Bookends are cast from sculptures that are in low relief, high relief, or in a full or figural form. There is some confusion here because the definitions of these sculptural forms are somewhat abbreviated, and many collectors do not know how to recognize the forms with certainty.
Full or figural forms are shown in all three dimensions. and they stand freely away from any background. A good example is this pair from the early 1930’s called “Empty Pockets”.
Low relief, which is also called bas relief (French), is a form in which the sculptor carved away the background until the figure stood out, but projected only slightly, less than half of the depth of the figure if it had been full. No part of the figure is undercut. For example, if a man’s arm is shown raised across his chest, the arm must be attached to the chest. We can not peek behind the arm and see the chest. Low relief adds a sense of movement and action to an otherwise flat bookend depiction of cowboys roping or driving cattle.
High relief, like low relief, is a form in which the sculptor carved away the background until the figure stood out, but more than fifty percent of the depth of the figure is shown. Parts of the figure may be undercut. These bookends evoke our memories of the many photos and sculptures of Mark Twain in crumpled suit, long curly hair, and the left leg out-stretched or crossed. You can imagine him spinning a tall tale just for you.