Some people use my books as journals and fill them up with words. I don’t write in my books. For me, the books themselves are journals, visual records of my life and work.
I am interested in traces of the past, ancient binding styles, altered books, distressed finishes, and found objects. Since I was six or seven years old, I’ve been collecting small objects. I have seashells and interesting rocks that I collected at the beach on childhood vacations. I also have my grandfather’s arrowhead collection. He often walked the freshly plowed fields of the central Missouri town where spent his life, collecting these stone relics of the land’s past inhabitants. I’ve stored up seedpods, rocks, bones,
shells, bits of rusty metal, nails, animal teeth, fossils. They represent periods in my life, even just days or moments. I keep my collection of objects in drawers, bottles, and boxes within a single small room in my house. The space has the feel of a German Wunderkammern, a “cabinet of curiosities.” I often sit in the room
and scan my collection, seeking just the right object to inspire a new book or sculpture.
A symphony conductor who collects my work once told me that he hides my books in a basket every evening be stolen during the night. Until fairly recently all books were prized possessions — medieval libraries chained books to the shelves to prevent theft. In those days each volume was crafted with precision, elaborately decorated and embellished with precious stones and metals. I aim to make my books just as precious as those medieval manuscripts.
All my work has a Coptic book at its heart. The binding was first used about the fourth century, in Ethiopia or North Africa, or perhaps this is just the area where the books were best preserved. There are several distinct sewings known as Coptic. The style I use is known as Ethiopian. I use two needles for each length of thread, one on either end. I use wood covers and tunnel through the edge of the board to attach the text block. The historic sewing style, wooden boards, and the type of board attachment are what distinguish the Ethiopian style Coptic Binding.