Savannah Sturm

photos by arjun narayen
STORY by fiora macpherson

Savannah Sturm is from Las Vegas.

Not the flashing lights, casinos and showgirls type of Vegas, although maybe a bit of that too, but the place where Savannah rides fierce and spirited Morgan horses, where she was inspired by Native American patterns, where she took photos of green chameleons under the baking heat.

It’s all natural: wood is wood, leather is leather. That’s all there is to it.

“I always have in the back of my mind Las Vegas,” Savannah says, “especially when the weather on the East Coast is like this.”

Evidently, what happens in Vegas in fact does not stay there. It comes here, to Rhode Island, to College Hill, as winter approaches and the tough plains of Las Vegas sunshine seem ever far away. Savannah’s work is infused with a gritty, hunker-down, and homely mentality. She goes back to nature.

“I like the idea of making a tangible object out of old, found materials in a natural way. It’s all natural: wood is wood, leather is leather. That’s all there is to it.”

Her books are built from old belts, plywood, and thrift store vests, humble materials reworked. They are recycled and organic – a stipulation for a maker who feels such a strong relationship with the natural world.

Bookbinding began as a small school project last year. Since then, Savannah has taught herself the craft, and made over thirty, each one taking many methodical hours. 

To begin, she tears large sheets of recycled paper into exact sizes. From these, she creates signatures - individual sections that stack to form the bulk of paper. She sows these together with hemp cord, and then places the paper blocks on wood, leather, or chipboard for fabric. Next, she binds the material to the sown sheets of paper with an awl – a handle with a pointy needle strong enough to break through the wood. 

Outside of this delicate trade, Savannah exercises her love for the animal world in photography. A cypress tree in Tuscany, a lion in South Africa, skinny red succulents in California, and, of course, horses in her own Las Vegas: Savannah again brings nature into art, showing the private and fierce moments of creatures about their days.

 “I always have in the back of my mind Las Vegas,” Savannah says. And she does. It gives her work a different aesthetic, a wholesome and humble tone. Savannah injects her life here on the East Coast with a shot of Western life, not in its sparkly frontier, but in its honest, wild outlook.

Savannah’s work is a return to her roots. Dismissing flagrant veneers, she goes back to the essence of her home to create something real, something fundamental, something sincere.