POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — The Vassar College libraries have become an official repository for the collection of artists’ books produced by the non-profit Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW), which since 1979 has grown to become the largest publisher in the country of these hand printed and hand bound works. The Women’s Studio Workshop is based in nearby Rosendale, NY, and its artists’ books gain their first Hudson Valley archive with this Vassar partnership.
While there is no fixed definition of an artist’s book, it is always a work of art in itself, created for its own sake. The objects incorporate a wide range of media, which at the Women’s Studio Workshop may include hand drawn, sewn, and painted images, handmade paper, letterpress, silkscreen, photography, intaglio, and ceramics. Artists have produced 160 of these books with the WSW, through annually juried international competitions.
The workshop’s first shipment of 22 artists’ books was recently made to the Special Collections section of the Vassar libraries, which houses all of the college’s extensive rare book holdings, including a number of private press and artists’ books. Vassar will acquire nearly the entire existing body of the publisher’s books over the next five years, and simultaneously Special Collections will add the new books WSW produces each year.
“Our publishing legacy is appropriately placed at Vassar College because of its outstanding library, origin as a women’s college, academic prominence, and important role in the region,” said Tatana Kellner, WSW Artistic Director and co-founder. “For Vassar, we see this archive as an unparalleled teaching collection because of the different kinds of media, format, binding, and structure that the books display. The books are also a record of the political and sociological concerns of women since 1979, and they document the artistic activities of the longest continually operating, women’s alternative arts space in the country.”
Vassar was the first college founded with an original art collection and gallery, helping to establish the college’s curricular standard for studying primary sources. That’s a key part of why Vassar’s Ron Patkus, Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections, wanted the college to archive the Women’s Studio Workshop’s catalogue of limited edition books.
“Vassar students and faculty are gaining access to an important publishing collection from a local institution, while the Women’s Studio Workshop gains a haven in the Hudson Valley for its artists’ books,” said Patkus. “At the same time, the college is very excited to make all of these exceptional and varied works more accessible to our region’s artists and broader public.”
Artists’ books were also the subjects of the recent Vassar exhibition Off the Shelf: New Forms in Contemporary Artists’ Books, curated by Mary-Kay Lombino of the college’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (October 6-December 17, 2006). Asked about the books published by the Women’s Study Workshop, Lombino praised them as, “A rare collection in terms of its scope, range, depth, and quality.”
Lombino also explained that, “Having these artists’ books enter our library’s Special Collections, will allow them to be accessed very easily, without the restrictions that are inherent in any art museum collection. As a result, the artists will gain a large audience, along with being newly associated with a well-respected institution of higher education.”
The extensive environmental controls that regulate temperature and humidity in the Special Collections section of the Vassar libraries ensure the long-term preservation of sensitive materials. Over the past eight years, the Women’s Studio Workshop has also established repositories for its artists’ books at Yale University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Indiana University, the University of Delaware, and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
ABOUT THE WOMEN’S STUDIO WORKSHOP
The Women’s Studio Workshop is a visual arts organization with specialized studios in printmaking, hand papermaking, ceramics, letterpress printing, photography, and . WSW’s grants, fellowships, residencies, and internships allow artists to work in their studios or to learn new skills through a Summer Arts Institute. The non-profit encourages the voice and vision of individual women artists, provides professional opportunities for artists, and promotes programs designed to stimulate public involvement, awareness, and support for the visual arts.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.