In the Absence of Words
Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s Spirit Books connect people and nature.
The binding is made of paper from the inner bark of a wild fig tree from Mexico. Small coconut disk and delicate glass seed beads are stitched with a shimmering gold thread onto the inner pages of handmade paper from Bhutan and China. A cradle of twisted grape vines presents the small book like a gift: an offering of connectedness, beauty and truth that is far beyond the reach of actual words.
It’s called “Sewn Prayer,” and it was the first in a collection of “Spirit Books” crafted by Newburyport artist Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord. From Jan. 23 to Feb. 25, about two dozen of Gaylord’s creations — a handful of which have never been viewed by the public — will be on display at the McCoy Gallery on the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover.
There is something otherworldly about Gaylord’s art. Made from branches, sticks, vines, beads and handcrafted paper from around the world, her Spirit Books — part book and part sculpture — have the power to both ground and transport you.
“Books have a long tradition of being connected to spirituality,” says Gaylord, who began creating Spirit Books in 1992 after a massive pruning in her backyard. “I felt there was life there,” she said. And Gaylord, who had already been studying various book forms for many years, has been exploring the inherent connections between nature, aesthetics and spiritual transcendence ever since.
“In some ways, I’m such a word person, but this is a place I didn’t want words,” says Gaylord, who expressed almost a primal urge to create her Spirit Books. “As an artist, you get an idea, and you have to do it.”
Gaylord has created more than 90 Spirit Books. Visually, they appear as talismans holding ancient secrets that spring wild and untamed from nature. In fact, Gaylord says, “If I went to Maudslay [State Park in Newburyport] and put them on the ground, I would want people to walk by and not notice them.”
Upon closer look, however, there are definite patterns in the artist’s delicate stitching, in her use of beads and seeds and branches that take the place of conventional text and can be “read” like meditations.
“My favorite part is the stitching,” Gaylord says about the creation of her sculptures. “There is something very healing and meditative about stitching.”
The artist, who may collect material for her work during a nature walk or a visit to a special place, draws out her patterns first, and then begins the process of creating each page, which can take up to several hours. Spirals are her favorite pattern. And while her designs have their own sort of rhythm, there are also individual variations in each piece.
“The differences are so subtle, but they mean something to me,” Gaylord says. “If you spend time up close with [a sculpture], you’ll see differences, too.”
Gaylord, who is an experienced calligrapher and avid reader, says she wants people who view her work to feel a connection to the natural world. Simply put, “reading” one of her Spirit Books can be compared to the inherently reflective nature of taking a walk in the woods.
According to Gaylord, “Reading the books is meant to be a contemplative experience that takes the viewer out of the everyday world and into a state of gratitude and reverence.”
Watch for our review of Gaylord’s newest work “Calligraphy: How I Fell In, Out, and In Love Again” inside the March/April 2020 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. For more information on Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord and her art, visit www.susangaylord.com