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FLEET LIBRARY | Research Guides

Rhode Island School of Design

Artists' Book Collection at RISD

About Artists' Books

What are artists' books?  

Many complex definitions abound in the literature describing this artistic medium and for resources about artists' books, please see our Library Research Guide on Artists' Books & Bookbinding Techniques.  However, in simple terms they can be defined as books made by artists, or works of art in book form.  

Artists have for decades found the book form a compelling medium for making works of art in order to give voice to their ideas, narratives, or concepts. The physical attributes of books, with their portability, intimacy, interactivity, and time-based sequential elements provide the means for a unique and dynamic personal interaction between artist and audience. Pushing the limits of the printed page and the book as physical object, artists create new integrations of text, image, materials and structural forms. In this digital world, the tactility and physicality of the hand made book provide a rich and engaging hands-on experience. 

Use this guide as a key to unlocking the treasures found in our collection.  Each category represents a sampling of titles and serves as a starting point for exploration. Digital images of some of these titles are available through the RISD Digital Commons.

About the Collection

The Library's collection of artists' books, now numbering over 1,400, began in the mid 1960's with the acquisition of several inexpensive early "multiples" created by Fluxus inspired artists, conceptual artists, and photographers. Books by George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Dieter Rot, Emmett Williams, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Ed Ruscha were among those early titles, many of which were printed offset in black and white and staple bound.

Eventually, books were added to the collection which were more hand-crafted, using traditional printing and printmaking techniques such as letterpress (hand set lead and wooden type), woodcut, linocut, silkscreen, etching, monoprint and photogravure processes. Many books were hand bound in small "Chap Book" or Fine Press editions, which reproduced the poetry or writing of a well known author. 

Many artists began writing their own content, using the book form as a vehicle to convey their ideas with integrated text, image, structure, and materials, creating highly crafted "artisan" books. Books by artists such as Walter Hamady (Perishable Press); Julie Chen (Flying Fish Press); Angela Lorenz; Ruth Laxson (Press 63+); Women's Studio Workshop Press and many more can be found in our collection.  Artists also use handmade paper or other unusual materials and movable elements to create more sculptural book structures that relate physically with the content. These can be found in the work of Carol Barton (Popular Kinetics Press); Judith Hoffman; and Sandra Lopez.

As is evident in the categories found in the tabs on this guide, the wide range and full scope of artists' books in our collection provide an excellent teaching resource.

About Special Collections

Hours:

Monday - Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm.  Other hours by appointment.

How to identify materials in Special Collections:

All materials are in the RISD Library online catalog  and distinguished by call number location prefixes: SPECIAL, SPECIAL OVERSIZE, FLAT FOLIO, LARGE FOLIO, SPECIAL PERIODICAL.

Artists' Books have these location prefixes:  ARTISTS' BOOKS, ARTISTS' BOOKS OVERSIZE, ARTISTS' BOOKS FLAT FOLIO, and ARTISTS' BOOKS RISD.

Access:

Drop-in visits for viewing one or two items are welcome.  For more in depth assistance, please make an appointment.

Duplication Options:

All duplication requests for scanning and photocopies are subject to copyright fair use restrictions and condition of the materials. Readers may take digital photographs, with permission.

Sketching and Note-taking:

Allowed: pencils, sketchbooks, notebooks, paper, laptops, tablets, phones.

Not allowed: pens, markers, colored pencils, charcoal, paint, ink, etc.