Monday, February 2, 2015

The Spirit Books of Susan K. Gaylord

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord. The Spirit Books. Newburyport, MA: Self-published, 2014. Available at Etsy for $20.

Reviewed by Velma Bolyard

The rich world of artists’ books encompasses so much work, from peculiar and fascinating ‘zines to amazing unique books, and all sorts of work in between. Each book made has purpose, each book is read in some way, each maker presents something to experience. As a maker and reader, I revel in the current variety and am always curious about seeing work that is new to me. Last April at the University of Southern Maine, Portland’s Book Arts Bazaar I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord and spending a tiny bit of time looking a Spirit Book that she was showing. What I saw was stunning and made me want to spend more time with these pieces. Nothing had prepared me for the impact of “meeting” a Spirit Book. And this is why her new book The Spirit Books about this series is so generous, it gets you very close to these books the way you need to actually experience them. She’s added text that explains more about the making of each piece.

The Spirit Books begins with a sensitive and reflective introduction by Rosemary Noon. Noon writes, “The series claims mastery of a whole realm of knowledge outside language.” This rings true to me. Gaylord, a calligrapher, seems at ease with making wordless books, or rather books without words to frame experience while “reading” the piece. Marks on the pages are etched or sewn in a variety of ways, still missing are words. But the presence of many sorts of markings evokes meaning, feeling, contemplation, examination. The Spirit Books give the reader an insight into Gaylord’s thinking and process answering some questions while stimulating more.

Spirit Book #13: Hope Offering

In a brief and cogent artists statement about the body of work Gaylord writes: “Each page is a meditation that echoes nature with both repetition and variety.” I think she is completely correct here. Each book is intended to be a contemplative experience. I was surprised by the complex and at times subtle layers of meaning in the Spirit Books. Each Spirit Book is made from textural and earthy papers, with marks evolving from a variety of means; sewn beads, bits of twigs, seeds, plants, threads, wires, and patterns carefully composed for careful looking. They are meant to be displayed opened for viewing each in its own cradle or nest. This supporting structure is designed to fully compliment the book it supports. Further, the books appear as small alters of contemplation, meditations in fact. Gaylord achieves this by presenting each book as an important artifact, elevated to viewing by each one’s unique stage. The Spirit Books serves as a catalog of the series and is the next best thing to seeing a piece, you can get very close. The photography is clear and intimate, one sees the fibers lifting off the edges of pages, the gleam of an amber bead, the carefully placed stitches, or trimmed twigs delineating pages.

This modest book cataloging The Spirit Books series presents a grouping of 35 from the total of at least 73 books. Gaylord explains that the series remains fluid, sometimes she disbinds a book and re-composes it into another piece. Each Spirit Book is presented as a discrete contemplation placed in its own unique cradle, or nest, or one might even say alter built specifically to present and contain its book. On the verso page Gaylord names the book photographed on the recto. She describes the book including a few words about the making and naming of it. Gaylord wisely lets the photos present the books as singular objects. Her descriptions are sparse, but there is enough information to prompt thinking. Book number 1 is called Sewn Prayer and “it was named for the act of sewing which is considered a symbol of life and its temporal nature.” What The Spirit Books does so well is present a hint of the breadth of the series. It suggests how rich the visual and emotive experience of the Spirit Books series must be. In that busy, energetic marketplace of the Book Arts Bazaar, I wanted to stop and think about what was being offered. This book reminds me of stopping and looking.

SpiritBook #43: RenewedWisdom

I can imagine hiking in my own northern woods and coming upon a granite ridge face with a naturally occurring mossy niche, surprisingly holding a Spirit Book. I can imagine pausing, looking carefully, reading, and thinking this most appropriate. I can see that each page, each leaf, might echo the experience Gaylord is seeking to prompt. Alternatively, I can see an installation of many Spirit Books, in a space that is conducive to contemplation, with the books elevated and accessible so that you could look deeply into the architectural environments of each one while moving around them. Lacking the opportunity to see these books in person, or to act as a memento of this singular series, The Spirit Books by Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord is a fine alternative.

[Note: to view more of the Spirit Books online visit Susan K. Gaylord's site online]

Velma Bolyard teaches emotionally disturbed children in Potsdam, NY. She also teaches papermaking, book arts, and fiber arts workshops, often at her mill, Wake Robin Papers. She holds a BS Design, MS Teaching, with elementary, art, and special education certifications, and has studied fiber, paper and book arts in the US and Canada. In 2000 she received the Nell Mendell Scholarship for PBI (Paper and Book Intensive). She has shown her work in fiber, paper, and books for many years.