William Wegman’s artist’s book uniquely combines elements of Maine’s environment

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In Wegman’s artist’s book ‘Field Guide to North America and Other Regions,’ he wanted to create something that would remind him of past experiences. (Photo by Morgan Sturm ’19)

Danielle Kraidin

William Wegman’s current work displayed at Skillman Library, inspired by his large 1993 collection of camping books, nature guides and boy scout manuals, creatively brings together various aspects of the Maine wilderness where much of his work was created.  

Wegman’s current work, “Field Guide to North America and Other Regions,” is an artist’s book, “which means that he put it together by hand— it reflects his vision. He put together pages that go together in wooden boxes and they’re lined by Buffalo checked wool to evoke flannel clothing and camping. He includes scenery such as birds, small animals, foxes, squirrels, plants, and wildlife that he would find in Maine,” said Diane Shaw, Director of Special Collections and College Archives.

Wegman was originally invited by Lapis Press in 1993 to make a limited-edition artist’s book. After agreeing to do it, he “decided to attempt a project that had been ruminating,” according to the Special Collections Exhibition panel. 

He wanted to do something that would remind him of past experiences through a guide to nature and that would  “combine the New England transcendentalism of [his] inherited birthright with a lifelong interest in hiking, fishing, canoeing, and birch bark.” 

In his Rangeley, Maine studio, which is where his work was created, his surroundings of “camping, cooking, scouting, and nature craft books” helped his project take off. His work consists of photographs, altered photographs, paintings, texts about the environment, specimens, recipes and camping.  

Skillman Library actively collects contemporary artists’ books which range from a traditional form to being physically altered, such as in the form of a sculpture in order to give it a new meaning. The creators use the book form in whatever way they choose in order to express their ideas and to reflect their creative vision.

“One of things that [his 1993 collection] evokes is the Sundance film he made in 1995 called ‘The Hardly Boys,’ which starred his dogs,” Shaw said. “The film is set in Maine where his dogs have to solve a mystery. It’s the same kind of setting for both the movie and artists’ book. It’s the Maine of his experience that inspired his work. It’s really clever and witty.”

Wegnan’s other exhibitions showcased at the college include “Picture Dogs from 1995-2005″ and “Good Dogs on Nice Furniture from 2015″ which can both be found on Skillman’s first floor. His “Instant Miami” art show is located at the Williams Center.

Shaw was happy that Lafayette had the opportunity to showcase his works. “He and his wife are very generous to the college in terms of lending us this material to show. It has been wonderful for us to work with them,” Shaw said.