Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Silence and Gold

Lindsay Kolk
(New York, NY)

Lindsay Kolk made this pen and paper sketch almost a year ago, and traded it for her copy of Songs About Books.  Since then, her experiments with lines have led to a beautiful show, Seeking Silence, which hung at the International Arts Movement through early October.

Part of her artist's statement on this show is drawn from Rilke: "If you attach yourself to Nature, to the simple and small in her, which hardly anyone sees, but which can so unexpectedly turn into the great and the immeasurable, if you have this love for what is slight and try quite simply, as a servant, to win the confidence of what appears to you poor, then everything will become easier for you, more uniform and somehow more reconciling, not perhaps in the understanding, which holds back in amazement, but in your innermost consciousness, watchfulness and knowledge."

The transformation in her work bears this out: her line drawing on scrap has grown into a whole flock of individual pieces that together form a beautiful and substantial whole, and in another kind of magic the simple pen and paper which originally called her to the project seem to have transmuted, here and there, to gold.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Woman in Orbit

Bruce Herman
(Gloucester, MA)

Bruce Herman is the kind of artist whose work reminds you that some things can't be said with words, so I won't try to elaborate on the statements he's made here with pencil and paint.  But one thing I do love about these trades: how a recognizable image emerges so quickly from the few lines of the pencil drawing, while all the color and motion of the image fully covered in paint leaves you only with a thought, a feeling, or a hint.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Independent Study

Dillies P.
(Marlboro, NJ)
One of the things I love about books is that, although a writer spends years of her life to write one, the magic of printing makes them so affordable that teenagers can pick up used copies of the greatest literature of all time for pennies.  No other art form is so democratic.  The privilege of reading Crime and Punishment or War and Peace should cost us thousands of dollars, but it doesn't.

Dillies P. is a teacher of literature, and as her trade, she designed an independent study for me of some of her own favorite stories: A Simple Heart by Flaubert, The Killers by Ernest Hemingway, The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Flannery O'Connor, Day of the Butterfly by Alice Munroe, The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud, The Greatest Man in the World by James Thurber, Hands by Sherwood Anderson, Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl, and The Lady with the Pet Dog by Anton Chekhov.  It's an undeniable treasure trove, but also: a free gift.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oatmeal Hat

Camille S.
(Marlboro, NJ)
This handknit hat reminds me of oatmeal, not just in the color of the yarn, but because it's warm and hearty, and so much of its beauty comes from the "imperfections".

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blueberry Lemongrass

Jeannie Rose F.
(Brooklyn, NY)

Jeannie Rose is an artist in the kitchen, where she not only cooks up concoctions like this blueberry lemongrass syrup, but spreads the love by teaching others how to cook.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Flying Car

John Silvis
(New York, NY)

John Silvis is a great promoter of artists, so he's a perfect fit for this eclectic collection in the Songs About Books gallery.  He's also a serious artist himself, but I like the very most playful take on this trade he sent: a car that seems to have suddenly decided to make its escape from the grip of gravity, and set a course for the sky. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lover's Repository

Lucy E.
(Leeds, West Yorkshire)

Lucy E. is a writer and a librarian who has been creating her own corner of the British Library for years.  Her trade will enable the handwork necessary to conserve a title in that library: Carvalho's Town and Country Valentine Writer, or Lover's RepositoryIt's a book designed to help the tongue-tied put words to their feelings in a love letter, so its a perfect fit with the love letters that form the heart of The Blind Contessa's New Machine.  And the book was published in 1820, so it's something Carolina and Turri might actually have read. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sea Glaze

Elicia B.
(Brooklyn, NY)

I wish I could marry you
I will buy Bat Trang bricks to build our house

These beautiful dishes were handmade in Vietnam, southeast of Hanoi, in Bat Trang village.  The fame of their ceramics, and especially their stunning glazes, has spread so far that it has actually seeped into the country's love poems, like the one above.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Photo Booth Spring

Liza L.S.
(Harper Woods, MI)
Liza L.S. has a great eye, so these prints are wonderful photographs in their own right, but the print style  reminds me of all kinds of other delights, from the stylized opening credits of 1960s spy caper movies, to the collections of matched prints that used to spool out of old-fashioned photo booths -- as if Liza had somehow managed to convince one of these beautiful spring days to step into the photo boot for a moment with her. 

Friday, May 11, 2012


Linda A.
(North Wales, PA)
Linda A. draws these incredible designs freehand, although her hand has the precision of a fine machine.  They started out as meditations, because each takes hours to complete, and she gives them to friends on the occasion of weddings and other celebrations -- like a new book starting to make its way in the world.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Two Whale Woodblock

Chris E.-B.
(New York, NY)
This beautiful block print of two whales, An Ocean's Call, is Chris's first attempt at print-making.  The number on the print is incredibly low: number two, out of two.  And it's accurate -- the block broke just after this print was made, so it's one of only two in the world.  I especially love the sense of tenderness between the parent and child, and the way the larger whale's tail breaks as it breaks the surface of the water.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

True Love

Christy T.
(Seattle, WA)

Christy found the typewriter keys to make this bracelet at a magical booth in a Seattle-area flea market, and instead of choosing them at random, spelled out a message.  I love the punctuation she chose in between, the imperfections in the keys, and the irregular pattern, which means your eye can go over and over it and settle on something different each time. When I wear it, the keys work as a kind of rosary, to help me count off my thoughts and worries and dreams.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Marino Translation

Rachael S.
(New Haven, CT)

Music and Poetry are two sisters--
Together, restorers of the afflicted,
For the turbid storms of wicked thoughts
By happy rhymes' power become serene.
The world has not seen arts more beautiful
Nor more healing for the unsound mind...

Giambattista Marino wrote these verses in the 17th century, but Rachael S. translated them into English a few years ago.  The poem, L’Adone, has some sympathies with the Songs About Books project – it proclaims the sisterhood of music and poetry.  And it resonates with the way Carolina leans into her other senses as she loses her sight in The Blind Contessa’s New Machine: the poem asks the reader to value hearing more than sight, despite the fact that the world usually thinks sight is more important than sound.  Rachael traded the original Italian version of the poem, her own translation, and her introduction to it, for her copy of Songs About Books.

Marvelous art in each of her beautiful works
(This one cannot deny) Nature shows;
But like a painter, who by ingenuity and study
Discovers more in little figures than in large,
In things very small she applies
Greatest diligence and greatest care.
Yet such artistry surpasses her way
With all other miracles she performs.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Paper Flowers

Morgan Levine
(Brooklyn, NY)
Morgan Levine makes all kinds of things with her hands: jewelry, ornaments, hats, paper flowers.  These hand-painted crepe blooms are spares from a group she made to wear in her hair. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Liturgical Bunny

Gwen M.
(Fort Worth, TX)
Gwen knits these bunnies without a pattern: she lets the needles and the yarn tell her where to go.  She was actually an inspiration for this trade project -- I met her at a conference where she had knit a bunny she was willing to trade for any other artist’s work. This bunny is a close cousin of the one I saw there, but with a special twist: an identity necklace that spells out “patience” and “kindness.” He's got a spooky, regal quality that I love.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Music Man

Sam Wedelich
(New York, NY)
Sam Wedelich's art draws you into a beautiful world, and just when your guard goes down, she serves you a dose of truth.  She's also one of my favorite living singers, so it was a special gift when she traded this painting of a man using his horn to hear his own heart for her copy of Songs About Books.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Double-Hearted Rose

(Brooklyn, NY)
Raddo and his beautiful wife run my favorite flower shop, Stem, which happens to be down the block from my house.  The flowers are different every week, but always beautiful and strange: thistles, poppies, juniper, freesia, anemones, dahlias, hyacinth, pine.  When I took them a copy of Songs About Books, he traded me for this beautiful double-hearted rose.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Abby, Luke, and Caleb  
(Chelsea, MI)

I love art by kids, and these are some fabulously talented kids.  Their mom traded these treasures for her copy of Songs About Books.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Silkscreen Butterfly Bag

Jody S.
(Morganville, NJ)

Jody, who I met at a library reading in New Jersey, silkscreened a butterfly like the one on the cover of The Blind Contessa’s New Machine on this bag.  It’s lined with beautiful fabric, and big enough to hold about two dozen books.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tea Bowl

Tim Mills
(Bangkok, Thailand)

A gorgeous tea bowl sent to me from Atlanta by an artist on leave from his work in Bangkok where, among other things, he leads a regional group for artists.  I’m still trying to figure out how he made the ceramic look like sea glass.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Marinara Sauce

Regina K.
Brooklyn, NY

I met Regina at my first reading for the paperback version of The Blind Contessa's New Machine, part of the wonderful Largehearted Lit series, which blends two of my favorite worlds: music and books.  I played a few songs from Songs About Books that night, and gave Regina a copy of the record.  A few days later, she showed up on my doorstep with homemade marinara sauce and a box of pasta.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Chris Dean
Ferndale, MI

 If you’ve run across a lenticular outside a gallery, it was probably at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jack: one of those “holograph” toys where the image changes as you turn the piece of plastic. Chris Dean has raised the nostalgic process to an art form, and sent me this gorgeous example in trade for his copy of Songs About Books.