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.

 

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

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

Watts Program: Transformations of the Book

To start off the Spring 2011 series of workshops and lectures for the Charles H. Watts II Program in the History and Culture of the Book, students from Brown and RISD learned first hand about contemporary handmade artists’ books and fine printing. The first presentation was given by Rosemary Cullen, Special Collections Librarian at the John Hay Library on February 16th. Students were shown examples of artists’ books from their collection of over 400 titles. Many of these books, fabricated by hand, stretched the boundaries of traditional book structures and materials and a lively discussion of what made them a “book” instead of a sculpture followed.

On Friday February 25th students were shown a selection artists’ books from the Fleet Library’s collection of over 1400 titles, by Laurie Whitehill Chong, Special Collections Librarian and Curator of Artists’ Books. These books, also varied in concept, structures, materials and craft, were first read aloud or performed followed by an an in-depth discussion and analysis of each book. When it comes to “reading” artists’ books, there are so many layers of meaning. Exploring how each artist used images, text, materials and structure to communicate to the reader proved that the possibilities are endless.

Following the presentation in the RISD Library students then went to the John Carter Brown Library where RISD Professor Jan Baker, of the Graphic Design department, showed student made artists’ books from her own classes. Participants were invited to look over the books on their own and select one that they would present to the group. Seeing the quality and integrity of student work helped the current students to feel that making a book of their own was possible.

On Saturday February 26th, students were treated to a special workshop given by Steve Miller, printer extraordinaire, book maker and director of the Masters Program in Book Arts at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. In this workshop, held in the type shop of RISD’s Design Center, students learned how to print a “Sandragraph” on the letterpress. A Sandragraph, created by Harry and Sandra Reese of the Turkey Press, is a fabricated low relief printing plate that is made to be type high. When printed, this plate creates a textural abstract design or subtle image that forms the background to subsequent layers of printed type and image, adding depth to the printed page. It also makes the text and images less isolated and stark against a pure white background. Creating a Sandragraph involves simple materials such as a piece of MDF board, acrylic gel, muslin, and all manner of low relief bits of paper, string, cardboard or any other textured detritus. Students got to make a sample plate, set up the plate on the press, learned how to lock it in, ink the plate and print. In the process, Steve gave many useful tips for printing and also showed many wonderful examples of printed broadsides and books that incorporate Sandragraph prints. One of the many take-aways from  Steve’s workshop was that spontaneity and playfulness in printing can work very happily with the demands of precision.

In the afternoon, Steve Miller gave a public lecture back at the John Carter Brown Library entitled “21st Century Letterpress and the Artisan Book”. Steve spoke of his career as a printer, having studied with master letterpress printer Walter Hamady of Perishable Press in Wisconsin. Following grad school he established his own Red Ozier Press with Ken Botnick and moved to Manhattan to set up shop. Miller sought out various poets and writers such as Alan Ginsberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Isamu Noguchi, Billy Collins, and Octavio Paz, to make small printed chapbooks of their works. Later he moved to Alabama where he developed the MFA Book Arts Program, which he directs. In the past several years Steve has been recording interviews with book artists and poets and this series of podcasts is available on iTunes. He is also proprietor of the Red Hydra Press at the University. Steve is one of the co-founders of the Paper and Book Intensive, an exciting two week series of workshops and classes in the book and paper arts.

Steve spoke in depth about his own journey as an artist, calling himself a “floaty poet boy” with a passion for poetry and printing. He feels his mission has been to awaken authors to the joy of the printed page and to establish a long term relationship with them. This was clearly evident in the samples of collaborative book projects he brought with him. Printing for Steve represents magical moments of attention where he is totally focused on every detail of a print.  In Steve’s words, “it’s not a single ‘ah ha!’ moment, but a long slow ‘aah haaaa….’ action.” It’s all about the making of a printed page, the very foundation of the artisan book.

In his long career he has worked with many  notable artists in the field of book and paper arts.  He talked about the work of Hedi Kyle, who has contributed so many innovative book structures to the field, Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press, who has been printing fine books for nearly 25 years, and Harry and Sandra Reese who started their press about the same time as Steve in the late 1970’s.  Paper is the substrate of all fine printing and as interest in the hand printed page grew in the 1970’s and 80’s, the need for quality handmade paper led to the founding of two important paper making establishments, Twinrocker Paper in Indiana and Dieu Donné Papermill in New York.  The demand for quality type and the casting of new type faces was met by such companies as Bixler Press and Letter Foundry in upstate New York.  Small museum collections of antique presses such as John Horn‘s in Arkansas provide important models for reference and research for the contemporary printer, often assisting them in troubleshooting the mechanics of their own antique working presses. In support of book artists and printers, there are many long standing educational institutions and book arts centers across the country that Steve mentioned as well such as the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina where Steve frequently teaches and recently redesigned their state of the art letterpress studio.

It was a rich and full weekend immersion in all things “book art”.  Thanks to Steve Miller, we got a taste of the depth and variety of contemporary artists’ books and fine printing and a clear message that the “artisan book” is here to stay.  Though the artisan book has and will continue to go through changes, it has a strong legacy of passionate and focused practitioners who continue to influence the book arts with their collective wisdom and experience.  The handmade book is alive and well and it is through collections of artists’ books at Brown and RISD, and instructors like Jan Baker and Steve Miller who are training the book artists of tomorrow, that the legacy will continue.

Many thanks to Lisa Long Feldman, coordinator of the Watts Program, to the John Carter Brown Library and Staff, to Rosemary Cullen of the John Hay Library, and to the RISD Graphic Design department for all they did to make this weekend possible.

posted by Laurie 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