Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2013


The new science center at New London Hall. Photo by Bob Macdonnell

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What is a book?

Artist's books push the limits of the form

By Tom Owen and Lisa Brownell

Photos by Ron Cowie

Even in an era of digital readers, the word “book” still conjures up, for most people, a common object: a stack of papers, usually rectangular — printed, written or blank — bound together along one side and set between protective covers.

The genre known as artist's books challenges these preconceptions. Each one is a work of art that compels the reader to reconsider the form of the book as well as the content. Artist's books remind us that a printed book is not merely a repository of information: It is an object with physical attributes that contribute to our awareness of the embedded ideas, words and images.

Few places are better suited to housing artist's books than a liberal arts college where students are encouraged to question the definitions and demarcations that shape their world. Over the past decade, the College has made these books one focus of its acquisitions, with support from an endowed fund created by alumni to honor former Special Collections Librarian Brian Rogers. The Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives now contains 185 examples, including the four highlighted here (use arrows to see more):

Professor of Art Andrea Wollensak uses the collection as a teaching tool for “ART 301: Sketchbooks and Artist Books,” in which students explore contemporary interpretations of the book as an art object. After introducing the collection, Wollensak will often assign each student to select one book, study it in depth and then present it to the class. As a final project, students create their own books.

“The collection showcases a wide range for students to study — from traditional codex, letterpress printing and engraving to experimental book forms exploring non-linear structures and using unexpected materials,” Wollensak says. “There are also excellent examples of self-publishing techniques in digital printing, screen printing and collage.”

View a slideshow of other artist's books from the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives

Watch a video of Professor of Art Andrea Wollensak discussing artist's books

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