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Using various motifs from Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and Egyptian Revival styles, Hanmer created seven lavishly decorated plaquettes housed in a clamshell box. Combining the gorgeous embellishments of an earlier age with the inkjet printing capabilities of today, Hanmer composed vividly rendered adaptations of the originals, focusing on exotic locales, architecture, flora and fauna and of course, elephants.

Laura Davidson concentrates on just one “exotic locale,” that of ancient Greece. In Athens Gilded, the artist applied gold leaf to vintage postcards depicting the masterpieces of Athenian architecture: Theseion, or Temple of Hephaestus, god of metalwork; the Acropolis, the citadel that guards the city; the Caryatid Porch of the Erectheion, the temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, the two deities who competed to be the patron of Athens; and the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis. The use of gold leaf gives the book a visual richness and wryly serves as a literal reference to the Golden Age of Athens in the fifth century BCE.

The use of vintage postcards recalls the era when upper-class young men (and rarely, women) would be sent off on a Grand Tour to Europe before settling into married life. The traveler’s time was generally spent enriching his knowledge of Western civilization, including visits to the classical edifices depicted here. Through her use of gold leaf, Davidson illuminates the common postcard and reaches back to the splendors of ancient Athens.

Professor Stroup defines three terms that are at the core of the evolution of text; otium, a time for writing; munus, the symbolic gift that fulfills an obligation and implies an ongoing cycle of exchange; and the libellus, literally meaning “little book” but here described as the final product of the exchange, the offering, the text itself. These artists’ books take their place in the evolutionary flow as textual and visual works of art and as spectacular aesthetic objects that only obligate the viewer to appreciate the inventiveness and beauty that is their gift.

Athens Gilded
Laura Davidson

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a burgeoning of interest in travel to and exploration of foreign lands. Influenced by events such as the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 and by art movements of the times, the decorative arts, such as fine bookbinding, enjoyed a new golden age.

In 2011, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia made available to artists a selection of book bindings designed during that fertile decorative period. Karen Hanmer drew upon this source material to create Elephants Battle Aggressive Vegetation in Ancient Egypt.

Elephants Battle Aggressive Vegetation in Ancient Egypt
Karen Hanmer

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