New on the Shelf: Rare Books & Artists' Books

September 4, 2018
Elizabeth A Fischbach
title poster for new on the shelf exhibit

New on the Shelf exhibition features rare books & contemporary artists’ books

A new exhibition in Stanford’s Green Library offers a window into recent acquisitions in Special Collections. Books—both manuscript and print—are the focus of the display on the second floor of the Bing Wing, on view September 4, 2018 through January 6, 2019.

Cases in the Peterson Gallery, adjacent to the Special Collections Reading Room, feature rare and antiquarian works acquired for the libraries’ teaching and research collections by Curator of Rare Books John Mustain. Contemporary artists’ books, selected by Director of Special Collections Roberto Trujillo, are displayed in the Munger Rotunda.

New on the Shelf: Rare Books

Volumes chosen for this portion of the show range from the seriously scholarly to the whimsical, and from religious treatises to practical manuals.

Among the scholarly editions are the first Lyonese (1517) edition of Virgil’s collected works; an exhaustive text on Greek architecture by David Le Roy, with sixty engraved plates based on the drawings he made during his tour through Greece in 1754; and a 1505 Italian edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, famous for its woodblock illustrations and previously owned by critic and author John Ruskin, who signed it and noted that it was “A good book but never used.”

Books that were used, and often, include a 1567 edition of Aristotle’s works on natural philosophy, its margins densely annotated by an unknown Renaissance reader; the first pirated edition of the highly popular A Short Treatise On the Game of Whist by Edmond Hoyle, published on the sly in London in 1743; and a bound manuscript volume of household accounts for Queen Caroline, Consort of George II, King of Great Britain, 1683–1737 during the last year of her life, which provide a detailed and interesting narrative of royal living. (It shows, for example, the monthly cost of ant eggs for the raising of pheasants in Bushey Park—three pounds and ten shillings—and upkeep fees for the gardens, including payment to a mole catcher.)

As Mustain notes in his introduction, the rare books in the exhibition “represent a wide variety of scholarly disciplines, materials produced in very different eras, and in a wide variety of locations.” In addition, they represent a wide variety of sizes and purposes. 

One of the largest and most colorful rare books in the exhibition, Designs for the Pavillon [sic] at Brighton, published in London ca. 1822, occupies display real estate worthy of its subject. Measuring just shy of two feet head to tail, it features the work of renowned eighteenth-century British landscape designer Humphrey Repton, (1752–1818), who designed grounds and gardens for the Prince of Wales, later George IV. By contrast, a tiny edition of the work of first-century B.C. Roman poets Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius roughly the size of a business card is one of a series of “Diamond Classics” issued in London by Pickering. The series takes its name from the miniscule “diamond” (4.5-point) type Pickering used to set and print the books. Incidentally, the pocket Catullus was issued in 1824, within two years of Repton’s massive Designs, displayed in a nearby case.

Rounding out the rare book selections are an illuminated copy of the Psalms in Latin, a series of emblem books published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a pair of lavishly illustrated volumes by English illustrator and engraver John Boydell, and two manuscripts penned by women: an illustrated collection of original stories, poems, and a play by Sophia Mellish (1862),  and a copy of the Rule of the Poor Clares (Milan, fifteenth century), the earliest documented example of a rule for nuns written by a woman.

High Street, a whimsical book of illustrations by Eric Ravilious, paired with text by his friend Jim Richards (London: Country Life Ltd., 1938) depicts shop windows in early twentieth-century London, with an eye for those with Victorian visual appeal. The facts that the lithographic stones used to print the book were destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942 and that Ravilious, a captain in the Royal Marines, was killed in action that same year contribute pathos to the book’s iconic stature.

Notes Mustain, “These items highlight both the vitality of our acquisition program and the wide range of materials still available from the antiquarian book trade. Several of these items have already been used in class sessions and by our faculty, graduate students, and other scholars; this is especially rewarding, as a major focus of our acquisitions is curriculum, tailoring purchases to current academic needs and interests. 

New on the Shelf: Artists’ Books

Contemporary works of fine press printing and artists’ books populate the display cases in the Munger Rotunda. Trujillo’s overall selection is international in scope, representing artists from Mexico, Cuba, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and the U.S. The subject matter of individual books ranges from literary to historical to predominantly visual.  

In the tradition of protest art, photographer Lorena Velázquez’s Cuarenta y tres (México: El Taller de la Lorraine, 2015), is a graphic reflection on the disappearance and murder of 43 students in Mexico in September of 2014. Boundaries, with poems and words by Richard Blanco and photographs by Jacob Hessler (Maine: Two Ponds Press, 2017) is a collaboration between poet and photographer to “investigate the boundaries of race, gender, class, and ethnicity, among others.” “Declaration of Interdependence” opens the book, pairing a prose poem with a photograph of the Stars and Stripes planted in a wide open field. 

In another collaboration, book artist and musician Megan Adie, Cuban master printer Hanoi Pérez, and artist and printmaker Carrie Ann Plank collaborated on Audibility/Audibilidad, (Havana and San Francisco: 2017), a discussion of “the sound of the state of being in Havana, Cuba, in three languages, visual and written.” The text by Pérez and Adie, in Spanish and English, and the graphics by Plank, geometric abstractions relief printed and screen printed in white and black ink on saturated red paper, investigate the vernacular concepts Buscar (to search), Esperar (to wait), Resolver (to solve problems) and Querer (to want). 

In Lac des pleurs | Lake of Tears: Report from Lake Pepin (Stockholm, Wisconsin: Midnight Paper Sales, 2015), woodsman, artist, and fine press printer Gaylord Schanilec pairs historical accounts of this widening of the upper Mississippi River written by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century explorers and others with multicolored wood engravings of the region’s wildlife, printed in part on vintage paper from the long-defunct Barcham Green mill.   

Julie Chen’s sculptural Bitter Chocolate explores the history, mythology, and popular consumption of cacao, supplemented by her own narrative about a fictional goddess of chocolate. Rendered in a complex accordion format called “Jacob’s Ladder,” the book’s form—allowing four possible readings—as well as its texts show that there are multiple sides to every story.

Books, and artists’ books in particular, must be handled to be fully appreciated. This is especially the case with Tim Mosely’s Kanage Pholu Wanda (Australia: Silverwattle Bookfoundry, 2014), which is displayed behind glass in the exhibition in teasing defiance of its essence and purpose. To truly experience this book composed of torn and layered multicolored relief prints that reference the rainforest, Mosely instructs, the reader must be able to touch it, employing the term “haptic touch” to describe “feeling over, across, and around surfaces to become acquainted with content that the eye cannot sense.”

All of the books in the show—both antiquarian and contemporary—exist to be read, pored over, held, and experienced sequentially. Presenting them locked inside display cases is a necessary injustice in a public space; the exhibit stands as an enticing glimpse into what’s new on the book side of Stanford’s Special Collections.

—Becky Fischbach

 Exhibitions Designer Special Collections, Stanford Libraries

 efischba@stanford.edu; 650-725-1020

Note: Exhibit cases in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda are illuminated daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to call 650-723-0931 or visit http://library.stanford.edu/libraries_collections/hours_locations.html to confirm hours.

The exhibition is free and open to the public; first-time visitors and those without Stanford ID must register using a government-issued ID at either of the entrances to Green Library before entering the building.

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