Stephanie Gibbs – Natural Philosophies


© 2016
edition of 20
dimensions in inches: 3 x 4 x .25


About this piece:

How is information disseminated and stored? Who has access to knowledge? Where does oral tradition and myth become standard practice? The role of women, as witches, midwives, healers, and heretics, was especially important and contentious where the kitchen garden met the apothecary and physician’s office, yet women have always challenged the erratic assumptions of a male medical field (i.e., the wandering womb) with treatments that provided relief and assistance. Yet modern medicine is still based in the herbal remedies of the deep past: aspirin is based on an extract derived from the leaves of the willow tree, and the strongest of modern painkillers are still based on the herbal properties of the poppy. Elizabeth Blackwell, working in the early 18th century, documented many of the plants used for medical purposes.

The variety of approaches to herbs as treatments as published in contemporary literature is provided here alongside reproductions of her engravings. The engravings and descriptions are alternated with the greatest assemblage of uncontested fact, the Encyclopedia Britannica, an edition that both contains the collected wisdom of the ages, and yet still cannot escape the inherent and implicit prejudices of the times. As such, it is both a master document of information, and a constantly evolving resource that tells as much about a historic perspective as it does about dry historical facts. Here, the pages have been altered using monoprinting with inks and dyes, to bring aging and depth as a patina over the text. Sources: Botanical engravings from A Curious Herbal, Elizabeth Blackwell, 1739, from the New York Public Library Digital Collections. Herbal remedies from historic sources contemporary to the engravings. Monoprints on pages from the Encyclopedia Britannica, volume C, 1969.


printed pages, paper, book board, cloth

About the artist:

Stephanie Gibbs is fascinated by the ways that books simultaneously convey both factual information and emotional responses: the tactile experience of reading triggers memories and forms connections between the past and future, as hands flip pages forward and back. For the past fifteen years, she has worked as a fine bookbinder and professional conservator in private practice, following training at West Dean College (MA, 2003) and undergraduate study in English literature.

About Alicia Bailey