Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin – by Megan Rosenbloom
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2020
Collection of UCLA, US
French-style fine binding with laced-in boards. Bound in partial sanded blackberry goatskin with back-pared onlays in various handmade papers. Onlays and leather are embellished with embroidery, colored pencil and gouache. Leather wrapped endbands in raspberry goatskin with bands of ochre yellow, violet and straw threads. Edge-to-edge doublures in orchid handmade paper sprinkled with bright blue gouache. Matching leather hinges. Pink-lilac handmade paper fly leaves.
Binding is housed in a clamshell box with blackberry goatskin and mustard yellow Katie MacGregor handmade paper. Leather spine is embroidered in cotton floss. Trays covered in nile Duo cloth and lined with ruby Novasuede.
21.3cm x 14.7cm x 2.8cm – Completed 2021
- Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA - Launch Party for Paperback Edition of Dark Archives
A book bound in human skin is born out of a grim situation. Rarely is there a provenance for the person whose skin is used to create such a unique object, however a story within Dark Archives emerges on how the skin of a dying immigrant woman ends up on three bindings within her doctor’s collection. The story of Mary Lynch is just one of many who have been taken advantage of for the sake of curiosity or the search for medical advancement. Yet sometimes these horrific human experiments do lead to treatments that benefit humankind.
The mushrooms illustrated on this binding are varieties that grow from decaying organic material. Their extensive root system runs below the surface to deliver nutrients pulled from the dead to sustain the living plants nearby. The lives that were taken have progressed practices of gynecology, furthered research on the human genome and virology and helped to create treatments for polio and HPV amongst many other advancements. However, this can not outweigh the manipulation and horrors bestowed upon these humans solely because they were deemed inferior or outsiders by medical professionals.
Mary Lynch’s doctor cared so little for her life, he allowed her body to rot away from the inside. Then upon her death removed her skin without her consent and stored it for decades before having it used to bind three medical texts on women’s health. Anthropodermic bibliopegy is a contentious subject that Rosenbloom navigates with compassion. My goal was to create a design of equal merit that did not serve to sensationalize.