I am thrilled to have the opportunity to exhibit the Spirit Books at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, and be a part of the mission to foster greater understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of Earth’s botanical diversity and its essential value to humankind.
Over the next few months (the exhibit is on view until July 22), I will write about each of the fourteen pieces displayed in the show, starting with #99 which has a cradle made from sweetgum fruits which were gathered from the ground at the Arboretum.
Last fall Sheryl White, Coordinator of Visitor Engagement, took my husband and me around the Arboretum to gather potential material for a new Spirit Book. I was immediately attracted to the green fruits under the sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) and collected a bag of them. They spent the winter in my studio drying to a light greenish gold. To make the cradle, I made holes in the pods with an awl and hammer and strung them together with wire to make a sort of a nest to cradle the book. I first thought I would make the holes with a needle but the pods were surprisingly strong.
My usual process is to make the cradle first, then choose the papers and tear them to the desired size for the pages. The book uses a handmade paper from Paszkowski Papers from Ukraine (purchased online via Etsy) and elephant hide paper (not made from elephant hide) purchased at Talasin Brooklyn. I do all the stitching on the pages before I sew the book together. I like to leave the cradle in a place where I can glance at it frequently and usually the pattern design comes to me, in this case, in that in-between time between waking and rising from bed.
The last step is always the title. While the number is assigned as I start to work on it, the name is given at the end. I remembered seeing images of and reading about the sweetgum in the book Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo with photographs by Robert Llewellyn. In it she wrote:
If asked to draw a gumball from memory, I’d have probably draw something that looked like a mace—a round ball with straight, pointed spikes coming out all around it. Closer inspection reveals a fruiting structure that is much more interesting. Most of the spikes on a mature gumball actually have curved tips, like crochet hooks, which occur in pairs, like open birds’ beaks, above empty seed chambers that you see as voids beneath the spikes.
I took her reference to chambers and added the word congruity for the harmonious feel of the book lying in the cradle.
The Spirit Books will be on display in the Arboretum’s Hunnewell Building Visitor Center through July 22, 2018. Join me for the opening reception on Saturday, May 19 from 1-3pm, and an in-depth talk on Saturday, June 2, 3-4pm.
This post was originally published on Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s blog, and was reprinted with her permission.