I recently had the great fortune of finding myself at the Codex International Book Fair, a spectacularly dizzying landscape of one hundred and eighty tables displaying artist’s books, private press publications and fine art editions. What a feast for a book lover! I stopped to talk with a number of the book artists—people who make exquisite hand made books that sell for anywhere between twenty-five dollars and six thousand dollars. These are not commercial books to be broadly shared, but books to be purchased by collectors and art book lovers. They are to be cherished as pieces of art.
One of the pieces I loved so much was Sue Higgins Leopard’s gorgeous book Girl Struggles, an eighteen page accordion book housed in a beautiful clamshell box. The artist describes the book here: “Conceived as an artifact that might be passed down to future generations of women, my story includes a hand written letter that begins: My Dear Girl, I am getting to be an old woman now. Old enough to have imagined who it might be that comes after me. It must be you…”
What a lucky girl she is who ends up with this book.
Another of Leopard’s more whimsical pieces is a bound book with pages of velum that are mysteriously coded in pastel smudges. It sits in a long box and when you turn the last page, there is the white glove with pastel stains on the fingertips. Her website is under construction but you can still see a wonderful slideshow of some of her other work at http://sueleopard.com
Another artist whose work I loved was Laura Davidson. Shown here are two of her books: Book Of Hours and Natural Beauty. Check out her beautiful website (www.lauradavidson.com) for a more comprehensive look at the impressive span of her work.
One artist had created a wooden box with drawers that house alternate hand-painted views of the Seattle skyline to be slid into a tunnel book made to look like a living room. She said that this piece had taken her three years to make.
Now, writing a novel is a lot of work. It takes an enormous amount of time and patience and faith. It can take years. It takes layers and layers and layers, like building a mountain, one layer of silt at a time. But once it’s published, hopefully thousands of copies will go out into distribution, out into the world.
I couldn’t help but compare the time and degree of skill it takes to write a novel with the time and skill poured into some of these handmade books. Some which sell for thousands of dollars each. Hour for hour, minute for minute, a writer stands more chance of making a better wage. And we all know that nobody except a chosen few makes a living as a writer. It’s not why we write.
Nor, I would venture to say, do these book artists make books to earn a living. They do it for the beauty of the piece, for the process of creation, for the love of the work and the community that their work allows them to belong to.
Which is also the very best reason to write. I left the show in awe of the dedication these artists have to their craft. They inspired me, reminding me to try and work with more love for the process of the work I do, for the writing itself, for the beauty of the story and for the community that it allows me to belong to.
Take Good Care,