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The Four Elements: Earth

Daniel E. Kelm and Timothy C. Ely
unique copy


The series of unique books Investigations: The Four Elements draws upon Kelm’s and collaborator Tim Ely’s shared interest in alchemy and sacred geometry. Each book consists of a set number of interlocking panels that can be assembled into one or more shapes forming Platonic solids.

The Platonic solids—tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron—are polyhedrons with congruent sides, edges, and angles. Although these five shapes were known prior to Plato, they are specifically mentioned in his dialogue Timaeus. In this work, Plato describes these solids as the building blocks of matter, equating the tetrahedron with the element of fire, the cube with earth, the octahedron with air, the icosahedron with water, and the dodecahedron with the materials that form the stars and the cosmos.

—Aprile Gallant, Curator, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, Smith College Museum of Art

Book sculpture by Kelm.

Painting and surface treatments by Ely.

Acrylic and ink on paper, with airbrush acrylics, aluminum, brass tubing and rod, thread, and wire edge binding.

You may request to see Investigations—The Four Elements: Earth at:

  • Indiana University, Lilly Library

A first glimpse inside the box reveals shaped page panels and a metal tube with paper wrapped around it.

One slot in the box holds the square page panels and a second slot holds the triangular page panels.

The Investigations series is the earliest example of Kelm bindings with no permanent hinging; i.e., the pins can be removed and the pages completely disassembled.