Jessica Pigza is assistant curator in the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) Rare Books Division. In her first book, BiblioCraft, she and a group of contributors including Natalie Chanin, Gretchen Hirsch, and Heather Ross mine library collections for crafty inspiration. Here she talks about the project with LJ. See the review on page 72.
Where did the idea for a craft book inspired by library holdings come from?
When I first started working at NYPL, I used to spend lunch breaks looking through the library’s vintage craft books, decorative arts volumes, and embroidery periodicals for ideas for my own stitching projects. Over time, my job changed, and as I began working more with special collections—early printed books, illustrated natural histories, ornate maps—I saw possibilities for design inspiration in these beautiful resources as well. I’ve come up with different ways to introduce these collections with makers over the last six years: blog posts, public classes, and, perhaps the biggest outreach effort, Handmade Crafternoons, which are hands-on DIY programs for adults. BiblioCraft came about because I wanted to find a way to reach out to more people about the immense design possibilities in libraries.
Your contributors’ list reads like a who’s who of the crafting world! How did you find your makers?
I did have a wish list of people, and I was honored to have so many of my favorite designers and crafters participate. Some contributors had been guests at the library’s Handmade Crafternoon series, but many were people whose books or blogs I’d read and whose work I admired. The idea for the book—that libraries’ historical collections can inspire modern creative work—resonated with many of my contributors and made it easy for them to say yes.
Which underused collections or materials would be especially inspiring to crafters? Are there online resources you recommend to people who can’t get to libraries with extensive holdings?
Anything at all has the potential to inspire. Maybe it’s a handwritten letter, or a technical diagram, or the hand coloring in an early book illustration—or a new bit of knowledge that can set your mind in a new direction. If you aren’t sure what kinds of sources will resonate with you, browsing libraries’ digital collections can be a great way to start exploring. Some that I often recommend for [beginners] are the Digital Public Library of America, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Flickr Commons, and the Internet Archive. But another approach, more serendipitous, would be to see what collections get shared by librarians on Tumblr or Pinterest, or on sites like Public Domain Review or Bibliodyssey. I learn about new library collections this way all the time.
The book’s projects were inspired by a huge variety of objects from the NYPL. What are some of the different ways contributors interpreted the library’s materials?
One of the most surprising aspects of putting this book together was learning that I really couldn’t anticipate how a contributor would respond to a particular source. Rebecca Ringquist studied a number of antiquarian maps from different centuries and places, but what caught her interest in the end was the idea of playing with the form and function of just a single formalized map feature, the cartouche. And Julie Schneider’s study of 19th-century wood type specimen books led her not to create something alphabetical but instead to use the letter shapes in repeating graphic patterns. I never guessed right about what contributors might make of the resources they drew on, and this unpredictability was a fascinating element of working with so many creative people.
Were there any unexpected challenges in writing this book?
[Having] to stop adding to it was quite difficult. Libraries are more dynamic than ever in what they offer, how they make collections discoverable, and what collections can be explored online. I kept learning about and wanting to include more recommended sources. What I hope is that BiblioCraft provides readers with a solid starting point—ideas for lots of collections on different topics, as well as the tools and the confidence they need to…explore and use libraries’ offerings both now and in the future.