Salami Dreamin' uses the eye-popping, hand-printed images of Columbus artist Michelle Maguire and the written anecdotes of her husband, Aaron Beck, to form a portrait of Michelle's blunt, funny, completely unimpressed, Italian-American Aunt Doll, an 84-year-old Canton, Ohio, native who loves cursing, cured meats and the NFL. According to Michelle, "The gist of her story is, enjoy every chicken wing while you holler at the Cleveland Browns on your gigantic analog TV, because we aren’t here forever." Michelle shared more about the book with her friend Erica Anderson, the Wex's Creative Services Director. It's available at the Wexner Center Store, along with original prints by Michelle, as part of the State Line selection of Ohio-made products.
Erica Anderson: I don't know many people who wake up and decide to make a book on their own. A 'zine, maybe, but a 68-page, hardcover, signature-sewn book with 14 silkscreen and litho prints, and letterpress printed copy?! It's just wild to me! What made you aim for a project this large-scale and ambitious?
Michelle Maguire: I was in the mood to really push myself and I wanted to learn how to build a book. But not just a book of straight photos—I needed the images to really pop, so I started playing around with them in Photoshop. I began to think in layers and about the photos becoming prints. So I started hanging out at OSU’s Logan Elm Press, and then the Libraries’ Conservation Unit, and then soon after met Floodwall Press. I’d continually lose my mind over the endless possibilities. I was excited about the tactile properties inherent with various printmaking techniques—the lightly “kissed” impression of letterpress and foil stamping, the matte finish and color vibrancy achieved with hand-mixed acrylic inks, and the way they sit on the surface of a cotton paper.
It all felt totally possible because I kept finding people whose skills I believed in, and they all agreed to help me make it happen. I learned so much from everyone who was involved in bringing this thing to life, and I still marvel at what we were able to pull off. We all have day jobs, so production happened on the weekends, and it was an enormous undertaking.
EA: Can you share some backstory on the firecracker of a lady that inspired this book?
MM: That firecracker is my Great-Aunt Doll: one of my grandma’s six younger siblings, the family wedding soup maker, die-hard NFL fan, and tidy keeper of an immaculate Canton, Ohio, Cape Cod. A lot of people see images of her beautiful white hair and think she’s this sweet old lady, but there’s nothing too sweet about her. She’s ready to take a shovel to the back of my head most of the time, and I’m one of the people she likes most.
Every time I’m over at Aunt Doll’s place, I take pictures, much to her annoyance. She’s not shy expressing her feelings about having a camera on her—she threatens to physically insert the recording device into my body, and then immediately forgets it was ever there in the first place. But that’s her attitude about most everything: she’s perpetually put out, and always mildly disgusted. She’ll cuss you out in one breath and in the very next, offer you a salami sandwich.
My grandma and Aunt Doll married a pair of brothers (my grandpa and his brother Phil). They claim to have tried hooking up a third sister with a third brother to make it a three-piece, but that one “didn’t take.” My childhood was spent being surrounded by this loud, boisterous group of Italian Americans, and it was fun.
EA: Tell us about Aaron's and your relationship as a creative pair, and how it influenced the genesis of the book.
MM: We were together the entire time the material was being gathered, so it felt only natural to work as a team to tell her story. Collaborating with Aaron was great. I knew if he was going to be involved that it would have a soul, the tone would be just right, and it would be peppered with both hilarity and tenderness. He really nailed it. The very best thing is to listen to my family erupt into laughter as they read it for the first time.
Aaron’s known Aunt Doll for 15 years now, and has spent most of that time trying to commit to memory her every word. I’m not sure she even sees him and me as two separate beings—together, I think we’re just one collective pain in her ass.
EA: I was lucky enough to be a sounding board for you during the creation of this book. Your courage and determination never ceased to amaze me. There were so many times that you could have settled, cut a corner, or given up. Any advice for those intrepid artists and designers who are called by some wild inner voice to do their own thing, their own way?
MM: I had a pretty clear vision of how I wanted it to look and feel (literally), and I’m lucky that I had such a great team to rely on for guidance. Printmaking is a thrill, and it’s important to embrace the medium’s qualities and allow it to do some speaking for you. Edition bookmaking is no small task. It made for an intricate working process at every step. For a year and a half we all chipped away at it. This is technical and tedious and will probably put most people (not you, though!) to sleep, but in order to have alternating types of paper for the text and image pages, it meant I had to tip-in a single sheet to each of the book’s seven signatures, over and over and over again throughout the entire edition, using hinges made from Japanese fiber paper and adhering them with wheat paste. It was worth it, and it created a beautiful visual separation for image versus text, but it took forever and a day and nearly drove me bananas.
My advice would be to go for it. Aside from a GCAC materials grant, we funded this book ourselves, which meant we were able to have total control. That’s huge. And it feels incredible. From the start, I thought, who knows, this may be the only time I get the chance to make a book. Let’s just blow it out of the water. That kind of thinking always leads to new things.
EA: What's next for Salami Dreamin'?
MM: A trade edition! A commercially printed, larger edition, with tweaked content and format, at a way more affordable retail price. Thus making this first hand-bound deluxe batch of 50 all the more special. I'm excited about creating another version of this book, one that is wider-reaching and much more accessible, and am now in the beginning stages of researching printers and exploring my options. I think it’s going to be a risograph-printed book this time around! I love thinking about all parts of the book being printed color-by-color/layer-by-layer all over again, this time much more loosely, and I'm totally excited. It feels good to keep going and to give people options. And I'm kinda hooked on making books.