Bishop Woods



Percent for Art Program, City of New Haven

The Bishop Woods School Commission

Artist’s Name:   Kenneth Speiser

Title of Work:   How Do We Learn? What Is a Book?

1. Description of your proposed work(s), Including materials and dimensions.

This sculpture has two components both of which address the idea of the book as an object, the process of learning and teaching students to think.

The first component is the formal structure of this installation that starts with a large maple bookcase measuring 4 feet high by 12 feet wide and 15 inches deep, hanging on the wall of the school’s main lobby.

This bookcase is filled on the top shelf with hand made, hand painted sculptures in the shape of books, slabs of wood painted in bright colors, inspired by the flags of a multicultural student population.

On the bottom shelf there are seventy two white slabs of wood all in a row with their spines marked in black dots and dashes.  They look like the keys on some crazy piano, or a musical score or some kind of code.

It is Morse Code to be precise, presented as pure pattern derived from a special language, spelling out information about the man whose name the school bears:


As part of the piece there will be two long distance video cameras focused on the Bishop Woods Memorial Bird Sanctuary, alert to the natural things living right next to the school, and posting those sighting on two TV screens positioned amongst the sculptures.  Both the sculptures and the video images are in color and black and white and both are silently asserting their presence.

The second component is very interactive and hands on, with book sculptures everywhere in the school.  In addition to the sculptures in the lobby bookcase there will be 26 more of them, all unique, sitting on a teacher’s desk mixed in with the class assignments, in the coaches office next to trophies and awards, in the music room along with Mozart score sheets, in the science room keeping company with Gray’s Anatomy.  While deserving of respect these book sculptures are not precious, they will develop wear from handling over the years just like “real” books.

These stand alone, individual sculptures impersonating real books will never really fit in with the others, they are way too special and they all have secrets.  What seems like a simple pattern painted on a block of wood reveals itself to the trained eye as another example of the language Samuel Morse invented.  The dots and dashes have changed into a system of squares and rectangles that still communicate with the same structure for transmitting messages.

Some of these book like sculptures are heavy for their size. Others can’t keep quiet.  They make sounds and noises. And they all have bumps.  Little bumpy patterns of raised dots on the spine of every book sculpture are there for people who can read without seeing.  This language was developed in France by Louis Braille and is code that bears his name, the “braille system “of communication.

Another layer of information is proudly displayed on every one of these book sculptures, the language of English letters and Arabic numerals-the official language of over 75 different countries around the world.