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.

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

In Celebration of the Royal Wedding: Views of Westminster Abbey

If you missed the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, you can still see some spectacular views of where the wedding took place at Westminster Abbey.  Special Collections has a two volume set of books, published in 1812 (nearly 200 years ago), that describe all of the details, interior and exterior of this extraordinary and historic church.  An example of Gothic architecture, it was the site of many significant events throughout the history of Britain, and in more modern times was the place Queen Elizabeth II was crowned and where Princess Diana’s funeral took place.  Explore views of the vaulted ceilings, the rich mosaic floors, the various smaller chapels, the stained glass windows, choir stalls and the many monuments and tombs of kings, queens, and literary giants.  The books include richly colored illustrations by A. Pugin, reproduced in delicate etchings.  The entire church, its history and architectural elements, are fully revealed, with anecdotes and technical highlights.  Much has changed in this historic building since 1812, but much is still the same and to be celebrated today and in the future.

If you’d like to stop by Special Collections to see these books, you may drop in any time we are open.

Combe, William.  The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter’s Westminster: its antiquities and monuments.  London: Printed for R. Ackermann, 1812.

Special Oversize DA 687 .W5 C6 1812

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong


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

Fall Fashion – get your tweed on!

Meet Doris: Doris, who weaves her own tweeds. This image is from the book, Weave Your Own Tweeds, by Roger Millen. This short pamphlet is clearly illustrated and written in a rather opinionated, chatty style with the simple intent to instruct, “how anyone with suitable equipment and enough knowledge of weaving to put on a warp and weave it off, without the supervision of a teacher, may fearlessly venture into the field of all-woolen suitings”. I am not ordinarily one to read texts on weaving, having absolutely no talent for the fiber arts myself, but the author has a way with words. In making the case for using only warm tones to dye wool he writes, “It would be all right with me if violet had been left out of the spectrum and I never use it or any other shade of purple. This is prejudice, to an extent, as some of the subtler tones, those verging on brown, for example, are quite warm in feeling and very handsome. But I still don’t like them, as they seem to me a negation of the wool virtues – though rather more cynical than vicious. I’d better leave it at that as I am beginning to remind myself of a shopper whom I recently overheard asking a saleswoman for – “A depressed sort of blue, if you know what I mean, a blue within a blue!”. Weave Your Own Tweeds is dedicated, “To … All those craftsmen whose work is always good, who are not content with better, and whose best will forever elude them.”

Special TT848 .M56 1948.
weave your own tweeds

-posted by Ariel Bordeaux

A Northern Christmas

A Northern Christmas Amidst a dizzying whirl of Christmas activity (which I wish was filled with glittering parties, but in actuality consists of more trips to Kohl’s than any human in their right mind should make), this little gem of a book offers a moment of peace and quiet contemplation.

Rockwell Kent and his eight year old son spent the winter of nineteen-eighteen and nineteen in a one room log cabin on Fox Island, off the south coast of Alaska. Excerpted from WILDERNESS: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska, this ‘gift book’, titled A Northern Christmas, is number one in a series published in 1941 by the American Artists Group. It includes Kent’s journal entries written over the Christmas holiday, with woodcut illustrations of the Alaskan wilderness.

“Thursday, December nineteenth
This day is never to be forgotten, so beautiful, so calm, so still with the earth and every branch and tree muffled in deep, feathery new-fallen snow. And all day the softest clouds have drifted lazily over the heaven … It was a day to Live, —and work could be forgotten. So Rockwell and I explored the woods, at first reverently treading on path, so that the snow about us might still lie undisturbed. But soon the cub in the boy broke out and he rolled in the deepest thickets, shook the trees down upon himself, lay still in the snow for me to cover him completely, washed his face till it was crimson, and wound up with a naked snow bath.”

A Northern ChristmasRockwell Kent, with the young Rockwell and their only companion on the otherwise isolated island, a Swedish gold-miner and trapper named Olson, manage to create a magnificent feast and magical atmosphere with the very simplest of supplies and materials.

“Everything goes beautifully; the wood burns as it should, the oven heats, the kettle boils, the beans stew, and the bread browns in the oven just right, and the new pudding sauce foams up as rich and delicious as though instead of the first it were the hundredth time I’d made it. ”                                 ACB

The RISD Library will be closed between December 24 – January 3rd. Happy Holidays!