Under Covers

Under Covers

Under Covers

December/January 2014 issue of American Craft magazine
Margaux and Walter Kent, Autumnal Library Necklace

Margaux and Walter Kent, Autumnal Library Necklace. Photo: Walter Kent

Known for her sculpture and installations as well as artist books, Harriet Bart’s body of work is a wondrous library of transformed text. In Autobiography (2011), 70 test tubes are filled with “transmuted miscellany,” an array of materials reflecting the Minneapolis-based artist’s interests in cultural memory, history, science, and alchemy.

As Peg & Awl, Margaux and Walter Kent craft all manner of household goods, from office accoutrements to reclaimed-cypress chicken coops. But perhaps most recognizable are the Philadelphia-based couple’s whimsical miniature journals, covered in vintage leather and perfect for wearing your love of learning front and center, as in the 11-volume Autumnal Library necklace.

Daniel Lai is a man of many talents. When the Knoxville, Tennessee, artist needs a break from his doctoral studies in criminology, he constructs reflective, metaphorical sculptures,  such as Traveler’s Key (2012), from discarded books, clay, and other materials. “I often write my experiences in a journal,” Lai says, “but find it inadequate to convey how I truly feel.”

English paper artist Phiona Richards uses traditional needlework techniques in her touchable, interactive book sculptures and jewelry, including Ruffle Bead (2011). To the artist, transforming books nearing the end of their literary lives is an extension of a “make-do and mend” mentality. “Although they appear to be fragile and delicate, they are quite robust,” she writes, “and interaction becomes a therapeutic experience on many levels.”

An assistant professor of psychology at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, Julia Strand carves cheap, outdated volumes – such as encyclopedias, field guides, or anatomy books – into shadowbox-like objects of wonder, as in Birds (2012). Covers become frames, while words and illustrations serendipitously align.

If imaginations are by definition limitless, Brian Dettmer’s still seems, perhaps, even more so. The Atlanta-based artist (and putative king of the altered book) seals books, sometimes clamping them into contorted, unexpected forms, then dissects them. The resulting sculptures, such as Prose and Poetry of the World (2011), seem to have alighted from some alternate plane of knowledge and thought – somewhere beyond the edge of everyday consciousness.

Caitlin Phillips of Mount Rainier, Maryland, gives old tomes new lives as carefully crafted purses (such as this Anne of Green Gables bag) – and a new collection of tablet covers for those of us who can get behind technology’s forward march but still crave the timeless comfort of a volume in our hands.

Wedded to your books? London-based maker Jeremy May crafts his “literary jewels” with a special laminating process, pressing together hundreds of cut pages, then carving the resulting block of material into hip bracelets, necklaces, and rings, as in Lonely Planet: Australia (2013). The pieces can then slip back inside their original covers for storage or display.

Mixed-media artist Annie Duffy works in cast paper, combining it with other materials such as wood, wax, and cotton thread. For July Evening, Fairbanks (2013), the artist, who teaches at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, created the dreamy surface imagery in part with ink coaxed from discarded library catalogue cards.