sample 15.5 Composed of Phragmites australis. Australia. Cut with a garden shredder before soaking then boiling in a solution of 17% caustic soda (500 gms in 30 liters). Beating occurred by chopping with a Chinese-style vegetable cleaver, then running through a sink garbage disposal unit, then running through a kitchen blender. Its color, lighter than the next sample’s, matches with its weight and stiffness, both less than the next sample’s.

Sample 18.1 Composed of Phragmites communis. USA. Cut into 2-3 inch length. Soaked then boiled in 20% caustic soda. Processed with a Hollander beater. The densest and least translucent of all the grass samples above. It has a huskier smell than the Common Reed sample above.

The strangest raw material — This is truly a contest. Carrots are a strong contender, but so are hemp from old fire brigade hoses, moss, peat and stinging nettles. The following are chosen due to their inorganic, silicate and worrisome nature. Except for the sample made of 100% polyethylene fibers, all others consist of organic material.

Sample 32.1 Composed of 100% asbestos fiber. Light and flimsy, it feels like cloth; seems odorless; but this is not one to handle or sniff too closely. Its white, greyish color and dimpled texture will be familiar to anyone who attended school in the latter half of the twentieth century and looked up the ceilings.

Sample 28.1 Composed of 70% strands of glass, containing about 200 tiny fibers, 20% Kozo and 10% polyvinyl alcohol fibers for binding. The glass strands feel tough and breakable; they shine like satin under glancing light; their pinkness comes from dye. Odorless.

Among the contributors with other works represented in the Books On Books Collection are Winifred Lutz, Maureen Richardson, Raymond Tomasso and Therese Weber. Each also appeared in one of the first seven books published for the Rijswijk Paper Biennial, which along with Siegenthaler’s works here, Helen Hiebert’s The Secret Life of Paper, paper samplers from Velma Bolyard and Maureen Richardson, works from Taller Leñateros, watermark art from Gangolf Ulbricht, and pulp painting works from Pat Gentenaar-Torley, John Gerard, Claire Van Vliet and Maria Welch form the core of the collection’s subset focused on paper. Other references are listed under Further Reading.

Das Werk / The Works (2009)

Das Werk: Schöpfen bis zum Erschöpfen: mein Leben mit Kunst u. Papier / The Works: From Creation to Exhaustion: My life with Art and Paper (2009)
Fred Siegenthaler with Renate Meyer.
Hardback, goldleaf stamped. H300 x W240 mm, 301 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #23. Acquired from ZVAB, 21 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

The Works and its update (below) are useful and valuable to have alongside Strange Papers. Both illustrate Siegenthaler’s breadth of artistry beyond papermaking, and the former includes a comprehensive essay on that artistry by Nana Badenberg. Along with John Gerard and Gangolf Ulbricht, Siegenthaler is one of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’ masters at using watermarking to make art. His self-portrait, included in The Works, provides an outstanding example of watermark art, described at length by Badenberg. She records Siegenthaler’s watermark contributions to works by Horst Antes and Meret Oppenheim as well as his papermaking for the artists mentioned in this entry’s introduction. Her commentary on the technical, material and conceptual aspects of Siegenthaler’s work in each of its areas of development — “incorporation” (similar but more subtle than appropriation), “revealments”, book objects, paper castings of the human form, “repulpings” (recycling of precious papers), pulp painting and sculpturing, signage, erotica and religious works — enriches any encounter with his art.

Nachtrag zu: Fred Siegenthaler Das Werk: neue Arbeiten aus den Jahren 2010 bis 2015 / Addendum to: Fred Siegenthaler The Works: New Works from 2010 to 2015 (2016)

Nachtrag zu: Fred Siegenthaler Das Werk neue Arbeiten aus den Jahren 2010 bis 2015 / Addendum to: Fred Siegenthaler The Works: New Works from 2010 to 2015 (2016) Fred Siegenthaler with Renate Meyer
Casebound in paper-on-board covers. H303 x W211 mm, 48 pages. Edition of 300. Acquired from the artist, 2 November 2020.
The cover shows Endlich wieder vereint (2015) (“Finally united again”).

This double-page spread provides a snapshot of continuity and development. The cards made from repulping and recalling Siegenthaler’s earlier work with this technique speak to continuity — as does the juxtaposition of the overpaintings from 2000 and 2011 on the next page. The nature of Siegenthaler’s 2010-2015 absorption with color on the verso page contrasts with his earlier handling of color in the Kopfüssler and the facsimile leaf of the Gutenberg Bible on the recto. Like Strange Papers, the Addendum reflects the careful planning and exuberant creativity characteristic of Siegenthaler’s entire career.

Further Reading

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019.

Taller Leñateros“, Books on Books Collection, 19 November 2020.

@incunabula. “The German paper artist Fred Siegenthaler’s monumental 1987 ‘Strange Paper’“, Twitter thread, 7 July 2019. Accessed 4 September 2019. An extended thread of commentary by provides close-ups of the samples made with carrot, US dollar bills, eggplant, steel and glass fiber. Some, like the steel sample, are in the special edition of Strange Papers, for which only 20 copies were produced.

Bloom, Jonathan. 2001. Paper before print: the history and impact of paper in the Islamic world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Blum, André, and Harry Miller Lydenberg. 1934. On the origin of paper. New York: R.R. Bowker Company.

Hiebert, Helen. “Strange Papers“, Helen Hiebert Studio, 12 August 2014. Accessed 3 November 2020.

Hiebert, Helen. 2000. The papermaker’s companion: the ultimate guide to making and using handmade paper. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.

Hiebert, Helen, and Melissa Potter. 2016. The secret life of paper: 25 years of works in paper. Kalamazoo, MI: Kalamazoo Book Arts Center.

Hunter, Dard. 1987. Papermaking: the history and technique of an ancient craft. New York: Dover.

Kurlansky, Mark. 2016. Paper: paging through history. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

McIlroy, Thad. “The Future of Paper”, The Future of Publishing, 3 January 2018. Accessed 14 September 2019.

Müller, Lothar. 2015. White magic: the age of paper. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Sansom, Ian. 2012. Paper: an elegy. New York, NY: Wm. Morrow.

Vincent, Jessica. Indigenous Women Are Publishing the First Maya Works in Over 400 Years, Atlas Obscura, 08 August 2019. Accessed 27 October 2020.

Weber, Therese. 2008. The language of paper: a history of 2000 years. Bangkok, Thailand: Orchid Press.

Books On Books Collection – Béatrice Coron

Much has been written on Béatrice Coron‘s works — including “Machines“, the commissioned work below. Her interviews with Helen Hiebert and Steve Miller are excellent accompaniment to her pieces with TED.

Machines (2017)

Machines: Poem by Michael Donaghy (2017)
Béatrice Coron
Leporello pop-up, enclosed in box with closure of small gear and black thread. Box: H205 x W162 x D27 mm. Leporello: H195 x W143 mm (closed), W1125 (open). Edition of 3, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

For more on “Machines” in the Books On Books Collection, click on the link.

Further Reading/Viewing

Carter, David A. and Diaz, James, The Elements of Pop-Up, A Pop-Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers (New York: Little Simon, 1999).

Coron, Béatrice. “Stories Cut from Paper“, TED Talk, March 2011.

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Steve Miller, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, September 2011.

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Helen Hiebert, Paper Talk Podcast, 22 August 2020.

May, Kate TorgovnickDaily Battles, cut from paper, animated in 3D“, TED blog, 26 November 2013.

Wallace, Elaine. Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists (New York: Lark, 2011).

Books On Books Collection – Jaz Graf

Trophic Avulsions (2016)

Trophic Avulsions (2016)
Jaz Graf
Cyanotype accordion book with thread drawing, paper lithography and laser engraving on wood. Closed: H6 x W8.5 x D1.0 inches; Open: W80 inches. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 14 March 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.


Graf has used satellite photos of various river deltas around the world to create the cyanotype prints in this work. The patterns from which are exposed come from paper litho prints made on fabric. The result is a blurring, softening yet “nearing” of the otherwise sharp, scientific and remote images normally viewed on digital screens or photographic paper. As Graf points out in her description, the word trophic “relates to an ecological concept of the trophic cascade, in which one action leads to another in an ecosystem, implying ideas of interconnectivity.”  

That interconnectivity and the impact we have on “the separation of land from one area and its attachment to another”, which is what avulsion means, is implied by the streams of thread meandering across and off the panels of the accordion form from beginning to end. Even though the panels fold to fit within their laser-engraved birch panels, they vary in width, which breaks up the expected regularity of the accordion when it is extended. The engravings show a delta emptying into a desert and are mounted on wood blocks covered in muslin bearing the printed delta image made with paper lithography. 

Thread drawing is a technique common to several outstanding works of book art: Jody Alexander’s Felix’s Notebook (2008), Marion Bataille’s Vues/Lues (2018), Dianna Frid’s Reversal (2009), Candace Hicks’ Composition (2009~), Helen Hiebert‘s Nebulae (2017), Shellie Holden’s Maps (2006), Lisa Kokin’s Partial History of Jewish Life in Modern Times (1997), Ines Seidel’s Changed Constitution (2015) and Mireille Vautier‘s Agenda (2001) among others. Graf’s handling of the technique and its combination with cyanotype printing and lithography in the treatment of her theme, though, make it distinctive and original.

The environmental focus of Trophic Avulsions places it in a well-loved tradition in book art. Other works by Graf, such as Mother Water (2018) below, would be comfortably at home in an exhibition with

Biography (2010) by Sarah Bryant, who creatively connects the human body’s elements with those of the periodic table to bear witness to our impact on the environment and vice versa;

the Ice Books series (2007-17) by Basia Irland, who selects local seeds and embeds them as “text” in a block of frozen river water, carved into the shape of a book to be released into the local river where it melts, releasing the seeds;

the Whorl series (2013- ongoing) by Jacqueline Rush Lee, who returns books to their botanical origins by sculpting books and inserting them into the cavity of a tree to allow time, changing weather conditions and insect activity to rewrite them into the shape of a whorl in a tree hollow;

Batterers (1996) by Denise Levertov, Kathryn Lipke and Claire Van Vliet, who combine Levertov’s powerful poem extending a metaphor of abuse to the earth with Lipke’s clay paperwork set into a wooden tray as the base of this sculptural book, whose pages Van Vliet makes unfold into a fiery landscape; or

Silent Spring Revisited (2016) by Chris Ruston, who uses her frequent visits to natural history museums to inspire works that blend science and art that highlight extinction and the interdependence of humans and nature.

If such an exhibition — a twentieth anniversary of Betty Bright’s 1992 “Completing the Circle: Artists’ Books on the Environment”? — were organized, Trophic Avulsions would be available to loan!

Mother Water (2018)
Laser-etched acrylic, cyanotype, porcelain
Dimensions variable (15 panels – each 14”x11”)
The river featured is Thailand’s Chao Praya. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Further Viewing

Artist of the Week“, Jaffe Center for the Book Arts, Florida State University. 5 January 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Ioana Stoian

Nous Sommes (2015)

Nous Sommes (2015)
Ioana Stoian
Nine handmade-paper forms in handmade cloth-covered boxes, fitted to flapped container with magnetic seals, enclosed in cloth-covered Solander box. H310 x W305 x D54 mm. Acquired from the artist, 4 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books.

“Nous sommes”, the French for “we are”. But who is “we” here? Opening the first two flaps inside the blue-grey Solander box, I see that my first question should have been: What is Nous Sommes? The answer on the title page: “A physical manifestation of the human soul”. So, a book or sculpture then.

The third and fourth flaps reveal six diagrams to add to the three above the title page: a table of contents?

There are three brightly coloured boxes showing and fitting snugly together: the first three chapters or objects? Two are triangular, one is a parallelogram.

The next flap up gives another three boxes, all triangular and each a different color; and under the final flap, three more boxes, three more colors and a square among the triangles. Nine boxes making a tightly fitted square; six of them easily grasped because each has an edge at the perimeter.

The diagrammed shapes on the “table of contents” don’t correspond to the shapes of the nine boxes. The diagrammed shapes must be inside the boxes.

So I begin with the larger, lighter blue box. A sharp tap on the box, and a stiff, folded paper the same color as the box emerges. No words, no glyphs, but this is one of the shapes printed on the “table of contents”. It invites manipulation: stand me this way, now that, now this. With each turn, the light brings out different shades from the form’s valleys and mountains, and the form throws different shadows. Next the smaller, darker blue box houses a two-piece “chapter”, one piece to slot into the other. Again, different shades, different shadows.

The red box also offers up a two-piece chapter, but the pieces are glued together. So much larger a shape than the one before, but so much simpler.

The single piece from the orange box asks to be unfolded and one tip to be slipped into an awaiting slot; the resulting object is strange.

From the gold box, a butterfly emerges. The light glints off the gilt ink, and the upright box seems the perfect perch. From the green box, a glued and folded strip of paper unfolds into a hat, a collar, an open-mouthed bird or frog?

Inside the inner pink triangular box is the only solid — an irregular hexahedron. The contents of the violet square box unfolds and slots into itself to form a flower, the head of a mace?

The form that emerges from the small yellow box seems the most multi-faceted of all.

But where is the human soul manifest among these colors and forms?According to Neo-Pythagorean philosophers numbers, string vibrations, musical notes, colours and form have fundamental, metaphysical relationships. Pythagoras himself is thought to have said “colour is form, and form is colour”. Then there is Pythagorean Numerology that holds that a person’s date of birth can be distilled into one number (a root number) between 1-9, that each number is associated to a colour, and that each colour aligns with certain inner traits and life purposes. So within a box of grey (the color of universality), there are the nine colours of humanity: We are, making Nous Sommes a startling integration of book art, Pythagoras, numerology, tangrams, origami, papermaking, boxmaking, binding and printing.

Tap the image above or title for the video Nous Sommes — An Artist Book by Ioana Stoian. Produced by Eric Gjerde.

On the title page, the work is designated as “Edition 9 of 9“. Yet, as of this writing, the work is unique. Of course, 9/9 = 1. And the chapter with which I started was blue, the colour associated with the number 5, the root number of my birth date. So many coincidences of sums, Nous Sommes must have been bound for the Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading and Listening

A Match Made in Paper”, Arctic Paper, 4 July 2019. Accessed 23 September 2019.

Bookmarking Book Art – Ioana Stoian”, Books On Books, 8 February 2018.

Hiebert, Helen. “Ioana Stoian“, podcast interview, Paper Talk, 16 April 2020. Accessed 19 April 2020.

Huffman, Carl. “Pythagoreanism“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Accessed 1 April 2020.

Lawlor, Robert. “Pythagorean Number as Form, Color, and Light”, in Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science, ed. Christopher Bamford (SteinerBooks, 1994), pp. 187-212.

Stoian, Ioana. Origami for all : elegant designs from simple folds (London: Busy Hands Books, 2013).

Stoian, Ioana. “Nous Sommes, My 2015 Artist Book”, 31 December 2015. Accessed 20 January 2017.

Stoian, Ioana. The origami garden : amazing flowers, leaves, bugs, and other backyard critters (New York: St. Martins Griffin, 2016).

Stoian, Ioana. Always be you (London: Busy Hands Books, 2019).