Petra Mason

WORK/LIFE: Petra Mason — cultural historian

The brain behind some of the art world's most beautiful books


As a cultural historian and creative director, the Miami-based, South African-born Petra Mason has been involved in creating many beautiful books — these include Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom, Sharon Socol’s Plus One, South Beach Stories, The Carlyle, In the Spirit of Miami Beach and New York.

Describe your workspace.

Minimal and nomadic. The world is my office, but at home in Miami, a Sir Norman Foster “Nomos” Tecno dining room table: chrome glass, mirror, black leather-modern primitive I guess; African headrests, handmade axes, knives, art and artifacts. Spartan on the outside, clutter in the head.


What are you working on at the moment?

American icon Bettie Page, 1950s pin-ups by Bunny Yeager, and from the Keni Valenti collection, 1940s to pre-disco male pin-ups both published by Rizzoli New York. For Books & Books Press, we just did India’s Elephants with photographer Annette Bonnier, and a couple paperbacks by American authors.

What’s your most productive time of day?

8am to 1pm.

What do you do when you’re stuck, or not feeling creative?

Cook exotic global dishes, from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, India, Thailand to Latin America and Africa.



What has influenced your work?

A sense of the absurd combined with a sense of responsibility.

What are your main sources of inspiration?

Documentaries, eras and my own obsessions.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Go beyond the obvious – said to me by my mother, artist Judith Mason.

What’s the hardest thing about your work?

Collaboration. Clients. Democracy.


What was the most challenging thing you’ve worked on?

Last Train to Paradise Centennial Edition: an oversize history book about a Gilded Age wonder of the world, every detail period appropriate with over 150 new and vintage images sourced from museums, libraries and private collections including double gatefolds and a hand-tipped map, a non-negotiable deadline for the 100th year anniversary and a skeleton staff of none.

What are you afraid of?


What’s your greatest achievement?

Not believing the hype.

Your favourite ritual?

Disappearing when travelling.

How do you relax?

Pool-jacking Miami’s swanky hotels. The perfect combination of glamour, cheek and entitlement.




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