Golden Lotus: A conversation with artist Colette Fu

October 28, 2022 by

Colette Fu came to Women’s Studio Workshop in the spring of 2022 to publish her artist’s book Golden Lotus. You can see more pictures and purchase the book here.

Colette Fu is renowned for her immense, sculptural pop-up books that combine landscapes, fairy tales, and folklore to form three-dimensional fantasy worlds. Her book Golden Lotus references a popular Chinese origin story of the custom of foot-binding, telling the history of the practice within a historical and personal context. We spoke with her to learn more about the process and materials behind the book.

A lot of people have commented on the exterior of your artist’s book Golden Lotus. Can you tell me about the material and design of the cover?

The cover is bound with gold brocade that I purchased in Beijing from a man who makes scrolls for paintings for my friend. It is wrapped to simulate how the feet were bound. 

Can you describe the handmade-paper aspect of the book? 

I discussed with Studio Manager and Wizard Chris Petrone how I wanted to create the lotus flower in the book out of elements of an actual lotus flower. We made a few trips to Albany and Philly to get the ingredients, and Chris experimented with seeds, roots, and bark, mixing them with kozo, abaca, and cotton.  Lotus root has a pinkish brown tone so each layer on the flower, as well as the background and all pages, have varying levels of lotus root in them to make them darker as you get towards the center, as a lotus root does.  


You are known for much larger scale books. How did you choose the scale of Golden Lotus?

My initial proposal was a book much larger, almost 2 feet, like my other books. At some point during a discussion with Erin Zona, we decided to make the book closer to the size of an ideal bound foot, which is referred to as golden lotus feet at 3.9 inches. The printed foot is about that size, as well as the pop-up flower.  

How did working smaller affect your process, technically and artistically?

I had to use tweezers and magnifiers to work at this scale. As I’m not used to working this small I decided to try adding photos and mocked up an accordion book, and Chris introduced the dos a dos format to me.  As I am not formally trained in book arts I had never seen this format before and was instantly intrigued. Working at this scale also allowed us to add more images.

The photographs in this book are from a trip to China you took in 2014. Can you tell me a little bit about that trip?

In 2014 I was artist in residence at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai for 6 months.  I taught English in Yunnan Province in the mid 90s and spent 2008 there on a Fulbright fellowship. I heard about a village in the south that was referred to as Bound Feet Village, and that there was a disco dancing troupe. So my friend and I took the bus there and although the dance troupe was no longer performing, I was able to find Wang Lifen (whose image is featured in the book) hanging out in the senior center.  In the early 2000s almost 300 women in her village had bound feet.  While it was outlawed in 1912, some mothers continued to carry it out in secret. Wang Lifen’s mother started binding her feet at the age of 7 and told her it was the only way to attract a good husband. 

What inspired you to incorporate x-rays into the imagery?

When I was researching bound feet online, I came upon this old x-ray of bound feet. I thought it looked like Chinese calligraphy painting so decided to incorporate onto the flower to look painterly.  I also have several x-rays of my own feet so decided to put some images from my own as well. 

What else would you like people to know about the book, or about your residency at WSW?

This was such an amazing experience to work with so many talented, experienced, and dedicated people. 2 months really goes by fast!