The Hidden Life of Books


Portraits of Books from the

American Academy in Rome Collection

by Laura Migliorino


Opens Saturday, June 8th, 12 – 8 pm

Reception: 5-8 pm



Saturdays & Sundays 12 – 6 pm

On view through July 28th

469 Main St., Beacon, NY 12508


In 2017, Laura Migliorino was an Affiliated Fellow at the American Academy in Rome where she photographed books from the Rare Book Room, and the general library collection.

Her project, The Hidden Life of Books offers portraits of volumes rarely seen and accessed, but are nonetheless vital, significant carriers of knowledge and culture. Not merely artifacts, they remain useful resources for scholars who search the antiquarian volumes for insight, a solution, or an answer for questions asked in these times. Indeed, the printed word in the form of these books were central to The Age of Enlightenment, a century of the dissemination of ideas and explorations that resulted in the development of knowledge that we take for granted today.

The book is a simple yet complex idea that has had a profound influence on culture,
society, and religion that transcends time and civilization. The book is a platform
or foundation for the studies of Humanities because it has so much power on the
course of the human life. The impact of books, and the knowledge contained
dictates human history, influences religious and political policy, supports the
powerful and inspires the repressed. In early book creation the relationship
between word and image was essential. The word spoke to the privileged, the
educated and the image informed the poor and illiterate, yet both groups needed
books to guide their lives.

I grew up with books; my mother was a voracious reader, and raised her children
to cherish books. The book is a living memoir, a repository of memory and
meaning that goes beyond the story that lay within. My work captures the
physical body of the book as if it is a living figure with a spine, the leather cover is
skin, and the pages flesh. The physical traits reflect the life of the book, both
good and bad, exposing bumps, bruises, withering age, or a child’s scribble. How
often have you found a special memento in the pages of a book that floods your
senses with memories?   –
Laura Migliorino

We live in an era when many old volumes have been withdrawn from libraries to be dismantled, scanned into a digital format, then discarded. They’ve become disembodied ghosts, sacrificed for online access and convenience. For many of us, the books that survive have become more than the printed matter they began their lives as. The volumes in these photographs could rightly be considered the ancestors of our intellectual origins. Not just a body of knowledge, but a body with a life and a presence that we cherish. The warm touch of the book in the hand and its home in the archive, library or reading room is an intimate and even sacred space of transformation and growth that forms a bond unlike any other. Books are still significant, treasured objects and it’s lovely to have these portraits to remind us of the care and tending given them, after what they have given to us. May they remain for many years to come.

Also on display and available for reading will be books on papermaking, book design, printing, binding, librarianship and collecting. Please visit the Reading Room for a full immersion into the art of the book.


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