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Fossilized Books Make Beautiful Sculptures

Hawaii-based artist Jacqueline Rush Lee uses "book alchemy" to transform everything from encyclopedias to novels into beautiful works of art.

by Sami Emory
Mar 5 2015, 6:00pm

Artist with Nous 2014 (There's no why Here), Alternate View. H13.5" x W12" x D9". Ink, Graphite, Manipulated Philosophy Book. Reason & Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy, Fourteenth Edition. Feinberg & Shafer-Landau. Photo: John Hook. Images courtesy the artist

Hawaii-based artist Jacqueline Rush Lee reshapes books into laberythintine, scholarly sculptures. Her explorations into the physical beauty of bookbinding and the endless possibilities of printmaking are the perfect visual accompaniment to today’s World Book Day. Over the years, Lee has immersed textbooks in their own ink, whorl-book-bombed hollow trees, and, in her seminal series Ex Libris, engulfed encyclopedias in extreme heat.

With her wide range of artistic approaches, Lee delves into the “internal landscapes” of the books, transforming the texts into “poetic remnants of their former selves.” For Ex Libris, for example, she researched book alchemy to create an experimental series of fossilized books. “I discovered that an inorganic chemical process combines with the kaolin and inks in the books,” says Lee, “creating a molecular change and “freeze-framing” the impression of a book at temperatures as hot as 2444 F.” In a controlled kiln environment, Lee found that each book underwent its own unique transformation, forming “ephemeral and ghost-like forms,” molting into unusual textures, and generating new colors.  

 Below, celebrate this international day of reading with the artist’s Ex Libris series and beyond:

Shrunken Encyclopedia (from Ex Libris), 2000. Fired Book. H 6” x W 9“x D7”. In Permanent Collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, HI. Photo: Brad Goda

Artist with Pod, 2010. From the Summer Reading Series. Manipulated Buddhist and Children's Texts. H 14" x W 14" x D 10". Photo: John Hook


Anthologia 1, 2007-2008. Devotion Series. Manipulated Asian Literary Book Components. Reassembled, inked, folded, sanded, burnished. In the Collection of Jim & Kelly Pollison, CA. Photo: Paul Kodama

Lorem Ipsum II, 2010. From the Summer Reading Series. Manipulated Asian Literary Texts with Hand-Stitched Surface Elements and splashed Sumi-e Ink. H 14" x W 17" x D 6". Photo: Paul Kodama


Peacock 2007. Devotion Series. Manipulated Book Components. Ink, Pages, bookmark, headband. In private Collection, NY. Photo: Paul Kodama

Crescere (Devotion Series 2012-2013. Manipulated Book Components, Encyclopedias, Inks, Binding. H 15" x W 17.5" x D 10.5". Photo: Paul Kodama

Find out more about Lee’s beautiful experiments in books on her website.

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