Exquisite. Engrossing. Endearing.
They’re called “artist’s books,” but that appellation cannot begin to convey their charm, their wit, their intricacies — or the level of imagination that dwells within their creators.
Through Sept. 19, Selby Gallery on the campus of the Ringling College of Art and Design is offering a taste of the approximately 400 artists’ books the college’s Verman Kimbrough Memorial Library has been collecting since the 1980s. The exhibit is titled, Rare Finds.
These are books with very limited editions — some are one of a kind.
The copy of Maureen Cummins’ Ghost Diary is No. 15 of 25. Mary Elena Siff’s The Eye Book has no “siblings.”
Their titles and descriptions in notes on the show, provided at the gallery’s entryway, cannot begin to convey what you will see.
Ghost Diary, for example, is made of glass. “This is a major work, so we are very lucky to have this,” Sarah Carter, research services librarian at the college, told participants during a recent director’s tour. “This has become a real classic.”
Kathleen List, director of library services, explained that the only way to store the book is to stand it on its ends. The book itself comprises a letter from 1807, written by a father to his children on the anniversary of their mother’s death.
The book includes vintage photographic negatives.
As it turns out, the writer of the letter, Col. Rhey, was one of List’s ancestors, and his letter helped fill in some gaps in the family genealogy.
The book, List said simply, “holds special meaning for me as well as being a fascinating artist’s concept …”
In the same case with Ghost Diary is a much more compact book, Susan Jaworski-Stranc’s And So You Want to Be a Fisherman. At 7.5 inches by 7 inches by 2 inches, its brilliant colors are in no way obscured by the wide-mouth black netting that surrounds it.
The book comes with its own fish hook, prompting Carter to point out that she has to warn students to be careful of the sharp prongs on that hook when they handle the book.
On a wall on the opposite side of the gallery, the print is so tiny on Miranda Maher’s After Reasonable Research, Carter noted that she jokingly tells students their young eyes can see what most people need a magnifying glass to read.
Maher’s book chronicles every declared war from the beginning of civilization through 2006. The periods of peacetime are marked by perpendicular lines amid the tiny type, Carter added.
The book was created on refined paper with gold leaf, she noted — a thing of beauty to contrast with its dark subject matter.
After Reasonable Research is on accordion, folded paper, 88 inches by 8.25 inches when it is open, as it is in the show.
Among the more complex acquisitions in the show is Julie Chen’s Personal Paradigms: A Game of Human Experience. To call it a merely an artist’s book is to call Picasso merely a sketch artist.
Chen, who owns her own press, Carter pointed out, issues one new title a year. In Personal Paradigms, Carter explained, Chen wanted to craft a piece with which the viewer could interact. It has one game board, one ledger book, one Rules of Play, one spinner, one “Self disc,” eight “life markers,” 15 metal arrows, 40 text strips, three colored pencils, one pencil sharpener and one die, among other pieces.
Closed, it is 11.02 inches by 15.35 inches by 4.27 inches.
“We’re instructed to record our own diagrams as we play the game,” Carter said. So far, however, she said, no student had written a diagram.
“The things that come out are rather personal,” Carter conceded.
Mostly collectors and libraries buy artists’ books, Carter explained at the outset of the tour. The average cost of such a book, she added, is $4,000.
Moreover, Carter said, “What you see today will really challenge your notion of the ‘book.’”
Considering the breadth of themes and materials adorning the gallery, her comment was quite the understatement.
Along with artists’ books, “Rare Finds” includes an exhibit of 27 photos from a collection of more than 40 photographs by Soviet artists, donated to Ringling College by Dr. Sarah Hoffe and Daniel Hoffe.
The black-and-white subjects are a stark contrast to the colorful books, but equally worthy of a visitor’s engagement.
Rare Finds continues through Sept. 19 at Selby Gallery on the Ringling College campus. For more information, visit www.ringling.edu/selbygallery. The gallery is located at 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.