Tag Archives: Archives Month

Artist Books Collection Continues to Grow

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.

Resources:

Articles/Books:

Artists:

Through the Eyes of a Collection

American Archives Month is when archivists often take the time to tell the public what it is we do all day and why they should care. However, we’ve never much talked about how it must be for the collections themselves. Here’s a collection-level view of what an archivist does when new materials arrive.

When I arrived in the Special Collections & Archives Division at Florida State University, I was a real mess. Parts in cardboard boxes, others in plastic bags; I heard the folks who brought me in say more than once that it was hard to tell which end was which. Since then I’ve discovered that it isn’t always the same with other new arrivals.

Some show up completely tidy and ready to help people find the answers to their most pressing questions. Not so with me. I started life out in the College of Communications at Florida State University in 1972 in the office of a young professor named Thomas Hoffer. I wasn’t much at first, but as the years kept piling up, as is the tendency with things, I grew. Exams, course syllabi, professional correspondence and some non-important bits like old blank warehouse club membership applications were just a few of the things that came to represent me after the thirty years I was with Professor Hoffer. Being quite substantial at this point and with the Professor retiring, I needed a place to go. After getting boxed, and bagged up, I was taken to a storage facility not far from the university.

Many archival collections arrive in need of physical processing to ensure preservation.
Many archival collections arrive in need of physical processing to ensure preservation.

Settling into my new home wasn’t too bad once I got over being constantly lifted up and put down again, though I must say it was a little warmer than I was used to. After a few years had passed, it was decided that I would be donated to the Special Collections & Archives at Florida State University and I became acquainted with some folks that called themselves archivists. That’s when things got interesting. At first they made some initial visits to my storage space to go through my contents, making notes and doing a lot of talking about how much of me there was.

After several of these visits, instead of bringing note pads and pencils with them, the archivists showed up with hand trucks, push carts and a van which they used to bring me back to the university. It was a little confusing at first and I’d wondered if there had been a mistake, but eventually, piece by piece I was moved from my storage room back to campus. To be specific, I was moved to an archives.

My skepticism started to fade when the archivists and student workers began to remove my essential parts from the musky boxes and plastic bags, and started putting me into fresh new folders and boxes that, by the looks of them, were made specifically for archives. According to the folks who were shifting me around, these new folders and boxes would help in keeping me around for a good while longer. As all of this was going on, all of the non-important bits that I mentioned earlier, like the blank forms and random accumulations such as a bit of reptile skin were removed and disposed of. After about a year and half of this celebrity treatment, my “physical processing,” as the archivists called it, was finished and I found myself in a new home on the shelves of the Claude Pepper Library.

Fully processed, the Thomas Hoffer Papers are ready to aid patrons in their quest for knowledge.
Fully processed, the Thomas Hoffer Papers are ready to aid patrons in their quest for knowledge.

Since then an electronic finding aid, which as I have gathered, is like a road map for my makeup and contents, has been put online by the good archivists and can be found on the FSU Special Collections & Archives homepage (the internet wasn’t around when I got my start, but I highly recommend it!). The finding aid helps researchers like yourself find what you’d need quickly and easily like Dr. Hoffer’s work with his film indexing project or classes he taught on documentary film making. I hope you’ve enjoyed my story and will come visit the Florida State University Libraries Division of Special Collections & Archives to see what our collections are made of. Whether it’s for a project or personal enrichment, I guarantee you’ll find something interesting to learn about and enjoy.