Artists’ Books at the Tucson Festival of Books

March 9, 2013 |

They don’t usually look like the books you see on library or bookstore shelves.  They may or may not be made of paper, and they may or may not have words on their pages. In fact, they may not have what we typically think of as pages. Many seem more like a sculpture than a book. They are unique works of art, and they are called “artists’ books”.

Visitors to Tucson Festival of Books have an opportunity to see and hold in their hands original artists’ books in an exhibit at the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections during the festival. The artists’ books were all created by members of Tucson’s PaperWorks: The Sonoran Collective for Paper and Book Artists. PaperWorks is co-sponsoring this exhibit with the University’s Special Collections Library.  The exhibit will be held on Saturday and Sunday, March 9 and 10, from 10 am to 5 pm in the Special Collections reading room only a few steps away from the Festival’s booths on the University of Arizona campus mall.

Special Collections Librarian Roger Myers notes that “Artists’ books are an important type of publication. They are books produced by artists, and we look at those differently.” He says that the University Libraries’ Special Collections has been co-sponsoring this exhibit with PaperWorks now for three years. Myers will give a talk on Sunday, March 11, at 2 pm in the Special Collections reading room which he describes as an introduction to artists’ books.  He will discuss also some of his personal favorites.

Tucson artist and PaperWorks member Nancy Solomon has made an especially important contribution to the development of this annual exhibition of artists’ books at the book festival.  “We exhibited artists’ books the first year in a tent out on the mall,” she says. That was four years ago.  After that experience, Solomon realized that “We needed a place where people could have the experience of handling an artist’s book,” and a tent wasn’t the best place for that. “So I got the idea of collaborating with Special Collections.” The artists’ books exhibit has been in the Special Collections reading room for the past three years.

Solomon’s contribution will continue on into the future as well. She has established an endowment to support purchase of artists’ books for the University’s Special Collections Library, the Nancy Demott Solomon Endowment.  Librarian Myers says, “It’s really good to have a fund. It ensures we can continue collecting artists’ books.” Although there are artists’ books in the UofA’s Poetry Center and Center for Creative Photography, the largest collection at the University of Arizona is in Special Collections Library. It numbers about 2,000 artists’ books.

Nancy Solomon’s endowment is consistent with her life-long interest in artists’ books. “I’ve been making artist’s books all my life. I have some that I made as a child. When I was doing a master’s program in printmaking at West Virginia University, the teacher was interested in artists’ books, and that’s when I realized my own interest.” Several of Solomon’s artist’s books are in University of Arizona collections.

According to artist Anita Rankin, a PaperWorks member and organizer of this year’s exhibit, the 2013 exhibit includes more than 60 artists’ books. “The Nancy LaMott Solomon Endowment is providing a $500 purchase award this year,” adds Rankin.  “And there will be two $200 purchase awards provided by PaperWorks.  These awards will be chosen by the staff of the Special Collections Library. Those artists’ books will become part of the Special Collections permanent collection.”

Artists’ books are chosen for purchase based on factors such as “content, how the book is constructed, of materials used, and how it fits in with other artists’ works,” says Librarian Myers. Along with the PaperWorks members’ artists’ books, a small collection of previously purchased artists’ books will also be shown.

Rankin adds that PaperWorks members will be “demonstrating and helping the general public to make a simple fold-up book at the exhibit.”  There will be a special table set up in the Special Collections reading room where you can try your hand at making your own artist’s book.

Bobbie Wilson, PaperWorks president, says that the group was founded in 2001 with a charter membership of 40. Now PaperWorks has more than 200 members working in different art media that all involve paper:  papermaking, book arts, photography, painting and drawing, and printmaking. There will be PaperWorks members at the Special Collections exhibit to answer questions about the group and about artists’ books. And Wilson reminds us that PaperWorks will also have a tent booth on the mall (space 335) where PaperWorks artists will be showing and selling art works made of paper.

What should we look for when visiting the exhibit and handling the artists’ books?

Librarian Myers says, “Just come with open eyes and enjoy what the book tells you. The books are a little different, constructed differently, not what you necessarily are accustomed to. These books are very delightful and sometimes challenging to look at.”   Solomon adds, “I think they should realize that it’s a book that it can be handled. It’s an intimate form.”

Category: Arts, Community