The Book Art Movement
from the 1970's Forward
by Richard Minsky
Founder, The Center for Book Arts
New York City
Presented at the
Guild of BookWorkers Centenary Symposium
The Art of the Book in America, 1906-2006
New York Academy of Medicine, Friday, October 13th, 2006
As reading becomes more digital, there has been a rise in the creation and appreciation of the book as totemic or iconographic object. In the 1970's a scattering of artists amplified a tradition that evolved through
Egyptian papyrus scrolls,
illuminated manuscripts, William
Blake, Delacroix, William Morris, Vollard, the Bauhaus, the Constructivists,
Futurists, Dada and
Book Art has grown from an esoteric medium with a few dozen practitioners and no audience to a field with thousands of artists, a wide audience, and a developing K-12 curriculum. The act of publication for many of these authors is to produce a single copy rather than an edition, and to place it in an exhibition. The works often combine linguistic and visual literature.
Authors now integrate conservation bookbinding with conceptual art and all forms of printing technology, and during the last ten years there have been numerous museum exhibits including this type of work. Binders like Gary Frost and Hedi Kyle have invented new book structures which have been widely disseminated in a short period of time. Kyle's concertina form with alternating tipped fractional sheets has been used by hundreds of artists for unique and printed works. Thousands of schoolchildren are now taught this form every day.
Book Art has developed
into a diverse field that includes fine press bookmakers like Andrew
Hoyem, Diarists like Raymond
Holbert, and authors who use photocopy machines to make books, like Sharon
Davids was one of the first to switch from letterpress to computers
to make book art. Many authors are using ancient book forms to express
contemporary ideas, like Edna
Lazaron's use of the scroll in a jar for a work on terrorism.
Alternative book structures that are metaphoric or sculptural in their
construction may employ several printing processes in one work, as in
Clarissa T. Sligh's What's
Happening With Momma? Material as metaphor is also used
in miniature books, such as Jo Anna Poehlmann's Drawings
in a Nutshell.
At the same time as I was starting the CBA, Terry Belanger was organizing the Book Arts Press at Columbia University's library school. We had different missions that had some overlap. Where Terry was oriented to preserving traditional book crafts and the techniques of fine bookmaking in an academic environment, the CBA
mission was to bring together contemporary artists and artisans in a public workspace,
encourage cross-pollination of ideas and techniques, encourage collaborations,
provide artists and small/fine press publishers with training and facilities in which to produce their work,
mount exhibitions of contemporary and historical book art, and publish journals and exhibition catalogs to expand the public awareness of book art. In September of 1974 the
Center for Book Arts opened in a storefront at 15 Bleecker Street in Manhattan.
not specifically a book art
Studio Workshop in
Rosendale, NY, founded by four
women artists in 1974,
provides facilities for
papermaking and printmaking, and
has been an important sponsor of
artist book projects. In
Rochester, NY The Visual
Studies Workshop, a media
studies school, has
produced over 400 artist's books
since the early 1970's at The
Visual Studies Press, under the
direction of Joan Lyons. Joan is
also editor of the 1984 classic,
Artists' Books: A Critical Anthology and Source
In the late 70's I had a visit from Barbara Lazarus Metz, a CBA artist member from Chicago who wanted to start a center there. She co-founded Artist Book Works in a storefront, with a letterpress shop, bindery and exhibits. That eventually merged and became
The Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper
Arts, which is now directed by book artist Bill Drendel.
There are many outstanding programs now producing book artists. Among them are those of John Risseeuw at Arizona State University, Steve Miller at the University of Alabama, Kitty Maryatt at Scripps College, and Kathy Walkup at Mills College. Ed Colker started many programs, including those at SUNY Purchase and The Cooper Union in New York City. He also updated and expanded the program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which had been host to important book artists in the late 1960's. Kim Merker established a strong program at the University of Iowa, connected to the Writers' Workshop and the Typographic Lab run by Kay Amertand. There are many more.
John Cole took a different direction in 1977
as the first Director of The
Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. It now has at least
42 affiliated centers nationwide, that promote literacy and book awareness. Not intended as workspace facilities, they have a broader mandate and work with regional partners to reach the
The Washington, D.C. area is served by Pyramid Atlantic in Riverdale, MD, which has been active since 1981. Artist Helen C. Frederick is the Founder and Executive Artistic Director. Pyramid Atlantic is serving as the owner, developer and manager of a new center: The Site for Electronic Media, Art and Technology (SEMAT) in downtown Silver Spring, MD.
In the late 1980's the Library and Research Center of The National Museum of Women in the Arts started mounting an annual Book as Art exhibit. Most museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, regarded book art a subcategory of library research rather than as curatorial art. Clive Phillpot, the MOMA Librarian, purchased the Franklin Furnace Artist Book Collection in 1993, shortly before he left that position.
1995 Steven Clay's Granary
Books published The Century of Artists' Books
by artist Johanna Drucker and
Artists Books: A
Critical Survey of the
Literature.. Though not
about the Book Art movement,
they extend the study of
Artist's Books begun by Joan
Lyons. Specific to this topic is the 2005 Granary publication of
Betty Bright's No
Longer Innocent: Book Art in America 1960-1980.
Contact Minsky Please let me know if there are any corrections or additions.