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

AN EYE FOR THE MODERN:
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 RISD

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

CALL FOR ENTRIES: MATH + SCIENCE = BOOK ARTS

Often arts organizations or galleries send out calls to the book arts community for submissions of work to be included in an exhibition. The 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR is a small gallery that features the work of book and paper artists, and this recent call for entries looked quite interesting.

Infinite Possibilities: Math, Science, Book Arts, will be a juried exhibition of book art inspired by the world of math and science—real or imagined. For most analytical types, math and science are often described in artistic terms: the eloquence of an equation, the beauty of a concept. Infinite Possibilities looks at the opposite: how math and science can be used artistically to inspire book artists to think creatively about such topics.

This exhibit is open to book and paper arts related works created as either edition or one-of-a-kind. Artist books, sculptural books, book objects, altered books, zines, broadsides and sculptural pieces are all encouraged exploring subjects ranging from math, science, medicine, space, architecture, engineering, physics, genetics and more. Entry deadline is September 28, 2012

For more information and the official call for entries go to: http://23sandy.com/infinite-possibilities/callforentries.html

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project is designed and organized by a small group of creative folks based in Brooklyn, NY, who call themselves the Art House. They are an independent group that organizes global, collaborative art projects. The Sketchbook Project is their main endeavor and was begun in 2006. It has developed into a growing collection of over 18,000 sketchbooks, created by artists of all ages, from over 130 countries. The sketchbook library is kept permanently in the Brooklyn Art Library, their storefront exhibition space in the heart of Williamsburg, but each year’s collection of new sketchbooks travels to exhibition venues all over the world.

The most recent venue for The Sketchbook Project was at the Lynn Arts Center in Lynn, MA. Upon entering the gallery, visitors were greeted by Sketchbook Staff and invited to sign in at their computer station to obtain an “Art Library Card.” With card in hand, you would move to another computer station where you scanned in your new library card and then searched the library database. Searches could be done by artist names, themes, colors, materials, medium, and randomly, or by keyword tags. The system selected one sketchbook that matched your search and another sketchbook at random. The collection itself is cataloged and shelved on rolling bookshelves behind the computer stations. Your request was sent electronically to staff members’ smart phones who then retrieved the books from the shelves and gave them to you at the “Pick Up Books” station. You could then take the books to a reading table and spend as much time with them as you wished. When finished you brought the books to a “Return Books” station. You could go back to the “Check Out” station and ask for more books as often as you liked.

Near the reading table was another workstation where visitors could sit down and create a piece of “Mail Art.” Blank postcards, envelopes, markers, pencils, crayons, etc. were provided. These postcards will be distributed at the next Sketchbook venue. Visitors were allowed to take home a piece of “Mail Art” made by participants at a previous venue. At another table, you could also sign up to participate in the 2013 Sketchbook Project and pick up your own blank sketchbook to fill and return. Instructions for participating can also be found on their website. The cost for participating is $25.00.

Activity at the sketchbook viewing table was both lively and focused. The sketchbooks themselves were widely varied in medium and content. There were artist books, travelogues, diaries, pages of doodles, comic books, zines, sketchbooks with fold-out pages that become posters, and even a felted toy rat, complete with change of paper doll-like clothes. The sense of community engagement was very strong and the mood celebratory. Many visitors who may have been shy about being able to fill a sketchbook, left with a new feeling of empowerment.

Sketchbooks have been used by artists for centuries. They serve as personal portable records of their ideas and designs, as a place for working out creative solutions to problems, for capturing an image of a person, place or thing that inspires them, and as visual journals of their daily life. Keeping a sketchbook is as important to an artist as breathing and fuels the creative process. Kudos to the Art House, for bringing inspiration to many and keeping this tradition alive. The next venue for the Sketchbook Project will be at the Space Gallery in Portland, ME July 12-14.

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

Paper: Indispensable Substrate

Currently on view in the library is an exhibit focusing on the indispensable material that artists have used for centuries…Paper!  Most people think of paper as mainly made from trees, which is still pretty much what most of our ordinary paper for daily use is. But did you ever think about what paper was made of before we started using trees? This exhibit shows examples of precursors to the paper we know today, showing the development of surfaces for writing and mark-making from parchment and papyrus to paper made from plant fibers and even old rags. Both European and Asian paper-making techniques are highlighted, with examples of paper-making moulds and deckles, as well as specimens of fibers and sheets. Different kinds of paper have been used to create decorative papers for bookbinding and printing, using such techniques as marbling, block printing, folding and dyeing as in Japanese Itajime papers, Japanese marbling or Suminagashi, and paste papers. Handmade papers have been used in many artists’ books and a selection of student-made books is on display.  Hand Papermaking, a journal devoted to the creation and study of handmade paper has produced a series of portfolios featuring specific image-making techniques, all using handmade paper.

As a substrate for much of the world’s writing and art-making, paper still has the ability to captivate and inspire, to record and dispense ideas, and to add a subtle but satisfying tactile element to communication.

All RISD Library exhibitions are open to the public 8:30 am to 7:00 pm weekdays.  This exhibit will be on view through July 8, 2011

posted by L. Whitehill Chong

College Book Art Association 2nd Biannual Conference

If you are a student of the book and paper arts, a practicing book and paper artist, an instructor in the book and paper arts, or a librarian/curator of book arts collections, the College Book Art Association (CBAA) is an organization that you will want to be a part of.  Since its founding in 2008, this growing organization has had two annual meetings at the University of Arizona in Phoenix and the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland and two large conferences at the University of Iowa and Indiana University.  Another large conference is slated for next January in the San Francisco Bay Area and in 2013, the annual meeting will be held at Yale.

CBAA’s mission is to support and promote academic book arts education by fostering the development of its practice, teaching, scholarship, and criticism. Conferences such as the recent one held at Indiana University January 13 – 16 attest to the growing interest in the book arts in a variety of academic institutions.

At this year’s conference there were 48 sessions to choose from, numerous behind the scenes tours of rare book and museum collections as well as campus studios. Hands-on workshops in intaglio, letterpress, collograph and paper dyeing were also included.

A juried members’ exhibition of artists’ books was held in the University gallery, highlighting the broad spectrum of contemporary work in the book and paper arts.

 

 

Here is just a sampling of some of the session topics:  Book Studies and the Liberal Arts; Embodying Bookness: Reading as Material Act; Ways of Knowing: Book Arts Across the Curriculum; Codex as Canvas: the Artist Altered Book; The Library in Art[‘s Crosshairs]; Scrapbooks of John Ruskin: Stranger than Fiction; Dé-Coll/Age: Bulletin Aktueller Ideen; Work from Home: Gaylord Shanilec’s Pastoral Wunderkammern; Vander-Mation: Letterpress Printing, Calligraphy and Animation; Cross-Media Iterations of a Single Text; Rice Boy Sleeps: Artists’ Books Meet the Web; Collaboration as Impetus; Book Installation Book; The Dot and the Line; The Persistence of Hand-Making: Sustaining the Book within the Academic Arena; Asa Beneviste and the Trigram Press; Margin Arts: Haiku and Artists’ Books in the West; Poetry Made Visible: Tom Phillips and Dante Alighieri; Librarians and Pedagogy; Contemporary Bookmaking in the Middle East/North Africa; From Palm Leaf to Book; Views of Los Angeles: Ed Ruscha’s Book Works; Updating the Artists’ Publication- 1960 to 2010; The Book in Public. For abstracts of these and more, see the CBAA website under conferences.

One of the many highlights of the conference was keynote speaker Ann Hamilton.  Showing still and moving images of her work, Ms. Hamilton gave us a generous taste of the depth and integrity of her public art projects, many of which involve language, the voice, and reading.  Memorable quotes from her presentation:  “Reading stills the mind…it is sensory without leaving a mark on you”  “My voice is in my hand”   “Making is an act of finding”  She talked at length about her project at the Venice Biennale, installations at the Seattle Public Library, the felted floor tiles in the Brown University Humanities Center, the kinetic installation at the Guggenheim in New York and the most recent cork floor installation at the Ohio State Library.  Her walking meditation boat in Laos is a piece that goes on and has another life of its own.  The double helix tower in Geyserville, CA has also been used for numerous performances since it was built.    And her Stylus installation at the Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis invites anyone to participate.  During her presentation she called in to the project and the audience sent a real-time spoken message which instantly became part of the piece.

posted by Laurie Whitehill Chong

Pochoir

If you’ve been to the library recently, you may have seen our new exhibition called Pochoir: Art of the Stencil, which features books which were printed primarily in France in the 1920’s – 1930’s. Pochoir is a hand applied stencil technique used for color reproduction in book printing. Read more about the exhibit and pochoir process here. The exhibit will be on display through April 8th.

Of course, as anyone who has put together an exhibit knows, you sometimes have to make heartbreaking decisions about what to exclude. One of my personal favorites that didn’t make the cut is a 1944 Limited Editions Club copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson. This edition was illustrated in pen and ink by Roger Duvoisin and “colored by hand at the studio of Charlize Brakely” (~colophon).  Duvoisin is best known for his series of “Petunia”, “Veronica” and “Happy Lion” books. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and worked in textiles in Paris and the U.S. as a young man. He began illustrating children’s books some time after the silk production firm he worked for went bankrupt in the Great Depression, and went on to have a long, prolific illustration career. I especially love the combination of Duvoisin’s lively pen and ink drawings with the gorgeous candy-colored pochoir stenciling used here. These digital images hardly do justice to the real thing, which is a reminder of why books with pochoir printing are special.

-posted by Ariel Bordeaux

from Suggestions by E.A. Seguy

endpaper illustration by Roger Duvoisin

detail of Roger Duvoisin endpapers illustration