Daniel Essig. [Horn book-fisher.] One-of-a-kind.
(Asheville, NC: Daniel Essig, 2008.) Sam Fleming Southern Civilization Collection.
Vanderbilt University Special Collections
Daniel Essig created this work from found objects and made the piece in the spirit of "artist's books." A wooden carving of a bird is affixed to a paddle on which is collaged a page from an old book in French, so that the paddle represents a hornbook. A hornbook was often a sheet of vellum or paper glued to a wood paddle and covered with mica or horn that was used for the study of the alphabet or some particular topic like law. The bird is painted in blue, green and white, wears a "necklace" of natural objects and a chain of small washer-like metal objects, and is pierced by many nails and screws of different sizes and types. A miniature Ethiopian binding styled handmade "book,” with blank pages, wooden covers and a string-and-nail closure, fits into a depression in the belly of the bird and is attached to the bird by a metal chain. A circle of glass is set into each side of the bird, through which are seen several small shells on one side and what might be one piece of a larger shell on the other side. Shells and pieces of wood also dangle on five cords each attached by a nail to the paddle.
Essig’s art reminds us that art and iconography are linked closely with the history of books. Here a hornbook and a bird fisher (perhaps a Kingfisher) are linked together reminding us that stories are told in many ways. The windows in the bird is reminiscent of religious reliquaries where objects are placed in enclosures to be venerated. Essig uses this assemblage to brings together several of his inspirations — ancient binding, history, African N'kisi nkondi nail figures, chained books, and cabinets of curiosity.