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Portland artist turning old books into rare sculptures

Posted September 7

— A local artist is taking old books and turning them into rare sculptures. He's known as Portland's Book Excavator.

Between the pages of an old book, James Allen finds opportunity.

"A lot of the end result is random and chance coming together," said Allen. "I've always been interested in altering objects that I find."

Armed with a scalpel, the local artist carves his way from cover to cover. He sees it as a chance to bring new meaning to longstanding literature.

"You know, sort of these worthless items can become treasured again," he added. "I incorporate layers onto layers, so when I get to a page with something I want to keep, I carve around that image."

In doing so, Allen transforms books into sculptures.

"I'll flip through the pages to see how it's going to line up with the next page, so sometimes I build more of a theatrical stage."

Excavating a book is a delicate process, one wrong cut could derail his work.

"Everything has to be connected to the edge, so all the pages are still bound. It sort of creates this web of pictures and words that sort of randomly line up."

Over the years he's created countless masterpieces he's shown across the region. Each one with its own message.

"My favorite is an excavation called 'May 1914,'" said Allen. "It's a bound collection of Oregon Journal newspapers from 1914. It's a book that was originally the size of a newspaper. It ended up being an epic piece for me and it also showed some of the history of Oregon."

Allen never knows how his creations will turn out. The composition emerges as he moves along. Imagery, that was there all along, but simply waiting to be revealed.

"I'm sort of collaborating with people who made the book originally, they just unwittingly decided to collaborate," Allen said.

Anyone interested in viewing Allen's book excavations visit: or


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