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Beautiful Books Made by Hand

Beautiful Books Made by Hand

Students have created an incredible range of projects for the Fleet Library at RISD’s annual Artists’ Book Exhibition.

CONTEMPLATION by Ann Motonaga MArch 18 renders the cellular structure of wood in laser-etched Plexiglas.

For RISD’s third annual Student Artists’ Book Juried Contest and Exhibition, students from every department have pushed the boundaries of the medium to explore topics ranging from the personal to the political, historic and scientific. The 30 undergraduate and graduate students who entered this year’s competition created one-of-a-kind books using handmade paper, textiles, laser-cut Plexiglas, ceramics – even unwashed bed sheets – to convey their messages.

“We’re generally looking for poignant entries that explore the medium and make a powerful statement. We also gravitate towards books whose content and structure reflect one another.”Special Collections Librarian Claudia Covert

“We intentionally leave the definition of artists’ books open,” says Special Collections Librarian Claudia Covert, who organizes the annual event at the Fleet Library at RISD. “We’re generally looking for poignant entries that explore the medium and make a powerful statement. We also gravitate towards books whose content and structure reflect one another.”

For example, Contemplation, a book by Architecture grad student Ann Motonaga MArch 18, explores the cellular structure of wood using vellum, basswood and laser-etched Plexiglas rectangles reminiscent of microscope slides. A number of other science-oriented submissions were originally created for an Experimental and Foundation Studies class on GMOs taught by Martie Holmer, with each taking a different approach to the narrative and materials used to present it.

The library’s extraordinary Artists’ Book Collection – which now totals approximately 2,000 volumes and is steadily growing – is a centerpiece of the Special Collections area, which also includes rare books and periodicals dating back to the 16th century and illuminating everything from landscape architecture to American typography.

“Faculty members from various departments regularly make use of the Artists’ Book Collection,” Covert explains. “They’ll either ask us to assemble an assortment of books relevant to the class they’re teaching or – particularly for smaller studios classes – schedule a more general tour of Special Collections.”

Covert and fellow librarians Ariel Bordeaux and Sarah Dylla used great care in examining each of this year’s entries, some of which were submitted in elaborate cartons. In addition to being on view at the library through May 12, each of the books will be photographed and archived in digital form, and winning entries – to be announced at the official opening reception on February 22 – will become part of the permanent collection.

Local letterpress printer Dan Wood 94 PR and fellow Printmaking faculty member Simonette Quamina are joining multidisciplinary designer Janine Wong, a frequent guest critic in the Architecture department, as jurors in deliberating this year’s entries to determine the winning books. Cash purchase prizes of $450 for first place, $375 for second and $250 for third will go to the three student artists. A fourth student will earn a gift membership to the American Printing History Association for an entry of note.

Previous winners have continued to create noteworthy artists’ books and some have taught bookmaking classes at RISD, Covert notes. Colombian grad student Vanessa Nieto Romero MFA 17 PR, for example, whose acetate-and-Plexiglas Absent Body took third prize last year, went on to teach a popular Wintersession studio called simply The Artists’ Book.

In addition, the Special Collections librarians are working with students and faculty members in Graphic Design and Illustration in planning a book fair on campus for the first time this year. (un)bound: 2017, scheduled for Saturday, April 8, will feature this year’s winning artists’ books along with zines and more experimental publishing projects created by members of the RISD community and other Providence makers.

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