Five Questions Salon Edition with Jessica Pigza

Five Questions Salon Edition with Jessica Pigza

Jessica Pigza

Jessica Pigza, handmade librarian and author of Bibliocraft: A Modern Crafter's Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects

Earlier this week we heard from Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer, cofounders of the Library as Incubator Project (LAIP), about The Artist's Library: A Field Guide (Coffee House Press). Today, we ask Jessica Pigza, Rare Book Librarian at the New York Public Library, to share some insight on her new book BiblioCraft: A Modern Crafter's Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects (Abrams).

Here is what Jessica had to say:

When did you first become interested in craft?

I grew up surrounding by crafts of all kinds. My mother sewed our clothes and made soft toys, and my grandmother was a skilled seamstress as well. My father had a little woodshop in the corner of the garage too. And we were always dabbling in different crafts, from punched tin and cornhusk dolls to ceramics, cross-stitch, and origami So I grew up with a healthy curiosity for knowing how things were made, as well as an appreciation for unique objects created with care and intention. As an adult, the handwork that seems to have stuck with me most is sewing--both by hand and by machine--as well as knitting.

How did your work at the New York Public Library, combined with your interest in the handmade, culminate in Bibliocraft?

One thing that fascinates me about all handicraft is its history. When I first started working at New York Public Library I'd spend my breaks hunting through its collections of early craft books and periodicals, both in search of project ideas as well as out of curiosity for how crafts were documented, promoted, and communicated in print in past decades and centuries. And as my work shifted more and more to working with special collections--early printed books, especially--I broadened my view of the creative learning possibilities in library collections because I began to see plenty of design potential in the early illustrations, hand drawn maps, bespoke bindings, and other handmade features of rare books. Writing BiblioCraft was, for me, all about finding a way to share my passion for the immense design possibilities in all kinds of libraries with a broad range of artists and makers.

What are some things that surprised you when compiling the materials forBibliocraft?

One big surprise, over and over again, was seeing how each contributor responded to the particular library resources she studied as she considered what type of project she would create for the book. For example, Rebecca Ringquist looked at lots and lots of rare maps and asked about dozens of map features, but in the end she designed an embroidery based on just a single element, the cartouche. And Natalie Chanin started her research with an interest in regional botany, but her project ended up combining these with inspiration from 19th century cyanotypes as well as contemporary poetry. I could never predict what direction a contributor might take, and watching the process unfold was inspiring and surprising. 

What do you hope readers take away from Bibliocraft?

First, I would love for people to see how anything at all in a library has the potential to inspire in unexpected ways--including resources both old and new, the community, and the space. Second, I want to provide readers with a solid starting point for their own library explorations--ideas for lots and lots of collections on different topics, as well as the tools and the confidence they need to start exploring libraries' offerings for their own creative projects.

What’s next for you?

Lately I've been considering how I could apply lessons I've learned from my creative craft and design outreach--about gathering around shared interests, about new and unexpected uses of historical library collections, about skill sharing, and about the educational power of creative processes--to other groups of potential library users. I'm not sure what direction this might take, but I'm eager to find ways to invite more people to engage with libraries in ways that, while perhaps unexpected, could be fruitful and exciting. 

*Bonus Question: What is your favorite, most used art/craft/design book in your personal collection?

I return again and again to A World of Pattern by Gwen White (Boston: Charles T. Branford Company, 1958). Using  accessible language and engaging illustrations, White reveals how you can find inspiration in natural forms that you encounter every day. And the book is printed so that each page, when held up to the light, reveals an alternate pattern that combines the patterns printed on the page's recto and verso. It's a fascinating format, and its lessons remind me to be more observant as well as more brave about creating my own designs.


Don't miss our salon - The Library As Material - co-presented by Coffee House Press on Wednesday, April 2nd at 7:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. See you there!

Five Questions is a brief Q&A about books and craft, with people who love and use the American Craft Council Library.

Presented by the American Craft Council, the Library Salon Series is a series of free public presentations exploring craft, making, and art. Check out past salon series events.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.