Anne “Sissy” Emmons Buck ’75 – Handwriting as a Portraiture of a Memory

As you observe the artists’ books created by Anne (Sissy) Emmons Buck, you recognize traces of writing… but it is illegible. As you study the pages more closely, it becomes evident that the words are fragments of handwritten notes, letters, recipes, lists, among other strokes and lines, printed onto the book pages. Intentionally obscured in the printmaking process, these words leave a curious impression that the handwriting seems familiar, yet distantly unfamiliar at the same time. Through these hieroglyphic images a new, abstract story unfolds in Sissy’s books.

Over the course of 35 years, Sissy gravitated towards the monotype printmaking technique (painting a design on a plate, transferring the image to paper by running the plate and paper through a printing press, then pulling the paper to reveal the printed image) for its painterly quality, improvisational methods, and unique one-of-a-kind print (hence the term monotype). More recently she has used paper lithography to add the graphic quality of handwriting and drawings to her monotypes.

“When Rebecca Goodale, an art professor at the University of Southern Maine, introduced me to book arts ten years ago, I was immediately drawn to it, and thought ‘this is what I’ve been looking for,’” said Sissy. “Combining printmaking with book arts offered a new three-dimensional direction in my art. I love the tactile hands-on act of creating vessels that can be held, shared, and, when opened, offer a new perception of the book.”

The element of handwriting has been a distinctive feature of Sissy’s artists’ books. She finds that the defining scribbles and cursive loops reveal unique personalities, a kind of calligraphic portrait. Most of her books over the past four years feature her mother’s handwriting.

“I have a collection of mom’s notes, letters, and lists that mirrored her decline into Alzheimer’s,” said Sissy. “Her handwriting became shaky and words were misspelled; the content was nonsensical. After mom passed away, I began to incorporate her writing in my work, a mapping of her fading memory, a glimmer of the past.”

Creating the books has been therapeutic for Sissy, providing a continuing connection to her mother.

The artists’ books additionally reflect Sissy’s value and appreciation for the handmade as an antidote to and relief from the digital world’s constant state of connectedness, flashing screens, and keypads. Her mother was a “maker,” sewing clothes and knitting sweaters, and Sissy’s other recurring subject, her grandmother, was an artist, needleworker, and penmanship teacher.

“When I’m printing and creating books, the immediacy of making art informs my hands,” said Sissy. “They have an intuition that take over and guide me. I shift into another realm. I discovered a quote by Carl Jung a few years ago that makes sense to me as an artist: ‘Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.’”

The creation of an artist’s book is complex as Sissy considers the content, intention, and rhythm of the book when selecting her materials. Particular ink colors and papers that range from thin kozo and kitikata to heavier printmaking paper are taken into account to convey a particular subject and mood. Her favorite book form is the versatile accordion structure as “the book can be read page by page or unfolded fully, creating an interactive, playful movement while revealing the full page image of my monotype.”

However, Sissy’s true passion and excitement for her work is in the printing process.

“When I pull a print, it’s exciting like Christmas morning, and it’s always a bit of a surprise, depending on how much ink you use, how you apply the ink, or the pressure used in pulling the print.” said Sissy. “I either love it or question it, and in responding to the image, I inevitably decide to rework it. I’m curious to see what new images and conversations unfold as I make the books.”

Sissy currently sits on the advisory board of the University of Southern Maine’s Kate Cheney Chappell ’83 Center for Book Arts where she facilitates a critique group for book artists. As a group, the members exhibit their work annually. She is also a member of the Peregine Press, a printmaking studio in Portland where she does all of her printmaking, as well as the Monotype Guild of New England. Before she moved to Maine, Sissy was the owner and director of the River Gallery in Ipswich, MA. Sissy’s work has been exhibited in New England and beyond and is in private collections — the Maine Women’s Writing Center at the University of New England, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Colby College Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library, to name a few.

Reflecting back on her extensive artistic career, Sissy chuckled thinking back to her youthful aspirations while at MFS.

“I loved math and being in Mr. Hartman’s class, so I thought I was going to be a math major in college but then I took Calculus II, which changed my mind,” said Sissy. “But I also loved my teachers in English — Mrs. Oliviero and Mrs. Geary. It’s interesting I still have a book that I made in 10th grade with Mrs. Geary where I chose my favorite poems, illustrated the imagery, and wrote my own poems.”

Perhaps that first poetry book was an early indicator of the book artist that Sissy would become.

To view more of Sissy’s work, visit sissybuck.com.

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