Charles LeDray, an artist known for creating collections made up of a multiplicity of carefully crafted and often very small objects, produced a collection of 177 unique “used” miniature books over two years, between 2018 and 2020 for the Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art.

LeDray’s volumes are miniaturized, abridged, and altered versions of eighteen used books that the artist found in secondhand shops, yard sales, or on the streets of New York and his own library. The list of eighteen—including titles such as Our National Calamity of Fire, Flood and Tornado (1913), I Saphho of Lesbos, Autobiography of a Strange Woman (1960), and Caleb, Who Is Hotter Than a $2 Pistol (1975)—recall and reveal the multiple histories and fragile aspirations and creations of another era. The artist’s constructed artifacts, seemingly marked by the passage of time, illuminate the journey of a set of books through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

To create the miniatures, the artist first made freehand drawings and tracings based on aspects of each original book—covers, spines, endpapers, illustrations, and a handful of selected text pages, making in the end more than 2,000 drawings to recreate all eighteen original books with an astonishing verisimilitude, one achieved with handwork that belies a first impression of photographic reproduction. His drawings were then printed by the Grenfell Press, New York, and hand-bound by Mark Tomlinson, East Hampton, Massachusetts in order to make between six and eleven small examples of each of the eighteen titles.

The artist then stained, distressed, annotated, and drew upon each newly created volume, stamping each to read “withdrawn” or “discarded” in his studio in New York, and hollowed out a secret cavity in each. To create miniature ephemera to be placed in each volume, he made over 1,500 drawings based on old bookplates, library cards and other printed or drawn pieces of his own invention that might have been inserted in a forgotten book. These pieces were printed by hand-letterpress by the Grenfell Press and by Peter Kruty Editions in Brooklyn.

Of the 177 volumes, most of which went to the members of the Library Council, to libraries, and to the artist, 18 copies were set aside to make a unique sculptural set of 18 unique volumes as a gift from the artist to The Museum of Modern Art.