Arion Lyre

81. Sampler, poetry by Emily Dickinson, with art by Kiki Smith

Sampler, 200 poems by Emily Dickinson, with 206 original prints by Kiki Smith, 2007.

This book presents a selection of two hundred poems by Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest poets, with prints by the acclaimed contemporary artist Kiki Smith. The title of this book was chosen for two reasons. It signals that this is a sampling of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. And it refers to embroidered samplers from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that inspired the imagery of Kiki Smith.


When Emily Dickinson died intestate at her birthplace, Amherst, Massachusetts, in May 1886, at the age of fifty-five, only ten of her more than seventeen hundred poems had been published, and these appearances were not initiated by her: publication was arranged by others without her permission, though she did not condemn those who had brought public attention to her very private art.

Sampler Title with author portrait

By now, one might assume that the work of a nineteenth-century poet would be in the public domain. But rivalry between her relatives persisted and the release of all of the poetry was so gradual that claims of copyright continue to this day.

When Arion Press came to issue the poetry of Emily Dickinson, we decided to limit selection to two hundred poems from those published prior to 1923 that are clearly in the public domain. In editing this selection, we have regularized capitalization to current standards and punctuation to house style. It is our contention that the poems are not harmed and that imposing punctuation conveys an understanding of the poem that might otherwise be missed.


Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith, shown at Arion Press,
creating images for Sampler

The artist Kiki Smith has made prints for every page of the poetry, as well as the half-title page and a portrait of Emily Dickinson on the frontispiece, 206 images in all. These are original prints. Kiki Smith has made the matrix for each image. She scratched lines in the emulsion of photographic negatives with an etching needle and other sharp-pointed tools, thus allowing light to pass through them in the making of photopolymer plates for letterpress printing.

Kiki Smith decided to make images in the manner of samplers, traditionally sewn by young women to demonstrate their domestic skills. She studied examples in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Print for Sampler, by Kiki Smith

Hand-colored print for Sampler

For a larger print to be published with the book, Smith assembled a paste-up of images from her set of proofs. This layout was used by Arion Press to make new plates for the print. Proofs were sent to the artist, and she hand-colored and gilded a proof to serve as a model for application of two shades of red ink and silver-white foil by Arion staff.

Kiki Smith is one of the foremost artists in the United States. The retrospective exhibition “Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980– 2005” was organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and appeared at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as well as other cities throughout the U.S. in 2006 through early 2007.

For this book Kiki Smith has imitated the stitchery of samplers with short straight and slightly curved strokes. Her subtle patterns of cross-stitches and hatchings become recognizable figures or mysterious forms related to the wondrous imagery in Emily Dickinson’s poems.

Read more about the poet, artist, and book


Spread from SamplerThe book is large octavo in format, 11 by 7 inches, 220 pages. The type is Walbaum in Monotype composition by Mackenzie & Harris and in hand composition with type cast at the Bixler Foundry. The type and polymer plates were printed by letterpress in black ink for the type and red-brown ink for the plates. The paper was made by hand at the Twinrocker mill. The sheets are hand-sewn with linen thread over linen tapes. The binding has a red-brown goatskin spine, with title stamped in gold, the boards covered with tan cloth, the front cover embroidered with red thread for title and author and artist names. The book is presented in a slipcase.

The print is 24 by 18 inches. The paper is handmade, from the Twinrocker mill, in a heavier weight from the same pulp used for the paper in the book. The polymer plates were printed by letterpress in black ink. The prints have been colored by hand in sanguine and vermilion inks and gilded with palladium leaf. The print edition is limited to 40 numbered and signed copies for sale, 5 artist proofs, and 5 printers proofs. The price of the print with the book is $3,500. The print is sold only with a copy of the book. Out of print.

The book edition is limited to 400 numbered copies for sale and 26 lettered copies for complimentary distribution. All copies are signed by the artist. The price of the book is $1,200. Available

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Edition: The book is large octavo in format, 11 by 7 inches, 220 pages, hand-bound in goatskin and cloth with embroidered front cover, with slipcase. The book edition is limited to 400 numbered copies for sale, signed by the artist. Price: $1,200.

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Sampler Cover

Read more about the poet, artist, and book

This book will be exhibited in New York City Nov. 6 – 10, 2013 at the Park Avenue Armory IFPDA Print Fair.