Photos from the Show and Bestow Opening

Essays from the Show and Bestow Catalog

  •   Ray English  
  •   Karen Lightner  
  •   Lynne Farrington  
  •   Ruth Hughes  

home virtual exhibit catalog purchase exhibition virutal exhibit exhibition
Ray English
Azariah Smith Root Director of Libraries
Oberlin College

It has been exciting and deeply gratifying to witness the development of this collection of artists' books that honors Ruth Hughes, Oberlin College class of 1985. When Ruth first shared with me the idea for the collection - including the fact that it would be donated to the Oberlin College Library - neither of us guessed the magnitude it would eventually attain. I watched in amazement over several months as reports came in about the steadily growing number of titles. The final total for the collection is extraordinary: 100 books donated by 79 book artists!

The Ruth Hughes Collection of Artists' Books is a wonderful addition to Oberlin's Clarence Ward Art Library. It joins an extensive collection of artists' books already held by the library that Ruth herself has helped to build over almost two decades of service on the acquisitions committee of the Friends of the Oberlin College Library.

Oberlin will be exhibiting the collection from April 5 to June 4, 2010 and we will also mount a complementary online exhibition. We are especially pleased that the opening celebration of the collection - scheduled for Friday, April 9 - will feature a lecture by Johanna Drucker, an internationally known expert in book studies and author of The Century of Artists' Books, the first book-length study of artists' books as a twentieth-century art form.

On behalf of Oberlin College I want to express warm and heartfelt thanks to the many people who have made the Ruth Hughes Collection of Artists' Books and this catalog possible. Our gratitude extends first of all to Ruth herself who has long been an engaged and supportive alumna of Oberlin and a very special friend of our library. We are also especially appreciative of the efforts of Ruth's friend and colleague Alice Austin - herself a well-known book artist - who conceived with Ruth the idea for the collection, issued the call to artists, and was instrumental in the creation of this catalog.

Finally, Oberlin is indebted to all of the artists who have donated their works and to the other contributors to the collection. Our college is enormously fortunate to be the recipient of your generosity. I hope all of you will take ongoing satisfaction in the fact that your books are coming to a community where they will be used, enjoyed, and treasured for many, many years to come.

home virtual exhibit catalog purchase exhibition virutal exhibit exhibition
Karen Lightner
Head, Art Department and
Curator, Print & Picture Collection Free Library of Philadelphia

When Alice Austin asked me if the Free Library could host Show and Bestow as the Philadelphia venue for the exhibition, I answered yes without hesitation. Ruth Hughes is a highly respected librarian in the Philadelphia rare book world and while I was saddened to hear of her illness, I was pleased to be able to play a part in this celebration of her life. The books donated for the collection are a marvelous cross-section of the various kinds of work being produced by book artists today. The exhibition was stunning and we enjoyed every minute of its presence here. Oberlin is very lucky to be on the receiving end of this marvelous collection.

home virtual exhibit catalog purchase exhibition virutal exhibit exhibition


Lynne Farrington
Curator of Printed Books
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
University of Pennsylvania

Sometimes the stars align, and everything comes together in ways that no one could ever have imagined. Such is the case with this collection, formed through the generosity of Ruth Hughes's colleagues and friends, and friends of friends, the many talented book artists who freely shared their extraordinary work.

What do you do when a good friend and colleague gets sick? This was the quandary Alice Austin found herself in when she received the news that Ruth's cancer, which had been in remission, had returned in a more serious form. Alice was determined to do something for Ruth that she and others could enjoy and participate in. Alice knew that Ruth was an active member of the Friends of the Oberlin College Library and also that Ruth was interested in artists' books, so she put two and two together, with amazing results.

While we are powerless to control many things in our lives, we are not powerless in how we react to them. Having a terminal illness can be isolating, something that is uncomfortable to reveal, often in part because we don't want to be treated differently from before, because we want to maintain a "normal" life. Even so, when we can speak and share both the bad and the good with others, the exchange often proves beneficial for both the teller and the listener. But finding a way to share the news can be difficult. One way is to have another focus, something outside ourselves that draws us together in a positive light. This collection is just such a focus, not only for Alice and Ruth but also for the many artists who have donated their work to this collection. The reasons for their choices varysome sent what they considered their best work or created new works, while others sought out works that resonated for them with Ruth's situation. The response to Alice's request has been overwhelming, and says as much about Alice, herself a book artist, as it does about Ruth.

When I was asked to write this introduction, I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to look at so many artists' books. I have been collecting artists' books for my own institution for nearly a decade, and always find it difficult to meet creative book artists without adding at least one of their works to the collection. I like to consider what I do for my institution to be collecting a representative sampling of what's being done. Like most librarians, I don't collect them just to hide them away. They come out again and again, for exhibitions, for classes, for researchers, and sometimes just for fun. The beauty of this collection is that it will be shown at and bestowed upon Oberlin College, where it can play these many roles for years to come.

Not surprisingly, some book artists and donors, in choosing what to give, clearly intended to speak to Ruth directly. One example is Patty Hammarstedt's 1:7, with its reduced-size reproduction of a mammography x-ray in a film envelope - its title refers to the commonly cited statistic that one in seven women in this country will have breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. Another is Julia Miller's effective object HEALING ART powerful medicine, with its hand-colored linoleum cuts of guardian angels and guardian patterns drawn from Ethiopian healing scrolls. One can see this too in Remains, by Laura Beyer, a work that explores through words and etchings the remains (bird's nests, seeds, stems, bones) left behind in the natural world after the death of the individual, be it flora or fauna.

The most extraordinary book in this category, and arguably in the entire collection, is Dolph Smith's beautiful Ruth's Journey. A unique book made especially for Ruth, Ruth's Journey nonetheless transcends the personal to speak to the journey we all must face. Smith chooses the paper airplane as a metaphor for life. The airplane comes into existence by being cut from the paper that constitutes the pages of the book. Beginning as blank pages, the plane slowly takes shape, first as cuts in the paper of the pages, then as folds. Finally the plane is released from the page that gave it form and has an independent life, traveling on and through the pages that follow, changing color from blue to red as it travels on its final journey into the heavens. The front board of the binding is a glass window through which one sees a watercolor scene of a blue sky with clouds. On the glass is etched a paper airplane, which casts its shadow on the background.

The range of formats, content, and materials in the Hughes collection is impressive. There are many different styles of accordion, or concertina books, including pieces like Word Ruler, a work by Aimee Lee about measuring one's experience of the world with words, and Who We Are, by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art, which uses an accordion folder to contain the contributions of the various artists. Others, such as Melanie Mowinski's East Fork: Into Denali, with its pressure-printed paper collages, and Jude Robison's Cellist of Sarajevo, which addresses how the human spirit stays alive in time of war, employ variant flagbook structures. Among the smallest works in the collection are miniature books by Tania BabanLost: One Footed Adult Crow. Reward.and Elizabeth SherMollusca Gastropoda Feverthe latter consisting exclusively of images of snails.

Hedi Kyle plays with collages in Sammelsurium (which translates to medley or jumble), one in a series of unique works, each of which takes as its starting point a reproduction of the previous work in the series. Stephanie Wolf's Snow Star, a hexagonal book which the reader unfolds into a paper snowflake, and Alicia Bailey's Lash Lure and Belladonna, two scathing attacks on the cosmetics industry in the form of a mascara container and a cosmetics case, are examples of how different formats reflect their content. Andrea Krupp's Straightenup and Flyright and High-Flying Dare-Devil are pop-up books which reveal vignettes capturing a moment in time. Karen Lightner's Therapy Tale Blue unfolds in three sections, telling a tale of depression sequentially. Books made in part with hair (Rosemarie Chiarlone's Gone) and clay (Evelyn Eller's Maya Hieroglyphs) reveal how unusual materials can speak to us.

Some books consist simply of images - Ditta Baron Hoeber, Self Portrait; K. Kuster, Italian Landscape; Marilyn R. Rosenberg, Red; and Megan Hughes, Gatherings. Susan Johanknecht's The Transgenic Tale of Lily Goat Gruff and Laura Wait's In the Garden, where the garden referred to is Eden, rewrite the canon in interesting ways. Lynne Avadenka, in By a Thread, retells the stories of Queen Esther and Scheherazade, transcending time and space in the process.

A number of books in the collection examine space and place from different angles. Mary Tasillo's An Atlas of Rooms focuses on shared or inhabited spaces. Thomas Parker Williams and Mary Agnes Williams's Forest employs three distinct formats - woodcut, linocut, and poetry - to reflect on four pinhole photographs of the forest. Michelle Wilson and Marie H. Elin's Infinite Thread takes water as the inspiration for a panorama of the interconnected world of nature. In Susan Viguers's Tiptoe Through the Cosmos, sense emerges out of nonsense and then seems to disappear again, leaving us hanging between the profound and the mundane, between heaven and earth.

Other works want to enumerate, or group like with like. Some do it simply, like Elaine Chu's School Days, which uses a flagbook structure to explore our experience as children learning the different forms that numbers take when written as numerals and as words. Janine Wong uses numbers as the basis of Counting: A Book of Lists, where each number relates to both a category of lists and number of lists themselves. Food is behind the enumeration in J. Gregory Pizzoli's Three Recipes: A Collaborative Effort Towards Greater Satiety, with its recipes for Baklava and the interestingly named Sweet Potato Paradise and Chochipananut Bread. Reflecting a desire to bring together similar words, whether united by form (spelling) or content (meaning), are Susan Weinz's Zooks Too, in which she plays with typography, using the letter Z to create visual and textual delight; Barbara Henry's Casebook, with its list of words containing case or cas; and Elizabeth Curren's Love Gloves 3 for Susan, with its lists of synonyms for words relating to love, like passion and infatuation, bound between a pair of red cotton gardening gloves.

Some of the books are playful, both in form and content, like Alice Austin's Box of Happiness, which encourages us to "eat more pie," and Maryann J. Riker's Renaissance Button Book, with miniature reproductions of images of bellybuttons in Renaissance art, bound with a real button as its front cover. Others are humorous even as they deal with serious topics, such as human frailty in Sarah Nicholls's hilarious The McGinley Paper Company Sample Book of Faults, and love gone sour in Emily Martin's Who, What, Where, When. Nanette Wylde's Gray Matter Gardening: How to Weed Your Mind plays with the genre of self-help books, while Fred Rinne's All My Bands explores the extremes to which humans go to create unique identities for themselves, here through a series of rock bands that are both funny and absurd.

Books dealing clearly with book-related topics include Nancy Nitzberg's A True Depiction of All Manner of the Book Arts and Denise Carbone's Observations on the Caterpillar Stitch: Sewing Card & Instruction Manual. Pat Badt and Rachel Sherk use the form of the bookmark to convey meaning in Bookmarks of the Season, while Daniel Mellis, in If the register, marks are in register explores discordance through the printer's method for ensuring that colors are in alignment on the page. The paper airplane, which serves as a metaphor for our journey through life in Dolph Smith's work, takes on a life of its own in Asa Yoshie's Paper Airplanes.

Some works have clear political messages. Judith Blumberg's work In This Land juxtaposes images of war with images of 1950s domestic tranquility. Kitty Caparella, in The Message, reproduces images of the 9/11 terrorists against a red background on one side of small squares that fold up into an inconspicuous cube. When fully unfolded, Caparella's work takes the form of a swastika, an ancient religious symbol that was turned into a political symbol by the Nazis and fascists, showing how easily religion can be exploited for political purposes. In Witness, Ashlee Weitlauf prints the names of activists on one side of cards and political quotes from those activists on the other. Miriam Schaer explores war from a different angle in The Rules of Engagement, reproducing a series of twenty unique hostess aprons that Schaer created by juxtaposing epigrams from Sun Tsu's The Art of War with images of women. In El muro: The Wall, Eduardo Hernandez Santos captures in revealing photographs the many faces of Cuba's LGBT community, regularly persecuted during Castro's repressive regime.

Others have a spiritual message. Tara O'Brien combined the words ecumenical and ecology to coin the title Ecomenical. The single image that constitutes this work is of trees, lined up much like tombstones in a cemetery, on which new growth appears to have been grafted onto older roots. The work ends with the simple message, "we are not a single seed." Roni Gross, in Spirits of the Woods, unites the spiritual and the natural worlds in the creation of an image of a woman as a tree. In The Book of Ours: divinity without dogma, J. Chadwick Johnson employs the form of the traditional book of hours to create a work in which images and text inform each other and set the stage for contemplation.

It seems fitting to end this introduction by noting two powerful works invoking grandmothers, who are our link between the past and the future, nurturing a new generation while helping the young to remember those who are now gone. Anne Gilman's Nishtdugadacht is a series of black and white images followed by a short text. According to the author, "the text page of the book is a series of translations of the title, a Yiddish word used by my grandmother throughout my childhood as an incantation to ward off harm." Sun Young Kang's beautiful and moving In Honor of My Grandmother's Simple Life recounts her grandmother's life as a road over which she journeys on her way to her ancestors.

home virtual exhibit catalog purchase exhibition virutal exhibit exhibition
Ruth I. Hughes
Feb. 2010

My deepest thanks go to Alice Austin. Show and Bestow was entirely Alice's idea. Alice solicited and received donations; arranged, with Karen Lightner, the exhibition at the Free Library of Philadelphia; and instigated and helped to underwrite the publication of this catalog. Alice worked with her husband, Jon Snyder, designing and editing the catalog; Jon also provided most of the photographs and created a short video of the Philadelphia opening reception. Jon, you have my thanks, too. Lynne Farrington not only contributed her marvelous essay but has been a source of encouragement throughout and also helped to underwrite the publication of this catalog. Thank you so much, Lynne.

The Free Library of Philadelphia, through the auspices of Karen Lightner, allowed us to use their exhibition space for the Philadelphia showing of the collection. I am very grateful for the opportunity to share these wonderful books with my community; with the family members, friends, colleagues, and artists who attended the exhibition. Thanks, Andrea Krupp, for coming up with the apt title Show and Bestow. Jennifer Rosner, and Wendy Woloson installed the exhibition at the Free Library, and I thank them for their time and skill.

I am proud to be a graduate of Oberlin College, and it delights me to be able to present this collection to Oberlin's Clarence Ward Art Library for the use of generations of students. Art Librarian Barbara Prior has offered guidance over the course of the project and will install the Oberlin edition of the exhibition. Thank you, Barbara. Oberlin is part of who I am, and the great librarian, William A. Moffett, who directed the college's libraries when I was a student, partly inspired me to become a librarian. His successor, Ray English, has maintained Dr. Moffett's standards of excellence within the college library and also within the profession of librarianship. I am happy to have continued my connection through the Friends of the Oberlin College Library. I am very grateful to the Friends for the major support they provided to fund the publication of this catalog. Thank you all.