PAPER ROAD is a book. It is a research narrative capturing my process of re-orienting myself to an important home-place. 

This book is the final document of a year-long research project conducted while I was a Graduate Fellow at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

The research process and story both begin at my family's summer cabin in Lagunitas, California. I use houses as vessels for situating my own located experience within broader California cultural contexts and land use histories. The book is a non-linear narrative of fragments, recontextualized image and text collected from private and public archives and collections. The content I assembled from research materials is annotated in first-person narrative, explaining the wild connections that emerged between everything.

The book contains 450 pages of annotated narrative, an introductory essay, a conversation with archivist and independent scholar Rick Prelinger, a non-functional (but poetic!) index, and a bibliography.

PAPER ROAD is out of print! Please contact me (nicolelavelle at gmail) if you'd like to purchase a PDF version of the book.



“Nicole Lavelle’s 450-page tome has been a bedside staple since my copy arrived by mail from Publication Studio San Francisco. Part family history, part research narrative, part local investigation into land use and the people behind those tony West Marin fences, something about Lavelle’s tone and breezy internet sleuthing hooked me from the very beginning. Perhaps best known as the co-coordinator of PLACE TALKS, a lecture series at San Francisco’s Prelinger Library, Lavelle dives into the specific place of West Marin—in lovely prose, archival materials, website screenshots, handwritten notes and graphic design.” —Sarah Hotchkiss, KQED Arts’ list of The Bay Area’s Best Not-Always-Visual Art of 2017

“It’s been a thrill to see Nicole’s practice evolve and expand as she engages more deeply with community and tackles more complex and difficult questions. PAPER ROAD, an expansive (450 pages) and probing project that also spawned an installation and performative lecture, originates as an excavation of evidence documenting her family history in West Marin. But quickly leaving the territory of the familiar, the book spirals out into an exploration of environment and politics, class and race, power and powerlessness, possession and dispossession, memory and amnesia—showing what she sees and striving to describe that which we cannot immediately see or know. This is an eloquent, emotional journey, but it’s not just a catalog of concerns—it’s an agenda for further work and activist engagement with all the sectors that make up this community.” —Rick Prelinger, archivist, filmmaker, and professor

“Nicole’s book... is literally a visual/literary/spiritual/mythological masterpiece about the power, politics and necessity of place. Also about feminism, socio-economic and racial inequality as it relates to land use, grief, and so much more. I’m totally floored by this book. I read all 425+ pages immediately after a long flight because it was that captivating.”
—Kaitlin Pomerantz, artist, writer, educator 

“This is a book I picked up to flip through. Instead I read it in its entirety, without standing up.” —Rachel Weidinger, artist, researcher, and community organizer







Before PAPER ROAD was a book, it was an installation: research made tangible, a re-imagination of a museum display, a swipe at the vernacular, a collection of findings.

Installed as part of No End In Sight, 2016-17 Headlands Graduate Fellowship Show at Embark Gallery, Fort Mason, San Francisco.

Materials: Redwood, Super-8, milk crates, old paper, nostalgia, family, California, the internet. Photo by David Robert Elliot.

I also gave a visual lecture about the work, which was the precursor to the book.



“Lavelle utilizes research in her practice, on both cultural and personal levels, to create compelling narratives. Using an old family cabin as a starting point, Lavelle interweaves facets of her own life into an interpretive investigation of land use, housing, culture, and community in Marin County. Her experimental visual essay will turn social practice project as she performs a live lecture in which she guides the audience through the complexities and eccentricities of this site in contemporary California.” —Tania Houtzager and Angelica Jardini, curators, No End in Sight




Process documentation: