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This Cecil County artist will turn your favorite book into a sculpture made from its pages

With only a pair of household scissors, glue and the passion of a lifelong reader, artist Jodi Harvey teases out paper sculptures from the pages of her customers’ favorite books.

“I like to think of it as making the story of the book come to life,” says Harvey, 32, whose book sculptures are on display and for sale at Arts by the Bay Gallery in Havre de Grace. “What you see on top of the open book is made from the actual pages of the book. I think of it as a drawing. I make the basic shapes out of the paper and build them together to create the scene.”

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Before the first snip of the scissors, Harvey consults with her customers to understand what has drawn them to the book and why the scene they have selected is meaningful.

Crystal Karpewicz, who lives in Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania, commissioned a book sculpture for her mother-in-law, an avid Harry Potter fan. “One of her favorite scenes is when Harry Potter catches the golden snitch. Jodi created Harry Potter on his broomstick. He is flying and the snitch is just beyond his reach. There are three Quidditch rings in the background,” Karpewicz says.

Greg Herbert's grown children commissioned artist Jodi Harvey to make a book sculpture from a book about model shipbuilding that he wrote.
Greg Herbert's grown children commissioned artist Jodi Harvey to make a book sculpture from a book about model shipbuilding that he wrote. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

Before the sculpture’s creation, Harvey drew three rough sketches of the sequence of events just before and after the capture of the snitch for Karpewicz’s review. After that, depending on the assignment, she spends 10 to 60 hours in the creation process.

In the completed sculpture, Harry Potter’s broomstick is suspended on a nearly invisible wire above the book: “How she did it, I don’t know, but it looks like he is actually flying through the air. It’s amazing,” Karpewicz says.

Harvey, who attended art school but taught herself the art of paper sculpture, has honed her art for the past 10 years and was surprised when interest in her sculptures began to take off.

“I was just fooling around with origami-type shapes. Friends began to ask for specific creations. I learned as I went along. Eventually, I made a pirate ship from ’Kidnapped’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. I put it online and it got 17,000 hits in the first hour. I thought, ‘Oh, this is a thing!’”

These days, Harvey sells her sculptures at galleries, online and by word-of-mouth. Prices range from $60 to $400. Though she has set up a studio at her home in Colora in Cecil County, she often works at the kitchen table in order to be close to her two children.

Harvey also draws inspiration from family in her childhood home in rural York County, Pennsylvania. “My grandparents were our neighbors. My grandfather wanted to go to art school, but his parents refused. Instead, he joined the Navy and fought in [World War II]. I used to sit at the kitchen table with him and he would teach me to draw. I wanted to give this career a shot because he didn’t get to pursue his dream.”

She is rarely wanting for books. Harvey scours eBay, Amazon, Goodwill and friends’ attics. Harvey never buys new books, preferring to recycle in any way possible. However, she adds, “I don’t touch first editions. That’s a no-no.”

“The older the book, honestly, the better,” Harvey says. “The texture of the pages is better. I have worked with books from the 1800s and a lot of hymnals, which are amazing to work with.”

Jodi Harvey, Colora, creates book sculptures using techniques from decoupage, paper mache and paper cutting. From left, Lancelot, Gladys, Shogun and American Clocks and Clockmakers are examples of her work. Harvey is part of the artist cooperative at Arts by the Bay Gallery.
Jodi Harvey, Colora, creates book sculptures using techniques from decoupage, paper mache and paper cutting. From left, Lancelot, Gladys, Shogun and American Clocks and Clockmakers are examples of her work. Harvey is part of the artist cooperative at Arts by the Bay Gallery. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

When prospective customers approach Harvey about a commission, she first reads the book if she hasn’t done so already. Once, she was asked to re-create a circus scene for “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstein. “I had never read it or heard of it,” she says. “I am so glad the customer asked me to do the piece because it is a wonderful book.”

Greg Herbert of Owings Mills attests to Harvey’s commitment to know the book before starting on a commission. Herbert’s adult children surprised him with a sculpture made from “The Ketch-rigged Sloop Speedwell of 1752,” one of several books that he has co-authored about scale model shipbuilding.

“Talk about details,” he says. “It was obvious that she had read the book and followed the model shipbuilding instructions within the limits of what you can do with paper. She took the book’s plans and made the hull, mast and rigging. I was very impressed by this for someone who has never made a ship before.”

In addition to artistic technical details, Harvey has a way of somehow creating the spirit of the book’s story as well, her customers say.

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Karpewicz, who commissioned the Harry Potter scene for her mother-in-law, also purchased an already-made book sculpture that depicted Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse.” The gift was for her father who is Native American and whose totem is a wild cat.

Lancelot, a book sculpture created by Jodi Harvey, of Colora, combines techniques from decoupage, paper mache and paper cutting.
Lancelot, a book sculpture created by Jodi Harvey, of Colora, combines techniques from decoupage, paper mache and paper cutting. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

“The lion and the mouse are sitting on the open book that contains the fable. They are just staring at one another. The lion’s mane was so intricate,” she says.

Herbert also says that Harvey captured more than just the technicalities of shipbuilding.

“Not only did she make a virtual carbon copy of the ship model itself with paper, but she turned the base of the book into waves. The ship is shown on a rollicking sea, slightly off-center, so it looks like it is sailing over the book itself," he says.

For Harvey, each commissioned book sculpture is unique to the recipient. “Ten people can read ‘Harry Potter,’ but they are going to read it differently based on their own experiences and what is important to them. Hermione Granger [one of Potter’s best friends in the books] has crazy hair. If you are a soul sister to her, I want to include that in the sculpture.”

Her book sculptures, which now number close to 200, she adds, are also a personal expression: “I am a bookworm and words are really important to me. But I am also an introvert and not great with speaking my mind. This is an outlet that allows me to say, ‘This is me, this is what I am thinking. This is what is important to me.' It’s nice.”

Jodi Harvey’s work is available through her website jodiharveyart.com or at Arts by the Bay Gallery in Havre de Grace.

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