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Holly Senn for the win

How rescued library books become art

"Spore:" A sculpture made from old library books by Tacoma’s Holly Senn Photo courtesy Duncan Price

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Holly Senn works undercover by day as a librarian at Pacific Lutheran University.

By night, Senn creates amazing artwork.

Senn is both an installation and sculpture artist. Her medium? Largely paper from old library books, with occasional splashes of cardboard and other materials. Senn's installations have filled spaces 16-feet tall, while many of her sculptures could fit in your hands. All of her works, big and small, involve rescued library books - books often scheduled for the recycling bin.

"My work is inspired by the life cycle of ideas," she says. "How ideas are generated, how they get dispersed, if they're forgotten, or if they're referenced or remembered again."

In Senn's installations book pages sometimes cover the wall. In the past she has created a canopy of book pages over an imaginary forest of cardboard trees, and even an entire tree from pages sculpted around an actual tree.

"Most of my installations tend to be site responsive," Senn explains. "I visit a site, get a feel for it, make some observations, and often research the history of a place."

Senn's sculptures are comprised of these pages, torn and reformed into shapes that sometimes don't seem possible from paper - rounded, pointy or porous looking.

"There are a lot of limitations with paper," says Senn. "It's almost a two dimensional thing and I'm trying to get a 3D thing out of it. My sculptures are usually botanically inspired. People often see sea creatures in them," she says. "I take the pages of the books. I tear off the margins, because in the end I'm looking for a form that's totally covered by text."

Senn uses layers of book-page pieces, water and Elmer's glue over an armature to create her sculptures, which are often integrated into installations. The resulting shapes may look fragile in photos, but are surprisingly firm - and could probably survive being chucked across a room. But please don't do that, as Senn says each small sculpture element can take 25 hours or more to complete.

There is no theme with the words placed on each piece, and the books Senn uses come from all kinds of disciplines.

"Because I'm thinking of multiple ideas and how ideas interact with each other and transform, I thought it was more authentic to the work to use multiple sources for each sculpture," she says.

Senn's works are usually temporary, and often unique to a site, so she videotapes the installations before they come down and archives the videos on her website.

Senn's work has been shown in the Woolworth window downtown, in the permanent collection at Collins Library at the University of Puget Sound, in the Doppler PDX Gallery and 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland. Most recently Senn's work was on the Prairie Line Trail as part of Public Art in Depth program.

Find Holly Senn on the Internet at

Comments for "Holly Senn for the win" (13)

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alec clayton said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 7:57am

Holly is a treasure.

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Claudia said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 8:00am

We are lucky to have Holly in Tacoma. Her work is intricate, thougth-provoking and most of the time I have no clue how she creates it. Thanks for sharing your talents, Holly.

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Maria Meneses said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 8:39am

Holly, your work is outstanding, thanks for sharing.

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Chandler said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 9:36am

Thank you for featuring Holly's amazing work and process. She's an incredible inspiration, and I'm so glad we're fortunate enough to have her here in T-town.

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Sharon said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 9:52am

Holly, your work continues to excite our spirits and inspire us. We are lucky to have you in our community.

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Lynn said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 10:02am

Yes, Holly is one of Tacoma's rising stars, if not already RISEN! Nicely written story, too. . .

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Elise said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 12:27pm

Wonderful profile of an inspiring and inspired local artist!

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Vita Wells said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 2:20pm

Really really good.

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Jan and Raye Murray said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 5:30pm

Holly, once again, this is fabulous. Congratulations and much love!

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Diane Hansen said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 7:58pm

Holly is an inspiration to all...bravo!

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Debi Mazor said on Dec. 15, 2011 at 8:45pm

Her work is truly inspirational. I'm glad she is getting the recognition she deserves here.

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Barbara Holme said on Dec. 16, 2011 at 11:46am

I enjoyed this article. I, too, am so glad you are in Tacoma. I appreciate your study of T-Town, especially it's history, to inspire your work.
Love, Barb

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Lisa said on Dec. 16, 2011 at 4:17pm

Holly congrats on this great article! your sensibility of the art making process is insightful. The words from the books look beautiful on the shapes you create.
You are a win in my book!

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