Mattapoisett artist explores life’s transient moments

Dec 6, 2022

MATTAPOISETT — Life’s transient moments fascinate Liz LaValley, a Mattapoisett-based artist and poet who captures the ephemeral in handmade books currently on display at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library.

“Covid really messed with our circadian rhythms and everything got so transient and fragile,” she said, describing her interest in this topic. “That’s what the books are about: time, passage, movement.”

LaValley, who trained as a printmaker at UMass Dartmouth, first began making poetry books, also called chapbooks, when she was featured in a 2019 poetry reading at the Plymouth Library.

To be a featured reader, she said, “you need a chapbook.”

During the Covid-19 shutdown in 2020 she started to experiment with the design of her books.

“I started doing little cut-throughs and I started experimenting with paper,” she said. “There is a lot of fun paper in the world — if you go to Michaels you can buy one [and] get two free when they’re having a sale.”

On the inside covers of her books are watercolor paintings and small photos taken on a Fujifilm Instax camera, which produces instant Polaroid photos. 

LaValley paints from life. She has a to-go bag of paints and brushes that she brings everywhere, even while she’s kayaking, in hopes to capture something fleeting like a fallen tree, a ripple in a pond or anything else that catches her eye. 

“When you start working with [watercolors] they either work or they don't,” she explained. “That’s an immediate transient moment. The Instax is an immediate transient moment. Each one of those is just ‘that second.’”

Creating one book can take around two days, said LaValley. For her, the hardest part of the process is figuring out the math that allows the pages and cover to fit together. 

“I keep this pinned above my desk,” she said, pointing to a complex sheet of calculations and numbers that she references when designing her books.

While the construction of a single book can happen relatively quickly, writing the poetry that goes inside can take years. Many of her poems are works-in-progress. A large binder contains poems that are scribbled on and edited, showing her process over time.

No matter how long it takes to write, LaValley said that the final product is well worth the effort.

“Poetry is a good way to communicate with other people because it’s pretty subjective and anybody can write it,” she said, “and you can usually find a group to share it with.

LaValley’s artwork is on display at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library until Wednesday, Dec. 14. Her work can also be found at the Plymouth Center for the Arts, where she is an active member.