Artists' books have been produced around the world and across artistic disciplines for nearly 200 years, but weren’t established as an official book (or art!) genre until the 1970s. Simply defined, artists' books can be thought of as unique works of art in book format—though they do tend to challenge traditional concepts of what constitutes a "book." Often constructed from unusual materials, some artists' books in the Oviatt's collection are made from rubber, metal, plastic, fabric, and wood, as well as remarkable handmade papers. A book created by a group of students at Scripps College in Claremont, California, Square², includes an embossed aluminum cover and rubber-like pages. Pamela Moore's Offset & Finely Pressed Book, is another curious and rare metal book made in California.
Several books in the collection include wooden elements, such as the binding of Tropos by Kevin Osborn. The book stands on a slant, forming a rhomboidal solid. British artist Ronald King assembled wooden boards for the covers of Alphabeta Concertina, which contains delicately crafted paper pop-up pages within. One Psalm by Sue Bucholz was created at the Women's Studio Workshop Print Center in Rosendale, New York from soft, hand-made paper, folded several times into a small square and contained in a paper pocket.
Bruce Schnabel's Tikal Codex is a paperless book, crafted from hand-dyed silk and beads. This triangular book was patterned after a pre-Columbian codex found in Guatemala. It contains no text nor page numbers, so it’s unclear which side is meant to be the front and which way the pages are meant to turn, leaving these decisions up to the "reader." Many artists' books function similarly, allowing readers to create their own individual experiences as they interact with these books – folding and unfolding pages, exploring hidden panels, cutouts, and objects. Created in Los Angeles, Karen Holden's book, Behind My Own Disguise, comes with directions for navigating a "mask" printed on vellum folds.
Many of the artists' books in the collection were masterfully bound by hand, some are not bound at all, and thanks to Richard Olson's Wisconsin publication, at least one book in the collection is double-bound!
Special Collections has more than 100 artists' books and also includes resources to expand appreciation for this art form, such as Speaking of Book Art: Interviews with British and American Book Artists, by Cathy Courtney. To view a list of holdings, search the library catalog by subject: artists' books and limit results to Special Collections in the drop down menu. Then visit us on the second floor of the library to explore these unique art objects in person!