Susan Collard, “Lodestone House”

Two books, two boxes, and various stone and metal components are stored in a birch plywood box.


One of the two small boxes at the top holds a lodestone, or naturally occurring magnet. The other is a tray of iron filings, encouraging experimentation with magnetic fields. The book on the left houses magnetized hematite and various steel components; the book on the right, a removable set of rusted piston rings.


The books’ magnets and steel building blocks invite sculptural exploration. Slate tiles and an additional metal plate can serve as floor, roof, or wall planes. The adventurous viewer is encouraged to create the house invoked in the work’s title, fashioning all these disparate parts into a whole.


A chunky board book holds the piston rings. Slate covers and birch plywood pages are sandwiched with canvas hinges. All handwritten text is quoted from William Gilbert’s De Magnete.


A detail view includes the lodestone, suspended inside a box from two metal rings. Gilbert was the first to realize that the Earth itself behaved as a great magnet. Here, the lodestone invokes the spherical terrellas, or “little earthkins” of his sixteenth-century experiments. Iron filings cling to each pole of the stone; his diagram of the Earth’s magnetic fields is etched onto the clear polyester sheet at the front face of the box.


Artist: Susan Collard (Portland, OR)

Title: Lodestone House (2012)

Medium/technique(s): acrylics, ink, collage, and assemblage

Edition size: Unique

Number of pages: N/A

Dimensions, open: variable

Dimensions, closed :7.5″ x 13.5″ x 8″ (outer box)


Artist Statement:

I have long been fascinated by the history of science and the artifacts that testify to its advancement, from vacuum tubes and clock parts to my grandfather’s textbooks. Despite the sophistication of the technologies we use every day, most of us are at a loss to explain even the simplest phenomena. I have often watched an artist’s book provoke childlike wonder in thoughtful adults by the use of modest mechanical marvels, optical devices, or concealed attachments. In creating an intimate, open-ended setting for the unexpected, I am interested in exploring questions of what we know and how we know it.

Lodestone House is a unique boxed set, containing two books, two boxes, and other loose elements, designed as a sort of magnetic playground. It was inspired by William Gilbert’s marvelous work, De Magnete, first published in 1600. Handwritten text throughout the piece quotes the 1893 translation by P. Fleury Mottelay, entitled On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies and on the Great Magnet the Earth. Illustrations are collaged from vintage textbooks on physics, electricity, and astronomy—all fields which utilized magnetism long before the subatomic forces that produce it began to be understood.

Gilbert’s text drew on years of experimentation, and is dense with careful observations and deductions. It is surprisingly eloquent, and, in some places, launches unexpectedly into the metaphysical. I chose passages which I felt captured his willingness to marvel at the forces he described. Because I wanted to emphasize the personal, poetic nature of the text, I incorporated it into the book in my own handwriting. Each quote closes by citing the appropriate book and section of De Magnete.

Like most of my work, Lodestone House was shaped by a willingness to experiment with unorthodox materials, and by the ever-evolving trove of prosaic and obsolete objects I have collected over the years. Iron-tinged four-inch slate tiles seemed appropriately earthy covers for the books in this collection. Repurposed steel components provide a stage for the magnets; I used copper where I wanted metal that would not interact. Wood I had on hand formed the rest of the pages: mostly birch aircraft plywood, as well as walnut and oak. I used a laminated board book structure with canvas hinges that could stand up to the heavy materials. I accepted that the books would have boxy, blocky proportions, but took care that each could be readily held in the hand. The work as a whole gains complexity and open-endedness through the interaction of its parts.