My love of books developed when I was very young. The sacred and serious nature of books was presented to me when I was a very small person, and I took this extremely seriously (and still do, though not nearly as seriously as my grade-school self). It was impressed upon me that I would not be allowed to borrow books from the library if I did anything at all to injure them. The librarian explained that a good person would not save their place in a book by spreading it wide on the table, text side down. This is bad for the spine. With a paperback, one should most certainly not bend the front cover around to meet the back cover. I did not fold down the corners of pages to save my place—this was vandalism. I was disgusted to find texts that were marked with other children’s crayons and could not begin to understand how someone could tear an entire page from a book. Certainly these other children were in a book abuser’s penitentiary somewhere.
The unmarred books that I did haul home were chosen for a variety of reasons--I liked the title, the illustrations were stunning, a suggested book list was posted at school or in the library, or it contained instructions for a project I intended to undertake when my parents weren’t watching. My choices were not limited by one subject or interest because the books themselves were interesting enough to me. These books provided narratives for costumed reenactments, illustrations to be carefully copied, and instructions on how to perform card tricks. In short, I quickly found that books were the solution to almost anything I might need. I loved them as objects filled with potential and I took the maintenance of these loaned tomes as a large responsibility.
In college I found my way into a book binding class that reinforced the specialness of the bound text. We made books by hand, we discussed the preciousness of paper, the importance of good craft and we handled these objects with white gloves. This is the value I had been taught to assign to books and I felt like I had found a class where I could really relate. The book classes taught me to respect materials, think about scale in relationship to people, and how to intensely focus on making a well-crafted object. My interest in books as objects is what led me to art making in a more refined way. The considered crafting of a well-made book is something I still relate to in my very labor-intensive studio practice.
In college, I began to collect books that were beautiful--books that held important information, novels that I loved, and art books filled with color images. I married a man with similarly wide taste in books and I love the library that we are constantly co-curating. We have shelves in most rooms of our house. These shelves are vaguely organized, though much of this organization has to do with which books will fit where and whether we want them near our couch or our bedroom. When I look through our shelves I am pleased to be living with a collection that includes The Things I Love by Liberace, Rosey Greer’s Needlepoint for Men, four shelves of pop-up books, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, and Walton Ford’s Pancha Tantra. I can list influences from most all of our books and the variety in our home library means I can turn to our stacks again and again for instruction and insight.
Now that I’m a mature adult, when my husband isn’t looking, I will even dog-ear a page from time to time.
bio: Claire Joyce currently lives in Eureka, CA where she teaches drawing at College of the Redwoods. Though she has worked in a variety of media, her current work uses glitter and glue to explore the grace and wit which can arise from the banal and ordinary.