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Book Artist of the Month: Susan Collard

May 13, 2013 by Erin Fletcher


A Short Course in Recollection was built by Susan Collard in 2009 for the Guild of Book Workers national exhibit Marking Time and through this book I was introduced to Susan’s work. Although the book may appear fairly plain on the outside, the interior pages are an inch thick in order to house a series of ramps and switchbacks. Susan began with her fascination of children’s toys built of ramps and towers. This literal marking of time in a direct, mechanistic, clattering fashion appealed to Susan (as did the technical challenge of interpreting that into a book).


At the top left of the first page is a vertical slot where the steel marbles are fed into the course. A blue toggle switched to the left stales the first marble upon its decent. The next marble will knock the toggle to the right and both marbles will move forward into the course on different paths. This toggle trick was inspired by woodworker, Matthias Wendel, who builds complex and ingenious marble machines. Susan approached the design of Short Course just as many artists do, by considering her materials first. In order to reduce any awkward bulkiness to the book, Susan choose steel marbles that are smaller then normal (about 7/16″). The ramps are made from ½” poplar and the face of the pages are aircraft plywood. The pages are bound together with slotted brass hinges. 

Susan drafted full-size diagrams of the pages and made a cardboard model to aid in the building of Short Course. This is more planning that usual for Susan and all aesthetic elements came in after the pages started taking shape and the title of the book was chosen. 

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The third and fourth pages are more open, where the steel marbles can navigate more reliably. The marbles that fall to the right of the first toggle switch come down a ramp above the sleeping girl’s head, then hit a second toggle switch at her feet.

The book can only function in one position, with the pages butted together tightly so the marbles can travel freely between them. There are three distinct courses, regulated by two toggle switches. The mechanism of the book does work, but rather temperamentally and can be viewed as a metaphor for memory. Some marbles will travel the course flawlessly, while others get hung up between pages, jump a guardrail or cause a traffic jam. As Susan so elegantly says “it seems easy to extend the metaphor to include these accidents of blockage and retrieval. Perhaps the book, as is, is a better representation of our own flawed memories than if it worked reliably every time. Which is not to say I wouldn’t fix it in a heartbeat if I had the ability. Probably my favorite thing about this book was integrating more childish elements (the fairy tales, alphabet blocks, even the colors of the milk paint) with the very intricate mechanisms and depictions of machinery—as if to suggest childhood is a serious and convoluted endeavor, or that understanding the world requires great leaps of nonsense and whimsy.” 


1 Comment »

  1. Erin, when this book went off on its tour with the Marking Time show, I wondered if anyone would ever play with it along the way. So I was delighted to read that you and other students from the North Bennet School took time to do that.

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    My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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