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Artist's Books

Luise Poulton, the managing curator of Marriott Library’s Rare Books Collection at the University of Utah, frequently lectures to students and community groups about various aspects of the history of “the book.” But she won’t tell you what her favorite book is.

The Rare Books Collection consists of about 80,000 pieces, ranging from Sumerian clay tablets to 21st century artists’ books. The collection even includes a section from the Gutenberg bible.

“I would comfortably say it’s the strongest library collection of artist’s books between the Mississippi and California, not including Austin, Texas,” says Luise. “The [Marriott Library’s] collecting has been going on for almost 30 years now.”

So, what is an artist book? In short, it’s art in book form. According to the Smithsonian Institute of Libraries: “It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object. A book that only contains text is simply a book; even if authored by an artist. … What truly makes an artist’s book is the artist’s intent, and artists have used the book as inspiration in a myriad of ways and techniques, from traditional to the experimental.”

Luise isn’t sure how many artist’s books are in the Rare Books Collection. “I start working my way back into more historical books and making the argument that they’re also artist’s books.”

An artist book can include hand-sewn masks or hand-made galley boxes, silk screen prints or etchings, pressed plants, a magnifying glass, or baseball card — all intended as a part of the book’s story.

One of the books in the collection, titled DOC/UNDOC, includes a large hand-made portable aluminum case that is intended to be opened and set up as a shrine. The piece includes music, video, critical commentary, text, relief prints set into an accordion binding, and other objects.

Some of the artists books in the Marriott Library’s Rare Book Collection cost upwards of 15,000 dollars and are truly works of art.

For more information about the collection visit Open Book, Rare Book’s blog or visit the Rare Books webpage.