The Autocrat’s Playbook

A limited edition artist book delivered to 60 thought leaders across the U.S. whose actions could foster and protect our democracy. View the Recipient List here.

Cover: Letterpress on Stonehenge Pale Blue; Interior: digital printing on Classic Crest Natural; Card: silkscreen and watercolor on Strathmore Mixed Media Heavyweight. 5.5″h x 4″ w. 36 pages.

In various public and private collections including Bowdon College, George Mason University, University of Miami, University of Washington.




As Ellen watched our democracy under attack from within, she believed it was necessary to take every action that she could as an artist to foster and protect our democracy. She wanted to ring the “5-Alarm fire bell.” Inspired by Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny and Road to Unfreedom, Ellen began The Autocrat’s Playbook in early spring 2018 and delivered it to the target audience’s hands prior to the November 2018 mid-term Congressional Election.

The Autocrat’s Playbook concisely describes the steps autocrats traditionally take to achieve their dictatorial aims. It was a call to action in response to the very real jeopardy that the U.S. democracy faces under the Trump Administration. The pocket-sized pamphlet references both a coach’s football play book and a pocket Constitution. The Autocrat’s Playing Card tucked in the back references both the Joker in a common deck of cards as well as the collecting of both football and baseball cards.

Each book was accompanied by a personal letter, explaining why each person was selected to receive it, along with a list of other recipients.

Following the tradition of the Mail Art movement of the 1960’s and 70’s,  Ellen elected to take control of getting the art to her intended audience, rather than waiting or hoping for the audience to come to the art. She relied on friends-of-friends and the US Postal Service, for the completion of delivery. She received personal responses by letter or email from nearly one-third of the recipients. One copy is in the permanent collection of the University of Washington Suzallo Library Special Collections.

The work was exhibited at Atlas Arts in Seattle in November 2018 as the mid-terms elections unfolded.  Democrats retook the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The threat to our democracy continues today.