This post kicks off a month of posts celebrating American Archives Month. Yesterday, Special Collections & Archives did a Twitter Takeover of the @fsulibraries feed for #AskAnArchivist day so be sure to check out those conversations.
This post is written by Melissa Quarles, Special Collections & Archives’ new graduate assistant. You’ll be hearing more from her over the next year but today she highlights our artists’ books.
For the past two years, Florida State University (FSU) has been steadily growing its collection of artists’ books, which are currently housed in Special Collections & Archives. These unique works blur the boundaries between art and literature, encouraging readers to question How Books Work and what they mean to each of us. Anne Evenhaugen, the head librarian at the Smithsonian’s American Art and Portrait Gallery Library, describes artists’ books as “a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of ‘book’ as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object.” The difference between a regular book and an artist’s book is determined primarily by the creator’s intentional treatment and presentation of the materials.
A few earlier posts highlighted new and interesting artists’ books in our collection. The books we house encompass a wide range of genres, forms, and topics. We have several books that feature poetry, such as Indra’s Net by Bea Nettles. This beautifully marbled paper scroll features a poem by Grace Nettles (the artist’s mother) printed over a spider web design. Attached to the inside of the lid, a small silver bell rings to evoke the memories described in the text. The original poem, from a book called Corners, can be found in our collection as well.
Artists’ books are often multi-sensory experiences. Music for Teacups, a joint venture by Melissa Haviland and David Colagiovanni, is part of a larger project “investigating the destructive moment of a breaking piece of family tableware to highlight family dynamics, upbringing, inheritance, etiquette, and issues of class. ‘Music for Teacups’… rhythmically dissects the poetic moment of a falling and breaking teacup as it sounds during its last second as a complete object.” (description from Haviland’s website). The work consists of an accordion fold booklet of cut-outs shaped like teacups, as well as a 45rpm record of the accompanying music. However, since we have no playback equipment, patrons who wish to listen to the piece are directed to this sample video (from Colagiovanni’s website).
Many of our artists’ books offer political and social commentary or center on issues such as human rights. One such work is Bitter Chocolate by Julie Chen. The book itself is shaped like a large bar of chocolate, which unfolds like a Jacob’s ladder. Each panel is connected by magnets, so that they can be unfolded to reveal four different sides. The unique tactile and structural aspects of the piece are a staple feature of Chen’s work, but the content is equally compelling. Two of the sides narrate a story about the mythical Mayan chocolate goddess, “Cacao Woman.” The goddess rejoices in the widespread love of chocolate among humans, but also laments the chocolate industry’s reliance on forced child labor, abuse, and trafficking. The other two sides feature the author’s personal memories and experiences with chocolate, as well as facts about its production worldwide.
FSU students, alumni, visitors, and the general public are invited to visit Special Collections & Archives and check out our rich collection of artist books. Patrons may also wish to explore how to make their own art books. Many of our works include explanations of the printing and construction processes, and we even have books designed to elicit inspiration for budding artists. FSU also has its own publisher, the Small Craft Advisory Press. Other resources, articles, books, and artist websites are listed below.