Diane Samuels was eager to get writing, so she took out a sheaf of old drawings, painted them with India ink, and tore them into strips.
Then she glued them to a 160-foot-long substrate created of silk and gampi — a Japanese shrub used in papermaking. Only then did she pick up a pen and begin transcribing the book she’d selected onto the scroll she’d made.
Not many writers have to start by making their own paper, but Samuels counts herself not a writer, but a visual artist. And to her, the paper is part of the point. Samuels sees her mission as honoring the work of writers she admires, and, in 2019, she added Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Overstory” to a list that already included “Moby Dick,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Leaves of Grass,” “The Arabian Nights,” and others.
“As an artist, I transcribe books that I love — hand-transcribe them,” said Samuels, who co-founded a nonprofit, City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, to support writers in exile. “The purpose of my life at this point is to honor writers, and to find ways to hopefully entice people to read their books.”
Until Jan. 30, the novel-as-artwork-as-tree is on display in a new exhibition, ‘“The Overstory’ by Richard Powers: Handmade Scroll by Diane Samuels.” It is taking place at an apt spot, the Hunnewell Lecture Hall exhibition space at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, a public park, botanical research facility, and 281-acre repository for trees and shrubs from North American and Asia.