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Jan Davidson, Free Little Bird and Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Santa Cruz, California. Peter and Donna Thomas (2019) 7x3x1 inches. 12 accordion pages with 12 nested accordion pages. 39 copies.

Binding: Nested accordion binding: repurposed mahogany wood covers, front cover engraved with image of bird. Clamshell box: Blue paper with blue cloth spine, woodcut label on front cover. Paper: background accordion; blue and tan duplex, nested accordion; ochre handmade by Peter Thomas. Pages laser cut paper doll style with bird images. Printing: Letterpress: printed from linoleum blocks. Typography: Handset Canterbury, linocut text. Illustration: 9 linocut blocks with text and images of birds, etc. cut by Donna Thomas. Note: Excerpt from an Appalachian folk song is juxtaposed with an quote from Maya Angelou’s book, which is printed in the hidden space created between the nested accordion pages.

We made a 3 minute video showing the book and talking about it.
It is posted on YouTube at

Artists' statement follows the photographs:


A successful artists’ book, like a successful song, is an aesthetically rich creation, and at its best it will hold many aesthetic surprises. It will be rich in meaning, rich in visual content, in color, shapes and texture, there will be more than one way to understand it, more than one way it will engage its audience.

The primary text of Free Little Bird is an Appalachian folk song. As a folk song, there is no author to say exactly what it means, and in this artists’ book we present our personal interpretation and response to the story told in the lyrics.

We printed the text on accordion folded handmade paper, paper-doll cut, bird shaped pages, using in our nesting accordion structure, so when the book is opened the bird fly free. We made the paper a duplex sheet, a muted blue on the front side, allusive of the sky, where the birds are free. The back side is a darker, beige/blue.

One reading of the text could interpret it to be the mocking cry of a child saying “Catch me if you can.” But in another reading one can find undertones social justice concerns. We used the colophon to provide another a hint to look for more in the book, stating: “…the text is an Appalachian folk song and an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings.” The reader then asks, “Where is Angelou’s contribution?” A careful look through the cut-out birds on the back side of the accordion reveals Angelou’s darker text “caged” inside the nested accordion structure.

The book is bound with wooden covers, an image of a free little bird is laser cut into the front cover. The book is housed in a clamshell box, another symbolic “cage.”

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© 2002 Peter and Donna Thomas