Mary Laird & Drop-Spine Boxes (CC#2)

Mary Laird of Quelquefois Press combines image and text to create intricate, hand-made books. She was inspired by artists who integrated word and image, and most of the work she publishes is illustrated (Laird 101) (“Books.”). Her personal work resembles collage; Remember the Light features combinations of several mediums including paintings, etchings, and letterpress (“Remember the Light”).

Her book production is marked by a “slow and enjoyable” attention to detail, and patient creation of every part of the book; she enjoys setting type and folding paper, the designing and bookbinding (Laird 100, 107). She uses a variety of materials and techniques in her work. For Remember the Light, Laird made an effort to combine old and new technologies in her process, and the final product included laser-printed poems, letterpress prints, eighth-century binding techniques, and painted etchings, all encased leather boxes (106).

One of the things I found unique to her book-binding methods was her creation of drop-spine or clamshell boxes. Many of the books she publishes (for herself and others) are contained in hand-made boxes; she actually has a tag on her portfolio site for “Boxes,” indicating works which feature such a box or even just the boxes themselves. Kindred Flame and Jagged Stones, both by poet Anita Barrows, form a set contained in single box lined with microsuede inside and covered in silk and mohair (“Kindred Flame & Jagged Stones”). Laird’s Remember the Light is housed in a similar box covered in goatskin—three of them are actually covered in ostrich (“Remember the Light”). This use of unusual, quality materials is integral to Laird’s aesthetic, especially in her personal work.

The drop-spine box Laird Constructed for Anita Barrows’ books, Kindred Flame and Jagged Stones. The edges and corners are sharp and clean, and the box is lined with micro suede and covered with Japanese silk (“Kindred Flame & Jagged Stones.”) (Photo from Laird’s website:

Laird’s drop-spine boxes inspired me to try to construct my own. I followed this video to learn the process, but I did a few things differently. For one thing, I used different (and lower quality) materials: cardboard instead of book board and copy paper instead of book cloth. Book board allows for more precision than cardboard, which bends easily making it difficult to get straight edges and sharp corners. I also decided to simply connect the trays with a spine, rather than attaching them to a spined cover. If I were to make another drop-spine box, I’d certainly use better materials, and I’d like to make the entire piece, including the cover portion.

The pieces for the nesting trays which form a drop-spine box. I used cardboard and copy paper for this project. And Elmer’s glue. Lots of Elmer’s glue. (Photo by Oli Grogan).

Constructing the box took more time than I expected, and I found myself sacrificing aesthetics in the interest of completing the project. I had, for example, planned to cover the box with a dinosaur cotton print, but as the box developed, it seemed that the finished product wouldn’t be as crisp and clean as I’d hoped, and I decided to save the material for something else. As a result, my drop-spine box doesn’t resemble the well-made, exquisite boxes of Laird’s, and it lacks in material quality. However, Laird’s line drawings and etchings inspired me to draw some consolation dinosaurs on my copy paper cover. They are much simpler than Laird’s artwork and not quite as packed with personal meaning, but I had fun with them, in much the same way that Laird enjoyed making the drawings for her book Eggplant Skin Pants (Laird 101).

My finished box. There are some bubbles and bumps in the copy paper, and, if you look very closely, you can see the UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE from the cardboard box I used. But it opens and closes, and the book fits inside. Not the neatest or prettiest job, but functional. (Photos by Oli Grogan).

Laird, in her interview with Kyle Schlesinger, discussed being inspired to learn new art techniques. She recalled a junior high teacher who encouraged her to explore everything from puppetry to silver casting, and she took an icon class four times with the motivation of learning to grind gemstones for colour (Laird 99, 103). Like Laird, I was inspired to learn a new skill—the constructing of drop-spine boxes. I certainly haven’t perfected it, but I’ve learned a new aspect of bookbinding which I’m excited to expand on in future work.

Works Cited

“Adventures in Bookbinding: Making a Clamshell Enclosure for Rare, Valuable, or Fragile Books Part 1.” Youtube, uploaded by DAS Bookbinding, Apr. 17 2020,

“Adventures in Bookbinding: Making a Clamshell Enclosure for Rare, Valuable, or Fragile Books Part 2.” Youtube, uploaded by DAS Bookbinding, Apr. 17 2020,

“Books.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.

“Kindred Flame & Jagged Stones.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.

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.

“Remember the Light.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.

6 thoughts on “Mary Laird & Drop-Spine Boxes (CC#2)”

  1. I found your creative, critical response quite inspiring. I enjoyed reading about Mary Laird of Quelquefois Press and her work with images and text in which she uses to create intricate hand-made books. I have never heard of the book-binding method that involves drop-spine or clamshell box techniques. You did a fantastic job constructing your own drop-spine box!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Though you mention sacrificing quality for the sake of getting the project done, I think all first attempts start that way. The first attempt really is just about getting it done. If you do this again, I’m sure that you’ll find more time and opportunity to improve the look the way you want to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I, too, read up on Mary Laird for my CC#2 and I think everything about your “attempt” to make a drop-spine box is exactly how she would have made it. You might not think you were entirely successful in terms of aesthetics or neatness, but I disagree! I think this experiment turned out so well, it’s exactly in the style of Mary Laird and it’s perfectly functional and performs the exact job for which it was intended. I love this technique, and while I am bias because I’ve seen it done before, I think that can add some more credibility to my accolades-you truly did a great job! Most of how I learned bookbinding (as well as Mary Laird….) was self-taught/experimenting with methods I was presented with. This is exactly what you did, you experimented and you learned! What could be more Mary Laird than that? Bravo!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The book as process–and as learning process above all!–flies in the face of the book as (capitalist) product. Yay, Oli–you really get that here, in Laird’s footpath. Has nobody yet mentioned that your dinosaurs, as line art, are so witty and wonderful? There is something about reasserting the “extinct” as a presence to this whole project. Well informed, thoughtful, and inspired as usual 🙂


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