Winter Term: The Art of the Artist Book

September 15, 2020
Yvonne Gay
A girl poses next to her art book
Marie Romanelli ’21 and her artist book. Photo credit: Courtesy of Romanelli

After spending a month researching artist books and creating a book of her own, Marie Romanelli ’21 is officially hooked on the craft, both as an artist and as a short-form poet.

In one of Romanelli’s favorite artist books, author Geo Rutherford spent more than a year collecting plastic and trash that was littered on the shores of Lake Michigan. The result was a collection of 10 books—boxes filled with vials of the organized trash into colors and categories. Some vials had dead butterflies, some had broken glass, and others had a nerf gun bullet. ’’You can’t see that, or interact with that, with a traditional paper book,’’ says Romanelli. Some things need to be shown and not told in the world of authorship.’

In her own attempt to create an interactive artist book, Romanelli, an English and creative writing major, says she learned how difficult and rewarding the process can be.

nests and feathers with pages glued to them.
Pages from Marie Romanelli’s art book. Courtesy of Romanelli ’21

The book was constructed with repurposed materials, including an old jewelry box that was used as the base for the entire structure. Passages from Romanelli’s poem To Mother Nature, so that I May See Her and Feel Whole Again, are fixed to feathers, a bird and wasp nest, and on the back of a paper sunflower. The interactive experience begins after the book’s instructions are read. 

’‘I wanted the reader to experience the healing process of the narrative,’’ explains Romanelli. ‘‘As you read, you deconstruct the body, finding stanzas on each removable object like a wasp nest for guilt. The poem is to Mother Nature, so at the end, a portrait of her is revealed and the narrator is no longer burdened with nature but embraces it. You get to play with the poem, read it the right way or backward.’’

Romanelli found inspiration for her project from Maryann Riker‘s artist book, Women Work. The book, shaped in the form of a small cottage-style house, uses a mixture of mid-century advertisement, small scale furniture, and condensed text to ask: did domestic technology really provide housewives with more leisure time or had the standards of domestic cleanliness risen, requiring more time to achieve their goals? The interactiveness of Riker’s book and minimal text was a draw for Romanelli.

‘‘Artist books are anything a conventional book shouldn‘t be, and there aren‘t any rules,’’ says Romanelli. ‘‘It’s about expressing yourself with words as a writer but also finding strength in the absence of words. Storytelling can take on many forms, including interactive puzzles, or little houses, or beautiful images and collage. And each one may speak to the observer differently, just like any other book would.’’

Romanelli is on campus this academic year and hopes to create another artist book for her creative writing capstone. 

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