Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord wants her “spirit books” to look so natural, “If I placed one on the ground in the woods, you’d walk right by it.”
People are stopping and taking notice, though, at the Arnold Arboretum, where 14 of the books are on view through July 22 — not in the woods, but in display cases in the visitor center.
Sheryl White, the Arboretum’s coordinator of visitor engagement, first saw the Newburyport artist’s sculptures last year and thought they would be a good fit for the nature reserve. Gaylord had even gathered the sweetgum seed pods that form the spiky base for one of her books, “Chambered Congruity,” at the Arboretum.
Gaylord says she never sketches a plan in advance, but usually starts with the “cradle,” then determines paper, size, and beaded patterns, all while trying “not to be too conscious.” Each book takes her at least 20 hours.
While color and texture primarily drive Gaylord’s paper choices — amate from Mexico, lokta from Nepal — there are other considerations. “A lot of Western art papers are made from rags and linens, but most papers I use are made from inner bark of trees,” giving the books a close connection to their wooden bases, she says.
Gaylord made her first spirit book, “Sewn Prayer,” in 1992 and just recently finished her 100th, “Returning Embrace.”