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Spring 2013 (April 29, 2013)

Book Smarts

By Jan Senn

Carleton psychology professor Julia Strand has developed an artistic outlet that resurrects unwanted books

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Birds6.jpgSeveral years ago, while working on a doctorate in cognitive psychology, Julia Strand was outside a bookstore looking through a cardboard box of free books when she spotted a 1963 set of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias.

“They were gorgeous, but the information was wildly out of date and inaccurate, so I brought them home and started messing around with them,” says Strand, a visiting assistant professor at Carleton who will join the psychology department faculty permanently next fall.

Inspired by the work of artist Brian Dettmer, Strand used X-Acto knives, rotary cutters, tweezers, clamps, and lots of glue to create a sort of shadow box from one of the volumes. She retained the book’s form, but transformed its content into intricate layers of images. “My first attempt was terrible, but through the process, I realized that you can make something relatively worthless valuable again,” she says.

FW14Topo3b.jpgSince then, Strand has created about 50 book carvings, giving away some and selling others for between $300 and $500. She also accepts commissions. “I cut up a textbook on biological anthropology for the book’s author. And someone commissioned a copy of Gray’s Anatomy for his wife, who was finishing medical school.”

Strand has a few rules: Books have to be more than 10 years old and cost less than 10 dollars. She never carves poetry, fiction, or rare volumes. And she prefers books that have illustrations, which are easier than photographs to cut.

Each carving takes between 12 to 20 hours. “It’s messy and I end up with gluey bits everywhere,” says Strand, who regularly scouts secondhand shops and garage and estate sales to replenish her supply. “I love it when people say ‘I’m getting rid of these old books, do you want them?’ ” 

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Web Extra: See more of Strand's book carvings.

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