February 24, 2015
Smithsonian Libraries offer artists’ books collection online
by Claire Kelley
The Smithsonian has put hundreds of artists’ books online this month, as part of a collaborative efforts with institutions like the National Design Library, the American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery. Now over 600 titles can be accessed with one tool, and the collection is a response to growing interest in the book as an art form that can be studied just like any other artistic genre, such as pairing, sculpture or photography.
But what is the definition of an artist’s book? The Smithsonian offers the following explanation in an introduction to the collection:
Artists’ books are works of art, like paintings or sculptures, but in book form… Some are experimental and done by artists better known as painters or sculptors, as a way to extend their artistic practice. Many artists use the book format to create narratives to deal with difficult issues, with ideas that cannot be conveyed as clearly on a canvas or other medium. Some artist-made books illustrate the words of others, integrating art and literature. And some artists’ books do not have words at all. As a work created by an artist, the nature, appearance and purpose, of an artist’s book can be fundamentally different from what one might find on the shelves of the library.
Browse below to see some of the fascinating artists’ books that “straddle the boundary between the art and literary worlds” and often are examples of mixed media, while some of these books have no words at all.
Gifts From Our Elders by Kerry McAleer-Keeler
This project examines the idea of personal history and how we form a sense of our own story. Prominent events may stand out as the nameable moments, yet it is the space between these events that life, in fact, is lived. To show this, we used a kind of photo album style book. Julie designed and wrote the text that appears on the envelopes. Barb illustrated and wrote the texts on the cards inside each envelope.
Plinitude by M.L. Van Nice
This book is made from seeds, bones, insect wings, feathers, wood, leather, paper, and acrylic.
“’In and around and under Pliny’s writing and scholarship lies the natural world,’ writes M.L. Van Nice. This artist favors an intuitive approach to learning rather than Pliny’s structured encyclopedia format. Fascinated with her own inability to read the original text, Van Nice creates an imaginative but unreadable script, drawing elements from the natural world into the artist’s book.”
Freedom by Maria G. Pisano
Ms. Pisano, an adjunct professor, teaches papermaking, printing, book arts and conservation and gives workshops nationally and internationally, such as The Center for Book Arts in New York, Professione Libro in Italy, libraries, and at her studio.
Gold rush : A Multi-page Serigraph by Jill Timm
“Gold Rush is pushing the flag book structure– times 2, making it a double or reversible book, both sides attached to a single spine. It has two covers and two parts of a screen printed image. The stylized image of a bush with golden leaves that lives deep in the forest is a 16 color serigraphy by printmaker Jill Timm.”
World Without End by Julie Chen
“Flying Fish Press was established in 1987 by internationally known book artist and book art educator Julie Chen. The press focuses on the design and production of limited edition artists’ books with an emphasis on three-dimensional and movable book structures and fine letterpress printing. Editions range in size from 25 to 150 copies. Work from the press Is known for combining meticulous attention to craft, intricate structural design, and inspired artistic vision.”
Slurring at Bottom : A Printer’s Book of Errors by Robin Price and Emily K. Larned
“The endless fiddling with ink or packing, letterspacing, or tiny bits of gunk on the surface of a handmade sheet of paper; the weary acceptance of a never-quite-perfect printed page; the extreme emphasis on labor that ideally should be meditative but too often isn’t: these are the demands we place on ourselves as we practice the art/craft of fine printing. Slurring at bottom began as my personal search for a way out of that, using the same means—those labor-intensive activities done by hand—but mixed with a new approach, to express my protest and gather possible remedies. The raw material was literally my past mistakes—sheets rejected from previous editions, work-up sheets, etc—which were then transformed into new surfaces onto which other artists could play, or new text could be printed. One sheet from each of the ten invited artists is in every copy of the book; techniques used include collage, drawing, fireworks, painting, photography, printmaking, and sewing. The accompanying texts were mostly excerpts from previously published writing, and included authors such as John Cage, Bern Porter, and Basho, and subjects such as friendship quilts, Dada art, and the Japanese game of renga. Chance, randomness, and the relinquishing of control were wholeheartedly embraced, as was the opportunity to collaborate with the young Emily K. Larned. Our final delight was in hand-selecting the collation of each copy (or rather, the middle four signatures of a six-signature binding), so that no two copies are alike in either sequence or in pages from the artists (because they, too, varied within the ‘edition’).”
Glimpse by Barbara Tetenbaum & Julie Chen
“This book is a collaboration between Barbara Tetenbaum and Julie Chen about the transformation of life experiences into narrative form. One set of text is written by Julie Chen on hinged sleeves and another set of text is written by Barb Tetenbaum on cards inserted into the sleeves. The two texts are unified through “glimpses” of Barb’s cards through cut-outs in Julie’s sleeves. This book was a finalist for the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts 2013 Prize.”
Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.