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Maiden Forms

Brooklyn artist brings body books to CC



Artist and teacher Miriam Schaer sees the body as an open book. As a young artist living in Manhattan and working as an intern at the Metropolotan Museum's Watson Library and book bindery, Schaer's work with the many centuries-old books led her inadvertently to her creative path.

"I was photographing images of historic books to use in my teaching [and realized that] so many of the books from ancient times were meant to be worn on the body because they were precious and rare."

Though the books she was photographing from the 1500s were almost always small, ornate devotionals carried from the girdle or waist belt by a leather strap ("The history of book binding is, sadly and realistically, God and money"), Schaer had another idea:

"Being a woman of the 20th century, I immediately thought 'Maidenform!'"

And so began the passion for the strange marriage between garments and books that has consumed Schaer's passions as an artist for the past 20 years: making handmade, sculptural art books that often use garments as the actual covers of books.

"A lot of it was just my own issues about the body," said Schaer, noting that she didn't have any overt feminist intentions when she began making the books.

But later, she realized that her work was also connected with much of the feminist dialogue that was going on in the art world in the '80s and '90s. "I started to think about where my work fit into the issues." Schaer does not, however, consider herself an overtly "feminist" or "political" artist.

"It's important to have political ideas, but it's also to have it open enough that people can read their own stories into it, and interpret it their own way."

--Noel Black

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