Tunnel Books

Tunnel books originated in the 1700’s and were inspired by stage sets. However, its name has a surprising source. In England, this form of book was used extensively to advertise the newly built tunnel that went under the Thames River. The tunnel itself was a joke. It had cost more than 500,000 pounds (a considerable amount) and construction was slow, having been suspended for eight years following the death of six laborers. By the time the tunnel was complete, the openings were no longer large enough to accommodate the carriages, rendering it useless.

The harbor lent itself to a tunnel book because it is so full of stuff. In organizing the tunnel book, I was able to focus on one layer at a time, which helped me simplify an unending barrage of complexity. Here the book is viewed from the top, to show the layers. The medium is tempera, except for the bridge cables, which are made from drapery cord. This book was mounted on a permanent wooden base and it has a plexiglass cover (not shown). It is one-of-a-kind.

My earlier tunnel book is a lithograph print. The history of the tunnel book made it particularly apt for my carousel metaphor:  the carousel as a reflection of the absurd cycles of society. I made eight of them and painted each one different colors. This book can collapse in accordion fashion to about 5/8″ thick.


  1. Just catching up on your work Helen, thinking of you , and wanted to say hello. I really love this book! Should be in a museum.

  2. The mounting of the display is interesting. I am privileged to own one of your carousel tunnel books and have been considering ways to display it. At first I was thinking of a simple plexiglass box, but at present I’m inclined to have it professionally mounted in a boxlike picture frame that is deep enough to allow it to be displayed in a sufficiently expanded form and then hung on a wall. I would like to choose a frame that’s appropriately ornate to evoke the rather baroque flourishes of the carousel. Haven’t done it yet but will share a photo when I do!

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