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.
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.
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.
“Adventures in Bookbinding: Making a Clamshell Enclosure for Rare, Valuable, or Fragile Books Part 1.” Youtube, uploaded by DAS Bookbinding, Apr. 17 2020, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5sa0KXJf3Y.
“Adventures in Bookbinding: Making a Clamshell Enclosure for Rare, Valuable, or Fragile Books Part 2.” Youtube, uploaded by DAS Bookbinding, Apr. 17 2020, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc6CFXq-_k&t=943s
“Books.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, maryrisalalaird.com/books/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.
“Kindred Flame & Jagged Stones.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/anita-barrows/. 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, maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.