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Volume 9 Issue 3 Spring 2009(1)

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Artists' Books in Special Collections

by Julia Merkel

Question: What do JMU and Yale University have in common?

Answer: They both collect artists’ books from the Women’s Studio Workshop.


Presidential Quiz Art Book by Ann Kalmbach and Tatana Kellner
Presidential Quiz by Ann Kalmbach and Tatana Kellner directs the viewer to match the hairstyle to the president.

The Women’s Studio Workshop was founded in Rosendale, New York in 1974 as an alternative space for artists “to create new work and share skills.”  WSW currently has an active programming schedule featuring artist-in-residence grants, the summer arts institute, internships and arts education initiatives.  From its humble beginnings, it has become the largest publisher of hand printed artist’s books in the country.  Artist book proposals are submitted to an international jury ensuring a wide selection of styles, forms and subject matter.  The chosen recipients receive technical assistance and studio space to complete their small editions.  While a commercial printer publishes works by the thousands, hand printed book editions are more typically 100 or less and incorporate such labor intensive techniques as silkscreen, photography, intaglio, letter press printing, handmade papers, and sometimes even ceramics.  Book artists tend to push the boundaries of traditional book forms, structures and content.


Family: a book By Rita McDonald

Family: a book by Rita McDonald is silk-screened and housed within a wooden box.

In Fall Semester 2008, Leslie Bellavance, Director of the School of Art & Art History, and Dawn Hachenski, Associate Professor of Graphic Design and 2007 WSW resident, approached Special Collections about the possibility of collecting and housing artists’ books in support of the graphic arts curriculum.  An exhibit of works from the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York was on display in Sawhill Gallery and founding members, Tatana Kellner and Ann Kalmbach from WSW were on campus as guest artists and lecturers.  Special Collections Librarian, Tracy Harter, was very amenable to this collaborative effort and brought Art Liaison Librarian, Mary Ann Chappell, into the planning.  Mary Ann allocated funding from her liaison budget to purchase several books representative of the many styles and techniques of contemporary artists’ books.  Fifteen titles were chosen to form the initial collection. 

Flowers in a Box by Amy Schmeirbach

Flowers in a Box: a poem from behind the wallpaper by Amy Schmeirbach was inspired by Charlotte Perkins’ “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

 To find the artist book collection in LEO, do a keyword search using the phrase “artists books” and limit  the location to Special Collections.  This will yield a list all of these recent acquisitions.  Many thanks to Mark Purington for cataloging them expediently and to Kathi Scruggs, Acquisitions Manager, for handling the arrange-ments with a non-traditional book vendor.


Reba Leiding and Johlene Hess, Editors

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