Painting BA (hons)

Jenna Waldren


Stab bound series of photograms, paper and trace

S14/i responds to a collection of books in the Playfair Library, located on a shelf of the same name. The book contains twenty-seven pages, representing the number of books.

Within these pages, six portraits of female writers are featured, shedding light on the absence of women in the collection.

These portraits were created using a combination of painting and photogram processes, replicating the stone like quality of the male busts in the Playfair Library. 



Source material

Grace Atkinson, A Study of Maria Edgeworth, (Boston, 1882)
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Charlotte M. Yonge, The heir of Redcliffe, (London, 1853)
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Harriet Martineau, Deerbrook, (London, 1839)
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Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister’s Wooing, (London, 1859)
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Fanny Kemble, Record of a Girlhood, (London, 1879)
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Fanny Kemble, Further Records, (London, 1890)
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Shelf mark

Shelf S.14/1

Playfair location: S.14/1.8
Playfair location: S.14/1.10-11
Playfair location: S.14/1.12-14
Playfair location: S.14/1.17
Playfair location: S.14/1.21-23
Playfair location: S.14/1.24-25

Special Collections: S.14/1.8
General Collections: PR 5912.Yon
Special Collections: S.14/1.12-14
Special Collections: S.14/1/17
Special Collections: S.14/1.21-23
Special Collections: S.14/1.24-25

Jenna Waldren

Portrait & interview

1. What was it about this project and brief that originally appealed to you?

Last year I undertook an ‘Artists’ Book’ project in which I was introduced to an array of bookbinding techniques. Therefore, I felt this course would offer a great means of expanding this knowledge, whilst also allowing me to incorporate my personal practice.

2. What was your approach in searching for material that you wanted to work with?

To begin with I looked through the archives and original library catalogues, pulling various potential starting points out, such as newspapers, poetry books, plays and letters. After narrowing this selection down, I visited the CRC centre and looked at the four following books:  

  • Record of a girlhood / by Frances Ann Kemble. 1879. (Barcode: 30150017200210) S.14/1.21  
  • A Day in the Woods; a connected series of tales and poems/ Thomas Miller. 1836. (Barcode: B1551699) *.S.27.40  
  • The Rubáiyám of Omar Khayyám / FitzGerald’s translation with notes ; illustrated by Alice Ross. (Barcode: API_ADD_ITEM_2019_67584) (RB.S.1449  This book turned out to not to be part of the Playfair Library Collection)  
  • The Seasons / by James Thomson. 1758. (Barcode: B1599173) *.S.23.73  

‘Record of a girlhood’ by Frances Ann Kemble stood out to me, as it details the life of the author. Within my own practice I am attempting to capture the everyday moments associated with being a 20-year-old woman at university, creating an autobiographical look through my immediate surroundings.  

Using this book as my initial focus point, I began to research the other books from the same shelf (S14/i) and was struck by the absence of female authors within the collection. Of the twenty-seven books on ‘S14/i’, only four books were by women and one that depicted a woman’s life.

I then proceeded to research these female writers, aspiring to create a book that celebrated them and their work.

3. Did you find anything about the project challenging?

The original Playfair Library archives are all handwritten, meaning the task of trying to figure out which books were housed on shelf ‘S14/i’ very challenging. In some cases, I even had to google translate various languages in order to locate the books! 

4. What unexpected discoveries did you manage to make during your research?

Whilst creating the book I experimented with a process that combined both painting and dark room photogram techniques. This process was a new discovery for me and something I’d like to utilise in my future art practice. 

5. How has this project had impact on your art practice?

Similar to that of the previous question, the techniques and processes I have acquired whilst making this book are those that will transfer into my art practice well. I’ve also enjoyed working from a research heavy concept and feel it has given my work an extra level of depth.  

6. Did your final output end up as you’d envisaged?

My final book was definitely a lot larger than I had envisioned, however I feel the sheer size enhances the sentiment behind the book further. These women will be held up to the same prestige of the male writers within the collection. 

7. What advice would you give to someone doing this project next year?

My advice would be to perhaps start with a book that you might not necessarily have an obvious interest in. Sometimes we find inspiration in the strangest or smallest of details, that can unlock a plethora of new artistic ideas. 

Copyright & open licence

Copyright © Jenna Waldren, The University of Edinburgh 2020 CC BY-SA

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

CC BY-SA license