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

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!

New to the collection: The Works of William Hogarth

The Works of William Hogarth Esq. RA, with the additions of many subjects not before collected, to which is prefixed, a biographical essay on the Genius and production of Hogarth, and explanations of the subjects of the plates, by John Nichols Esq. FSA.  London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1822           Large Folio NE 642 .H6 N5 1822

William Hogarth, 1697-1764

A recent donation to Special Collections is an early 19th century publication of the engraved works of William Hogarth.  This large folio has over 150 engravings, printed between 1828 – 1837, over 50 years after Hogarth’s death, from the original refurbished plates, and includes descriptive texts and explanations.  It features a large self portrait, many caricatures and political, satirical works, as well as his moral stories, narrated in a series of pictures.

Hogarth, a British painter and engraver, worked at a time when British culture was establishing itself as separate from Continental courts or religious influences.  It was a time of prosperity and growth with liberal political leanings and rather unburdened moral sensibilities.  The influence of politics, social issues, and contemporary drama and novels, can be seen throughout these works.

Hogarth first considered himself a painter and many of his early works were commissioned by wealthy families.  At the same time, he was also interested in genre painting, focusing on “modern moral subjects” and scenes of the lower class.  Although he believed that painting was “high art” and engraving a more mechanical form of labor, he achieved fame primarily for his engraved works.  Among those well known works are “A Harlot’s Progress” (1732), “A Rake’s Progress” (1735), “Marriage à la Mode” (1745), “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” (1751).  Included in this book are three “suppressed prints” entitled “Before”, “After”, and “Feeding Poultry”, possibly suppressed because of their racy content.

Hogarth was involved in current political issues and along with 4 other artists, petitioned Parliament to protect the rights of engravers, whose work was being pirated and sold by merchants.  The resulting Engraver’s Copyright Act of 1735 gave artists the sole rights to their prints for 14 years from their initial date of publication.  Hogarth also founded a drawing academy in St. Martin’s Lane and in 1753 wrote Analysis of Beauty, a much criticized manifesto on art theory.  The library owns a 1772 copy of this work as well, which was printed posthumously and sold by Hogarth’s widow.

The prints in The Works of William Hogarth are quite beautiful and when you look at them with magnification, you can see that parts of the print were etched and parts were engraved, a practice common in that time period.  The paper is made from rags and is still strong and flexible.  The binding has been re-backed, although it looks like the original boards, which have been covered with quarter bound leather and marbled paper, are still intact.  The book is very large and heavy so it is both a delight and a challenge to view.



The prints are complex and intricate, with many subtle visual clues to the narrative.  Hogarth’s satirical and robust depictions of every day life in the early 18th century seem to echo simliar political and social issues we face even now.  Might we not benefit these days from the vision  and social commentary of a contemporary Hogarth?        LWC