The Materials of the Artist, MaryLea Harris, Altered Book with Emulsion Transfer, 9" x 6"

I started experimenting with handmade and altered books a few years ago. With my first effort, I layered an emulsion transfer of trees over the pages of an old artist's manual. On the facing page I created a small diorama by cutting a hole in the center of the book. 

My bookmaking venture led me to my final studio course in the M.I.S. program, Ginna Cullen's wonderful bookmaking class, which has transformed my art forever. Books allow me to work through many different ideas while experimenting with various media. The intimate scale allows me to sit quietly and reflect upon each book while holding it in my hands. 

 Birches, MaryLea Harris, Watercolor, Stitched Canvas, Computer Text, 12" x 12" 

I was able to combine many of my past techniques with my Birches book. I layered watercolor paintings with computer text and created rudimentary botanical prints throughout the pages of the book by pounding leaves and herbs with a hammer into the soft Arches paper. I created the cover using scraps of raw canvas from my paintings and stitched monochromatic patterns into the cover with my sewing machine. I finished the book by hand-sewing a Coptic binding. 

Crossing Paths, MaryLea Harris, Mixed-Media book with Branch, 6" x 9" 

Detail: Crossing Paths, MaryLea Harris, Mixed-Media book with Branch, 6" x 9"

In Crossing Paths, I was inspired by Jasper Johns' Fools House (1962) to use a rudimentary tool, in this case a small branch, to splatter ink and paint on the pages and then incorporate it into the binding on the cover as Johns did with the broom in his painting. The layered criss-cross pattern of the pages allowed me to paint a neutral color palette on one side of the book while allowing a shock of vivid orange and crimson red to be hidden within the pages. 

Closer to Home, MaryLea Harris, Mixed-Media Book 8" x 8" 

 Detail: Closer to Home, MaryLea Harris, Mixed-Media Book 8" x 8" 

With the portfolio book, Closer to Home, I combined emulsion transfers and handmade papers with the archetypal symbol of a house. I incorporated stitching with my sewing machine as a symbolic historical connection to the generations of women in my family who sewed to provide income and clothing for their families. 

I am the second woman in my family to pursue a post-graduate degree and am reminded of my female ancestors when I have the luxury to create art in my studio. Historically, wealthy women learned needlework as a pastime while poor women sewed out of necessity. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers sewed not for recreation but out of need. 

Combining machine stitching and hand stitching with my computer transfers is also meant to remind the viewer that this is a handmade piece of art and not completely computer generated. It is handcrafted like clay pots or woven baskets that also hold the marks of their makers. 

Mother to Daughter, MaryLea Harris, Mixed-Media Star Book, 12" diameter

The star book format seemed most appropriate for my Mother to Daughter book because its circular shape, when open, symbolizes our inter-connectedness. This was truly a collaborative piece which combined my daughter's artwork with my own. I handed her a paintbrush and a palette of acrylic paint before her second birthday. My mother was my first art teacher as well. My daughter loves painting in my art studio on my easel. I find the natural freedom of her abstract paintings very refreshing. I scanned one of her paintings on my computer and transferred it onto one of the towels I use to clean my paintbrushes on from my studio. I then cut up the pieces and stitched the sections to paper and bound them into the star book format. It is a gift that I hope to pass along to her someday when she is older. 

Pop Up Book, MaryLea Harris, 2006

Circle Pop-Up Book, MaryLea Harris, 2006

Jacob's Ladder Book, MaryLea Harris, Mixed Media with Emulstion Transfers

Cover: Jacob's Ladder Book, MaryLea Harris, Mixed Media with Emulstion Transfers

Coaster Book, MaryLea Harris, 2006
Altered Coasters and Cheese Box with Encaustic, Machine Stitching, and Emulsion Tranfers

Mixed Media Book of Quotes, MaryLea Harris, 2006
Watercolor paper, machine stitching, ink, canvas