Robert’s Egypt & Nubia and The Holy Land

David Roberts (1796 – 1864) was a Scottish artist famous for being among the first European artists to sketch many of the archaeological sites throughout Egypt and Palestine. In some cases he was the first Westerner permitted access inside mosques and other holy sites. Aided by a camera lucida (light box), he traveled extensively, sketching and painting temples, monuments, landscapes and cities. Upon his return to England, Roberts worked with the lithographer Louis Haghe to produce the entire set of 248 lithographic plates. F.G. Moon published the lavish elephant folio series edition at an enormous cost, and the book is world famous and enormously influential both because of Robert’s detailed architectural renderings in an age before photography, as well as for the quality of its stone lithographs. Although images are readily available online, it is truly a treat to view the actual books (housed in special collections).

Egypt & Nubia: From Drawings Made on the Spot by David Roberts; with historical descriptions by William Brockedon; lithographed by Louis Haghe

The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia / from drawings made on the spot by David Roberts ; with historical descriptions by George Croly ; lithographed by Louis Haghe.

For further reading, see this discussion on Roberts and his travels and influence, or this travel blog which shows the scenes Roberts depicted side by side with present day photographs.

-posted by Ariel B.


Spring … on your prey!

Celebrating the arrival of spring with a sampling from ABC d’Art: Croquis d’Animaux et Lettres Ornées, by Miarko (pseudonym of Edmond Bouchard), with pochoirs by Jean Saudé. This is an unusual collection of pochoir prints, published in Paris around 1920 in which the letters of the alphabet are embellished with dynamic predator-prey compositions. Click images for enlarged view.

-posted by Ariel B.

Geographies: New England Book Work

Currently on display in the Fleet Library is a traveling exhibition organized by the New England Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers. We are delighted to showcase these works featuring the talents of regional book workers. The exhibit runs through May 31st, 2014.

Spring Tides, by Julie Stackpole

Wildflowers Around Tufts Pond, by Penelope Hall

From the NEGBW press release:
“This exhibition displays a wide range of work from our chapter members, who come from all the New England states and beyond. Members were asked to submit work on the exhibition’s theme of New England, with entrants interpreting that theme as they wished. Works range from historic to modern, and include those with a broad view of the New England region to ones with a closer look at flora, fauna, or other facets of these six states. The 26 works in this exhibition span a range of contemporary book work— fine and design bindings, traditional and creative bookbinding, artist books and calligraphic manuscripts, and incorporate a variety of materials and production methods. Some members have created both the content and structure, while others have used an existing text as the basis for their work. There are pieces bound by members with long experience in the field, as well as books bound by students currently studying within a bookbinding program or on their own. From either end of the spectrum these books show a rich selection of creative bookwork from our members, and we are delighted to exhibit them in all the New England states.”

The exhibit is located in the exhibit cases in the main library, and on the second floor.

Geographies will travel to the following venues:

Wishcamper Center, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME    June 16 – Aug. 22, 2014
Bailey/ Howe Library, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT    Sept. 8 – Dec. 12, 2014
Williams College Library, Williamstown, MA    Jan. 12 – March 20, 2015
Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, NH    April 6 – Aug. 21, 2015
Creative Arts Workshop, New Haven, CT    Sept. 16 – Oct. 9, 2015

posted by Ariel B.

College Book Art Association Conference in Salt Lake City

Footbridge on University of Utah campusThe 2014 CBAA biennial conference was held January 2-4 on the campus of the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. The conference theme Print Produce Publish ( P3) was conveyed through the numerous tours, featured speakers, panels, exhibitions, and workshops. Most of the conference activities took place in the extraordinary J.Willard Marriott Library, including the panel presentations, the Members’ Exhibition, the Vendor Fair, and Members’ Showcase. The library is also the site of the Book Arts Studio and Digital Lab, where several demonstrations were held and where participants could actively engage in two P3 projects.

Invited speakers were Craig Dworkin: poet, critic, editor and professor of English at the University of Utah and Lesley Dill: New York artist, printmaker and sculptor.

CBAA Members' Exhibition at A juried exhibition of artists’ books made by CBAA members was on display in the Marriott Library in cases just outside of the Book Arts Studio. You can see the presses in the studio through the glass windows beyond the display cases.

An all-day production studio on the first day of the conference, P3 Now!, led by Edwin Jager and John O. Smith, invited members to drop in and contribute

P3 Now! keepsakewhatever ideas, images, artifacts, tools, or text they might have brought from their own studios to be turned into a printed book. Participants in the digital lab spent the day creating, designing, printing, collating and constructing a keepsake for all to take home.

Another all-day production studio event, Shift Lab [in code] led by Katie Baldwin, Sarah Bryant, Denise Bookwalter, Macy Chadwick, and Tricia Treacy incorporated both digital and hand techniques. Conference attendees were invited to tweet messages, which were then “retweeted” as collaborative letterpress printed broadsides. The Book Arts Studio was a hub of activity as participants raced to print and produce before the end of the day.

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Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

Richard Floethe’s Summer Holiday

Summer Holiday by Richard Floethe is a story told in twenty-eight images. The story begins with an artist standing in his studio, staring out the window … and as the title suggests, he soon drives out to a cabin on the beach and takes a holiday.  He suns on the beach, goes sailing, hikes around the dunes … and meets a woman. With just a few masterful strokes and a limited palette of pink and blue wash on brown lithographic line work, each image suggests volumes of emotion and dramatic possibility. The boy-meets-girl story outline is as simple as can be, and yet, like the great wordless novels of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward, its openness invites the reader into the experience and allows for endless extrapolations. The beachy setting brings to mind any number of coastal towns in or around New England, but is most reminiscent of Provincetown, Massachusetts, a town on the outer tip of Cape Cod famous for its artist’s colony.

This book was hand printed and colored by the artist in an edition of 150 copies. Richard Floethe printed a small number of other books himself (The Star, The Man From Everywhere, Ten Fables by Aesop, John Peel and Bacon in the Smokehouse), but Summer Holiday is unique in that it is a wordless graphic narrative. There are a few other books illustrated by Floethe in special collections, including a gorgeous Limited Editions Club edition of Pinocchio (RISD Special NC 975.5 .F56 P5 1937).

Richard Floethe studied with Klee and Kandinsky at the Bauhaus, taught at Cooper Union and the Ringling  School of Art, and was a renowned graphic artist and book illustrator. Over the course of his career he illustrated close to one hundred books, many of them written by his wife, Louise Lee Floethe. Between 1936 and 1939 he ran the New York City poster division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP). In 1939, when Summer Holiday was published, Richard Floethe was at the end of his tenure as art director and administrator of the poster division. The WPA/FAP employed thousands of out of work artists during the Great Depression, and from an essay about his WPA work, Floethe is often quoted as saying, “the Government unwittingly launched a movement to improve the commercial poster and raise it to a true art form”. It seems that Richard Floethe himself played a very key role in elevating the status of the American poster, as he was known to have encouraged creative expression and experimentation in the artists who worked with him.

Summer Holiday may be viewed online in a short film created by Richard Floethe’s son, Ronald Floethe here. The website is maintained by family members includes an extensive portfolio of Floethe’s work, spanning the length of his career from the 1920’s to 1980’s. My thanks to Ronald Floethe for graciously answering my questions!

As with all of our resources, Summer Holiday may be viewed at any time during our open hours – appointments recommended.

-posted by Ariel Bordeaux

RUTH LAXSON: Hip Young Owl

A retrospective exhibition of over 50 years of work by Atlanta artist Ruth Laxson, is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, January 26 – March 30, 2013. Curated by Marcia Wood, proprietor of the Marcia Wood Gallery and JoAnne  Paschall, formerly of Nexus Press, the show includes early paintings, woodcuts, etchings, drawings, handmade paper constructions, sculptures, mail art, and artists’ books, spanning a long and varied artistic career from the early 1960’s to present. At 88 years of age, Ruth Laxson is still making playful, pithy and relevant art and is still that “hip young owl.”

Ruth at home

At the opening reception nearly 400 old friends and new visitors attend. A life’s work is celebrated, and a very special person is honored.

The RISD Library is privileged to have over 30 of Ruth Laxson’s artist books plus her bookmaking process archives. Among these materials are research notes and scraps of factual information on a number of topics found in her work; social issues, gender, race, history, mythology, science, mathematics, technology, religion, and the arts. Process pieces include preliminary sketches, collages, mock-ups, make-ready, printing plates, test prints, and extra printed pages. In addition there are slides of her work, a sound recording of a performance piece, journal articles, gallery announcements, and correspondence. Researchers are welcome to come and immerse themselves in Ruth’s thought-provoking, visually exciting, playful, and very relevant world. And exhibition catalog for this retrospective will be forthcoming.

posted by L. Whitehill Chong

Currently on display at the Fleet Library

Selections from the Nina Abrams Bequest

January 4 – March 22, 2013

Harry and Nina Abrams began collecting the work of contemporary European and American artists in the 1930’s as well as many 20th century American and French painters. They collected what they liked and often were among the first people to buy works from emerging artists. Developing relationships with these artists was important to them as well. Abrams’ office and apartment home in Manhattan and in Putnam Valley, New York were filled with contemporary art, reflecting their diverse interests. As Harry Abrams said in a 1972 interview: “We love pictures, we love art and we love to live with art all around us. This has been our lifestyle.”* It is therefore not surprising that Abrams would publish books about the artists whose work they collected and whose careers they supported. *From the announcement of the Phillips de Pury sale of their collection in 2010.

The books displayed in this exhibit, represent selections from Harry and Nina’s own personal book collection and the bequest that Nina made to RISD. Hand printed livres d’artistes include portfolios of etchings, lithographs, or wood engravings, illustrating original poetry or prose, and produced in small editions. Other selections include modern photography, facsimiles of artists’ sketches and works by both well known and lesser 20th century artists. Many of these books represent the work of early avant-garde artists, in which Cubist, Futurist, Dada, and Surrealist perspectives can be seen. Also represented are works of Expressionists and later Pop artists. In all these books the beauty of the page, the lusciousness of prints on paper, and the elegance of design must have served the Abrams’ well, as inspiration for the possibilities of publishing.

Impressed by the quality of European fine art book publishing, but disturbed by the monopoly European, and especially French publishers had in representing historic and contemporary art and culture, Harry N. Abrams set out in 1950 to change the art world’s focus from Paris to New York. For the first time in the United States, a publisher resolved, against much criticism, to devote himself exclusively to producing fine art books. For over 25 years, Abrams publications broke new ground, contributing to the study of art history and concurrently the emergence of art libraries.

Laurie Whitehill Chong
Special Collections Librarian

Library Director Carol Terry describes how RISD became the recipient of the Nina Abrams bequest:


Nina Abrams and Carol TerryI first heard of Nina Abrams in 1998 when a former library employee contacted me to see if we might be interested in a donation of books from the Abrams family collection. She said that a friend was working for Nina who was looking for possible recipients of a large number of art books.

Of course I was interested, and shortly made arrangements to visit Nina at her Putnam Valley home. Books and contemporary art were everywhere, and I began a process that continued over many years of visiting with her, making lists of books we might be able to use, and making arrangements to get them to the library. One such trip involved renting a car and with the able assistance of Susan Gifford, travelling to the Manhattan residence and loading up boxes of books. Other library staff members took a trip to the Putnam Valley home, transporting boxes of books back to RISD. This first phase of the gift resulted in hundreds of books “from the Estate of Harry N. Abrams, donated by Nina Abrams.”

Our friendship developed over this period of time, and my family made frequent visits not related to the books. We just enjoyed being with this fascinating woman, who had travelled widely and had met many artists in the course of her husband’s book publishing business. She had wonderful tales of meeting Picasso, Calder, Giacometti, and others. In her late 80’s she was planning a trip to South Africa and had Samarkand on the list for her next destination.

Both homes were filled with art. The auction catalog of the sale of her estate shows just a portion of what was originally in the collection. (Phillips de Pury, April 7, 2010).

She was very fond of RISD, and I accompanied her to RISD’s Athena Awards celebration in New York in November 2004 where her friends Christo and Jeanne-Claude were honored the Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Nina died at the end of February 2008, just days shy of her 98th birthday. In her will, she stipulated that the books in her collection, still numbering around 10,000 volumes, were to be divided between her son Robert and RISD. After Robert and I made our selections, there were still around 5000 volumes left, and these ultimately came to RISD as well. We found additional treasures for our collection, and the remaining books are gradually being sold for the benefit of an endowed fund in the name of the Abrams Family.

Carol Terry
Director of Library Services
January 2013

Posted by A. Bordeaux