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Altered Books

Photos in this section provided by Jack Mader.

There are as many ways to alter a book as there are ways to paint a picture or choreograph a dance. Some of those strategies are more drastic or radical than others and sometimes leave the book almost unrecognizable. Because I have been a book person and have loved reading all my life, my own bent in altering books is to try to capture some essence of the original, distill it, and then make something new from it without loosing sight of the original.

One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes  2008

[original, a Hutzul tale, told by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer
Holliday House  •  © 1996  •   34pp]


This little book fell into my lap when my nieces, Nora and Molly, were young and loved to have books read to them. Once they were on to reading on their own, I thought I could use this book to explore that moment in each of our lives when we sense reading has something to do with those little wiggly black lines underneath the pictures in the book we love. We start asking questions and trying to “read”, but most of our sense of the story still comes from the pictures and illustrations. I distorted the text in this book, altered it almost beyond recognition, but still allowed  it a presence on the page, to suggest this moment of transition in our lives.

Tools: Xerox machine, architecture color pens, X-acto knife, collaged images

Stranger in the Mirror  2008

[original by Allen Say  •   Houghton Mifflin Company  •  © 1995  •  32pp]


My son, Andrew is a biologist, among other things.  He spoke with me one day about how science was poised on the cusp of extending life, perhaps to 150 years or more. I remembered this story about a young boy who suddenly begins to age at an alarming rate. I went back to the “rivers of words” method of extracting a new text I had used in Art From Abo, trying to maintain a kernel of the story, about children questioning old age, while developing a new thread of interest as well. I discovered an article, Can We Cure Aging? by Michael Fossel, MD, and copied it on transparent paper, affixing it to the text pages as a background presence. I also included one of my favorite poems, The Layers by Stanley Kunitz as an overlay for Say’s illustrations.

Tools: X-acto knife, architectural color pens, Sharpie black pens, Xerox machine,
rubber stamps

Silverhair  2007

[original by Stephen Baxte  •  Harper Press © 1999  •  212pp]


In searching for a way to express what the story is about, I decided to make a clear distinction between the cover and the text. I wanted whatever judgments the reader made because of the appearance of the cover to be subverted, to imply there are more layers to the story than the cover suggests. Thus, instead of gluing the text block together before cutting into it, I left the pages loose, giving a sense of the geology of the book, the ancient thread of the story.

Tools: X-acto knife, glue, deer bone

Art From Abo  2005

[original, Art From Above, photos by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and text by Hervé
LaBras  •  Harry N. Abrams, Inc.  •  © 2001]


In 2004, as I completed work on my new, DownStairs Press, studio, I wanted to begin a daily practice of working in that space. When I noticed this book’s title at a bookstore the idea of working on a project, every day, for a year, presented itself. After purchasing and reading the volume, I decided to try creating quasi-surrealistic image sentences by removing much of a page’s text and connecting the remaining words with undulating rivers of color. My notion of preserving something of the original seems, to me, successful as a reading of the book still gives off a sense of urgency about the health and well-being of our Little Blue Planet.

Tools: architectural color pens, Sharpie black pens, various stenciling materials
Price: negotiable

The Animal That Drank Up Sound   2009

[original by William Stafford, illustrated by Debra Frasier
Harcourt Brace Janovich  •  © 1992  •   32pp]


Just before beginning this project, I was introduced to the drawing and painting of Minneapolis artist, Aribert Munzner. I was taken by the energy of his pen strokes and determined to explore how that kind of gesture could add to an altered text by suggesting power and sweep, even though the ink marks were actually obliterating some of the words. I also added a poem, Ululation, a practice I had explored earlier in Stranger in the Mirror.

Tools: X-acto knife, Sharpie pens, rubber stamps


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