In this interview with Libraries' intern Stephanie Fletcher, book artist Laura Davidson reflects on her inspiration, her artistic process, and the elusive definition of “artist’s book.”
Laura’s books are in libraries across the globe, including the National Gallery of Art Library, the Library of Congress, the British Library, the Victoria & Albert Museum National Art Library, and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. A selection of Laura’s work is currently on display in the reading room at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library.
Q: What inspired you to become a book artist?
A: I’ve made books since I was a child. I was first attracted to illustrated children’s books. For me, the feel and look of a book was just as important as the text, if not more. Then as a young artist I saw illuminated manuscripts at the British Museum — they changed my life.
Q: What attracts you, as an artist, to the codex and accordion formats?
A: Both forms draw the viewer into a narrative but each has a different rhythm. [With the codex format,] page turning slows the experience down, and since it is time-based, there is anticipation; the viewer gets to set the pace. With the accordion format, I have the opportunity to show the entire idea at once, and hopefully draw the viewer in to see the details of the pages.
Q: What materials do you use to create your books, and why?
A: Throughout the course of my work I have been inspired by, and have included, common objects in my work like clock parts, lantern slides, rocks, ticket stubs, and stamps. They each have stories behind them that are dear to me. I collect a lot of things that appeal to me visually, and these items often end up being drawn in my work or physically attached to it.
Q: How do you market your books? Do many art libraries purchase your books?
A: I have several ways of selling my books. I have a website. I work with book dealers and book art galleries, and I do occasional book fairs. I sell directly to several art libraries, rare book libraries in universities, and public libraries. I also have private collectors. In my neighborhood in Boston, we have Open Studios events, where anyone can walk through artists’ buildings. It is a great way for me to introduce my work to people.
Q: How do you intend your books to be used?
A: Good question! I want them to be used. I want them to be seen, to be held, and thought about.
Q: How do they inform young artists, librarians, and art historians?
A: With young artists, I hope that my books inspire them to trust their ideas, even the simple ones. With librarians, I hope they see connections to their collections because I am inspired by the rich history of the book. Art historians may also see connections since I often reference art history. In my studio there is a wall of shelves filled with art history books that I look at constantly.
Q: What is your greatest challenge as a book artist?
A: My greatest challenge as an artist is TIME — there is never enough.
Q: Finally, how do you define the artist’s book?
A: That question is often discussed and the answer is not easy. I can’t define the genre in a few lines, but I can tell you something else about my work.
Over the years I’ve continued to work in the book format for a simple reason. Since I experienced the exhibition at the British Library, I’ve tried to achieve the ‘beautiful book adrenalin rush’ that I felt when I first saw [those manuscripts], and indeed any time I see illuminated manuscripts. I can’t own these books, or touch them, or live with them the way that I would like to. But in my own work, I can try to pay homage to them.
Stephanie Fletcher was a Smithsonian Institution Libraries summer intern. She received an MA in art history from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and is currently earning an MLIS from Dominican University. A former employee of the Newberry Library, she recently relocated to Munich, where she is an intern at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum.
Blog post about AAPG display
Laura Davidson’s website
Top – Detail, Visible Invisible by Laura Davidson (Boston: 1992), Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library, N40.1.D24724 D2 1992
Middle – Cover, Inner Workings by Laura Davidson (Boston: 1992), Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library, N40.1.D24724 D2i 1992
Bottom – Detail, Inner Workings by Laura Davidson (Boston: 1992), Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library, N40.1.D24724 D2i 1992