This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.
Electronic Highways

Book arts

Published: April 14, 2011

Book arts covers a lot of ground: the book as art object, the art contained within books, books as components of artworks, creations inspired by books.

Rare & Special Books in UB’s Special Collections contains such treasures as a 1590 publication of “The Faerie Queen” by Edmund Spenser and works representing early luminaries of the arts and crafts movement. The University Libraries has two copies of “The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems” by William Morris; one is bound with original watercolor illustrations painted in 1897 by Glasgow artists Frances Macdonald McNair and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

Special Collections also includes mail art, poetry broadsides and chapbooks, and zines—many found in the catalog by searching with the subject heading Artists’ books.

Kelmscott Press published works of great beauty—poetry, myth and fables—between 1891 and 1898, some by members of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. William Morris, known as the father of the arts and crafts movement, founded the press on the principals of creating beautiful works using handcrafted materials, emulating the page decoration of medieval illumination and the work of early printers. The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library recently exhibited its amazing collection of Kelmscott editions in The Ideal Book: William Morris and the Kelmscott Press, including “The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer” (1896), lavishly illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.

Moleskines are available for purchase just about everywhere. These little portable notebooks have been around—with or without that name—for more than a century. Though simply clumps of pages bound to impermanent covers, they have been prized by the unknown and the famous alike. Such notables as Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso kept them handy to capture a quick thought or sketch that may have shown up later in a masterpiece. You, too, can do this. Moleskine book art is not new, but social networking has fed this creative fever. Galleries of Moleskine artists’ works are found on Facebook pages and in such Flickr groups as Moleskinerie, Moleskine Collage and moly_x.

Blogs and websites devoted to Moleskine art abound, such as the very creative Skine Art. More commercial, Moleskinerie has news about products interwoven with interviews with artists and photos of their creations.

New Yorker cover art is well known for wit and style, and has long attracted a variety of artists using myriad media. Among them is Jorge Colombo, who bought an iPhone in 2009 and started playing with an app called Brushes. Some of his covers are (literally) illustrated here.

Books become the raw material of sculpted art. Altered books mashed, sliced, shredded, gouged, glued, fanned and stacked can be found in galleries, museums and private collections, as well as celebrated in cyberspace. Altered books were among those featured in the exhibit Special Choice: Book Arts 1 & 2 at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center in Brooklyn last December.

Book arts also means book making: bookbinding, typography, papermaking and printing. The Museum of Printing History in Houston, the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan and the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative (WNYBAC) in Buffalo are among organizations that offer workshops, exhibits and other events. “Poems and Pictures: A Renaissance in the Art of the Book (1946-1981),” which just ended its run at WNYBAC, featured mostly works from UB’s Poetry Collection. WNYBAC recently hosted the Edible Book Festival, where, after judging, sweet and savory entries were consumed by all present.

—Marie Peterson, University Libraries