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Mary Ann Sampson: Puppets and Poetry

July 22 - December 31, 2022

Puppets and Poetry is a holistic exploration of “the book.” Artist Mary Ann Sampson gives us a look inside and outside the book, guiding us through her process from conception to completion. From codex books to moveable books, Puppets and Poetry examines the origins and techniques of various book structures and bookmaking styles, encompassing six different types of book techniques and structures. This exhibition relays the prevailing themes that Sampson’s books embody – the puppets that she creates and the cadence of the written word of poets.

Sampson was drawn to performance and theatre at an early age, which has become a common subject in her artistic work as an adult. She is fascinated by the persona and mobility of puppets, and with this body of work, she asks the audience to share her curiosity and interest. The puppets and characters that Sampson illustrates could be perceived as comical, grotesque, or demented. However, Sampson does not construct the figures to shock or horrify. She simply nods to the theatre and theatrical caricatures, leaving the viewer to assign their own context and meaning. To her, the viewer is an active participant in the book arts as books are meant to be experienced page by page.

In this exhibition, Sampson’s unique books immortalize the written words of Dorothy Field, a writer and poet, former Alabama Poet Laureate Sue Brannan Walker, folklorist Jim S. Brown, and writer Jeff Weddle. Collaboration with poets and storytellers altered the direction of her career as she became increasingly inspired to print their work. In these cases, the writer’s words have strongly influenced the total vision for the books.

Sampson views her books as a stage. She says, “Flat works and three-dimensional pieces are mostly singular ideas that have fallen off the pages. It’s the plurality of techniques and materials that make them seem different.”