artist book

What the heck is an artist book anyway? by Alisa Banks


I’ve been making artist books for years and know of many others who make them. However, our community compared to that of say, writers, sculptors, and painters in the general population is quite small.

Often, I am asked to define what an artist book is. Most know what a painting is, what a sculpture is, what a novel is…at least in general terms. An artist book can be all of those things and more! In many cases, one can touch an artist book even if it’s with gloves. This is very different from experiencing other types of art and the artist can manipulate these qualities to enhance the viewer’s experience.

Many have attempted to distill the definition of an artist book. Suffice it to say an artist book can consist of any of the following:

  • A writing encased in a fine binding

  • A bound collection of images or writing

  • A sculpture made from a book or books

  • An old book that has been altered - ex. painted, folded, cut - to enhance the original meaning

  • A box with papers featuring unique writing.

  • A book form constructed with unconventional materials such as plastic, plants, soil etc.

This is certainly not an all-inclusive list. Most artist books have a sculptural component and text, but not all. Most are portable and meant to be touched, but not all. The image above is of Continuum, which I also consider an artist book that is in the form of a quilt. The lines between the book and other forms of art are indeed blurred. Books can be made of textiles, tiles, or plants. There are even edible books!



Exploding the Codex by Alisa Banks

Book art exhibition and lecture at LSU this fall.

Book art exhibition and lecture at LSU this fall.


Poule Aye will be featured in Exploding the Codex at LSU Libraries Special Collections in Baton Rouge August 19 – December 13, 2019 at Hill Memorial Library. Celebrated artist Julie Chen of Flying Fish Press will present a talk at 5pm, Thursday, October 24 at the LSU School of the Arts. The exhibition and lecture are free and open to the public.

Poule Aye consists of one page, part of which is folded to form a “shotgun” style sharecropper’s home and part of which contains a “field” of text. A backyard chicken coop and be viewed through the front door when the book is open. The façade is an image of one of the homes that my dad lived in as a boy. Poule Aye examines ones relationship with place and identity. I am happy that this edition of Poule Aye is so near Ventress, LA, the place that inspired the story.


Skillman Library at Lafayette College by Alisa Banks


Lafayette College is located in Easton, PA, about an hour or so from Philadelphia. The rare book collection of Skillman Library at Lafayette is home to over 15,000 volumes of printed objects including works about its namesake, the Marquis de Lafayette, slavery and abolition, angling, and artist books. The collection also includes early editions of works by Stephen Crane, who spent a semester at the college, and miniature books.

The artist book collection is diverse, with subjects including but not limited to the environment, books on race relations, alphabet books, books featuring photography, and books on women and gender. There appears to be limited on-line access to the artist books - but one can view the holdings in the on-line catalog. I was able to pull up my book Rosenwald, which is in their collection. Skillman also does a good job explaining their collections, how to search the collection, and discussing visiting etiquette. Skillman library holds exhibits of their collection and announces them on-line. Synopses of past exhibits can also be viewed.

I wish I’d known about Skillman Library years ago when my sister and her family lived outside of Philadelphia. I really enjoyed my visits there, and if ever there’s an occasion to return, I will be planning a visit to Easton!


The Crouch Library at Baylor University by Alisa Banks


I am very fortunate to have books in several collections. The first collection I will introduce is the collection at the Crouch Fine Arts Library (CFAL) at Baylor University in Waco, TX. The Crouch Fine Arts Library houses the music and visual arts collections and contains approximately 75,000 audio and video recordings; 95,000 music scores; and 50,000 books on the arts. CFAL's special collections include rare and unique materials dating from as early as the 11th century. I am not sure of the size of the collection, but images of many of the books are on-line. They’ve posted several clear up-close images of each book and from the looks of it, the collection is very diverse.

The library has a very informative page discussing what an artist book is, a link to images, and how to visit. I am very happy that my books Armoire, Emergence, Nan, and Cotton Heritage are housed in their collections. I confess that I have not visited the collection at Baylor in person, but plan to do so before the year is out - I can tell it will definitely be worth the drive and can’t wait to tell you about it!


Where and How to View Artist Books by Alisa Banks

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Artist Books

Where to view them


Welcome to my blog! This post discusses artist book collections, including how to visit a collection and what to expect. In the next few posts, I’ll introduce collections that house my work along with other '“bookish” topics.

There are many avenues to viewing artist books including exhibits and private and public collections. Many rare book collections include artist books and some libraries have have digitized their collections for on-line viewing. On-line viewing is very helpful as a supplement, but to get a real feel for the work, one should consider visiting a collection in person. Visiting an artist book collection may be one of the few times one is able to touch the art! Most collections are accessible to the general public for free. Always contact the library in advance for an appointment, though.

Artist book collections vary in size and scope. Some libraries house multiple collections, each with a specific focus. Other collections are more diverse. More information about a library’s collection is usually available on-line.

Because they house rare and often expensive work, there are a few basic ground rules when visiting a rare book room, though these can vary with each facility. One can expect to part with personal belongings such as handbags, backpacks, and umbrellas before entering the viewing area. Usually, a locker of some sort is provided. If you’d like to take notes, you may be provided with a pencil or you may bring your own, but ink pens are generally forbidden as ink marks can cause permanent damage. Many libraries will provide disposable cotton gloves for handling the work.

If you are considering starting a collection of your own, visiting a rare book room can be a good introduction to a variety of types of artist books. Or, perhaps your collection starts with a book you “can’t live without!”