PRINT December 2014


Brooke Hodge

As winter’s chill sets in, Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower: Artists’ Books and the Natural World (Yale University Press) beckons with the promise of a delicious wander through the meadows, hedgerows, and brambles of Britain. Nature, seen through the eyes of British artists ranging from self-taught naturalists to contemporary practitioners, many of them women, is the subject of this stunning publication from the Yale Center for British Art. The center’s senior curator of rare books and manuscripts, Elisabeth Fairman, has assembled an astonishing array of works—among them such highlights as the delightfully stylized drawings of flora and fauna in Helmingham Herbal and Bestiary (ca. 1500); Tracey Bush’s “Nine Wild Plants,” 2006, a series of collages made from discarded paper wrappers found on London’s streets; and Julie Cockburn’s intricate pop-up Beetles Book, 1965—showing us the ingenious ways artists observe and depict the natural world. The volume’s carefully orchestrated rhythm of images and words reveals Fairman’s fruitful collaboration with book designer Miko McGinty. Short texts, sprinkled throughout, from botanists, curators, and artists, offer lively commentary on the beautifully photographed plates, which are organized as a “Field Guide to the British Countryside.” This is a book about making books—about cataloguing and collecting, looking and remembering—and it makes the books that are its subject come alive. A rare feat, indeed.

Brooke Hodge is Deputy Director of the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.