Mary Laird

Mary Laird is one of those printers whose love of craft dominate their work. She makes her own paper, binds books, paints, hand-planes wooden covers, writes poetry, and prints (Laird 100, 104). Because her work style is “slow and ornery,” she doesn’t print many books (96, 99); in fact, there were only seven copies of her book Remember the Light (“Remember the Light”). Her limited production leads me to think that her purpose in bookmaking is not to disseminate the content of her books—the poetry and artwork. Rather, she labours over the creation of a few exquisite objects for the love of the process (100).

Mary Laird’s Remember the Light (2007). A collection of Laird’s poetry and prints incorporating several mediums and methods including letterpress, relief-roll etchings, wooden-board bindings, and drop-spine boxes (Photos from Laird’s website: maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/) (“Remember the Light”).

Laird’s love of the craft is evident in her engagement with the techniques of fine printing. In her work, she combines heritage processes—including papermaking, printing, and book-binding—with her designs. Remember the Light, for example, is bound between two wooden covers, based on an eighth century model (106). Laird relates that, while hand-planing these covers, she thought of her grandfather who use to make cabinets (104). Her mother, too, makes appearances in her artwork; there is a portrait of her in Remember the Light (“Mary Laird…”). Her love of the craft in bookmaking is related to her love for her relatives and ancestors.

Mary Laird speaks at the Book Club of California in San Francisco. She discusses her work, including her inspiration and process.

Laird says in her interview with Schlesinger that she was always looking for “vastness, space” in her work (99). Her use of fine printing techniques gives her more spaces in which to create. The covers, the paper, the binding—each of these aspects is a choice Laird makes and a space she fills with her creativity. For Eggplant Skin Pants, for example,she chose the paper—Hosho—because its transparency and the resulting shadows from the images interested her (100). And for Remember the Light,she made drop-spine boxes with ostrich and goatskin covers and inserted a little copper medallion into each. Even the books’ containers are a medium for creativity (“Remember the Light”) (“Mary Laird…”).

A spread from Laird’s Remember the Light. These pages contain sewing, etchings, and printed words. Laird also experiments with the shape of the pages (the recto page is rounded and has that toothy edge). These experimental designs are combined with traditional letterpress and contained in a wood-cover reminiscent of eighth century codices (Photo from Laird’s website: maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/) (Laird 106).

Laird exhibits a deep appreciation for the craft of printing and bookmaking in her work. Bookmaking is to her “slow and enjoyable” (107). Her books are a conglomeration of skills and processes, from sewing and letterpress to photocopying and bookbinding. She prints and produces books because she loves the process of creation. Laird’s affection for the various crafts she employs in bookmaking is evident in the final products, which are beautiful, unified works of poetry, images, paper, and binding.

Works Cited

Laird, Mary. “Mary Laird: Quelquefois Press and The Perishable Press Limited.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, By Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 96-107.

“Mary Laird Quelquefois Press 40 Years of Printing, Painting, and Poetry.” YouTube, uploaded by John Malork – Art History, 18 July 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAFXrRyrPjQ.

“Remember the Light.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

4 thoughts on “Mary Laird”

  1. It’s really neat to see how intricate and detailed she can make her pieces and prints, and your post really captures that! Although she may take a bit longer to craft them, it seems like it’s simply because she’s dedicated to the craft and wants to ensure that every piece she creates is just right. With any type of art, it isn’t necessary to be the fastest in your craft; sometimes, slow and steady is the best of all!

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  2. It’s cool to see about a creator who’s individual books are so special that maybe only seven could be made for one kind.
    It reminds me of the past couple summers when I would make cards to sell at a farmers market. I often had trouble making the same design over and over and much preferred doing at least a different picture if the quote stayed the same for them.

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  3. I think you hit on something when you said that the love of creating the book was related to Laird’s love of her ancestors. I think that, when you love more than one thing, you tend to find a way to bring those two things together, to use them both.

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  4. I love the artistry of Larid’s books. The textures, colors, and patterns of the pieces are really unique and definitely establish a sense of her distinct style. This is definitely evidenced in the “love of the process of creation” that you talk about in the last section. Books as interesting as these definitely have to come from someone who is truly invested in the process.

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