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Special Collections: Artist Book Collection

About the MSU Billings Artist Book Collection

"Artists' Books: Visual Literary Expressions," an invitational international exhibit featuring forty-eight one-of-a-kind and limited edition books was curated by Connie Landis, Chair of the MSU Billings Art Department, in January and February of 2000.  Artists from the United States, New Zealand, England, and Canada created works for the exhibition. According to Ms. Landis, an artist's book is "a piece of art in itself with the structural form of a book and the content or ideas of a book interwoven to communicate the artists' message." The library has since added several more Artists' Books to the collection.


What are Artist Books?

Artists' books are not books about art; they are art expressed through book form.  When the content and form of a book are considered together, and given equal significance, the book becomes more than a simple container for information.  The goal of many book artists is to involve the reader actively in the viewing process, not only to see the words on the page, but also to think about how the words, pictures, and physical form of the object all contribute to the meaning.

~Quotation from the University of Delaware Library Special Collections


Browse the collection & artists


Accordion fold
Series of zigzag parallel expanding folds on long sheet of paper.
synonym = concertina

Artist's book
Book made by an artist where aesthetic issues are focused to communicate the artist's
message: book is a work of art in itself: structure/form and content are usually intertwined.

Process which holds pages inside the book covers.

Book bound along one edge, similar to hardcover textbook or soft cover paperback.
Most western commercial books fit here.

Arranging the pages of the book in correct order.

Inscription or paragraph usually at end of hand-made and many commercial books
listing facts/details such as author of book, font type, number in edition, paper type,
size and other facts.

Refers collectively to identical book copies printed at same time:1/30 = first of 30 books.

Pieces of paper adhered inside covers.
synonyms = paste downs or board sheets

Type of binding where cover is same size as book block without overlap.

Fly leaves
Usually blank pages attached at beginning or end of book near the endpapers.

Bone usually (or tongue/popsicle stick) used to crease, slit papers and/or smooth

Bottom edge of a book when book is held upright.

Outer edge opposite the spine where pages are grouped.
synonym = front edge

Shape, dimensions, structure and general make-up of book.


Fold space where two facing pages come together.

synonym = binding margin

Top edge of text block or leaf when stood/held upright.


A shape is wider/longer than tall (see "Portrait").


Sheet of entire paper including both sides/surfaces.
Paper folded in half, forming one unit of a signature with four pages, each side is counted.

Mitre or miter
Tapering corners at 45° angle before joining: usually cloth corners for hard covers.

Dummy or pretend book used as model for finished book to figure out plan and design.

Mountain fold
Paper fold extends into air or upward such as a mountain.

Nick in
Extra material on corner mitre/miter beyond cover board corner is folded around the
corner and smoothed along the fore-edge: makes a completely covered corner.

A shape or format higher than wide (see "Landscape").

Right-hand page of open book, usually carries odd page numbers.

Making a firm indentation (crease) in a paper without piercing paper so fold stays
in place.

Group of pages to make up a section of book.
synonyms = section, quire or gathering

Back of book that provides support for book covers: Usually firm with printed title and author.

Bottom or lower edge of binding, leaf or page.

Text block
Grouped pages, before or after binding, made of all signatures.
synonym = book block

Tipping in
Process of pasting page edge to an adjacent page.

Unique book
One-of-a-kind book: Many Artists' Books fall in this category.
synonym = "one-off book" and "one-of-a-kind

Valley fold
Fold slants or points down such as a valley between hills.

Left-hand page of open book; usually carries even page numbers.

Quotations about Books

You can’t judge a book by its cover. ~ Unknown


Certain books come to meet one, as do people. ~ Elizabeth Bowen, Vogue, Sept 15, 1955


You can cover a great deal of country in books. ~ Andrew Lang


A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside the soul. ~ Franz Kafka


A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~ Chinese Proverb


Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind. ~ James Russell Lowell


I love some of my printed books as much as anyone can. Just the same, my heart beats faster at a book of blank pages than it does at any book filled with printing. ~ Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work


The books that one reads in the impressionable years, and therefore absorbs and remembers, are always so much better and more exciting than life. ~ E. V. Lucas, 365 Days and One More


Many complain of their books, but none of their brains.  ~ Yiddish Proverb


Your family sees you as a lazy lump lying on the couch, propping a book up on your stomach, never realizing that you are really in the midst of an African Safari that has just been charged by elephants, or in the drawing room of a large English country house interrogating the butler about the body discovered on the Aubusson carpet.  ~ Cynthia Heimel


The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books.  ~ Katherine Mansfield, The Letters of Katherine Mansfield


The art of reading is in great part that of acquiring a better understanding of life from one’s encounter with it in a book. ~ Andre Maurois, The Art of Living


It was a book to kill time for those who like it better dead. ~ Rose Macauley


I never knew a girl who was ruined by a book. ~ James J. Walker


Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautiful furnishes a house. ~ Henry Ward Beecher, Eyes and Ears


It is unlikely that the computer will displace the book ... with its intimacy, its forcibility, its accessibility, its freedom from outside energy sources ... ~ Daniel Boorstin


The public which reads, in any sense of the word worth considering, is very, very small; the public which would feel no lack if all book printing ceased tomorrow, is enormous. ~ George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Rycroft


Edwards, Book Collector, desired his coffin to be made out of some of the strong shelves in his library. ~ Charles Lamb, Scrapbook

Curriculum Ideas

Art & Math

Study M. C. Escher and create a tessellation book. 
(See websites: Wikipedia and M.C. Escher)

Create a book using only geometric forms as illustrations. 

Design a numbers book.

Construct a book by building layers of kaleidoscope designs.

Art & Science

Make a book instead of a poster to illustrate a concept in science.

Make mini-books for a mini-science fair.

Reuse an old science book to create a new science book (altered book).

Create a book in the shape of an animal, fish, bird or other "creature."

Art & Social Studies

Illustrate a book about your community or school.

Visually compare and contrast your culture with another culture.

Create a book illustrating how a specific culture has developed.

Map the Silk Route or the Spice Route in a self-designed book.

Art & Language

Write new symbols for the alphabet in a self-designed book.

Read a classic and use only drawings and minimal words for a new book.

Develop symbols for the main characters in a short story or novel.

Create new Dr. Seuss style characters for a book to honor Dr. Seuss.

Make a book about a poem.

Art & History

Make a timeline book.

Research your family and create a family tree book.

Draw historical scenes illustrating a certain time in history.

Art & Technology

Create a book about your life using a graphic program from the web.

Using graphics programs, create a surrealist book.

Create web pages; remember web pages are electronic books.

Create a book using a presentation program.

Combine a word processing program and a paint program for a book.

Import images using a scanner and a clip art program to create a book.


Cut out sections of a manufactured book and illustrate in a new way.

Put new pages in an old book cover.

Artist Book Websites

Science and the Artist's Book
Collaborative exhibits in 1995 between Smithsonian Institution Libraries and Washington Project for the Arts with famous science books owned by the Smithsonian re-interpreted by a contemporary book artist: all facets of the sciences represented with a range of book approaches.

The San Francisco Center for the Book
Traditional and experimental book forms provided by the San Francisco Center for the Book: also exhibitions, public events and workshops listed.

Women in the Book Arts: A Selection
Work from ten curator-selected Women in the Book Arts virtual exhibit organized by Wellesley College Library.

Calligraphy & Artist Books Galleries
Australian artist books and calligraphy emphasized with information on non-Australian place events and artists along with other information.

Cincinnati Book Arts Society
The Cincinnati Book Arts Society provides active links to many on-line book art exhibits with lots of variety in book types and artists' approaches.

Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild
Canadian Bookbinders and Artists' Guild organizes/presents active sites to support book arts development with diverse and in-depth topics: bookbinding, artists' books, papermaking, calligraphy, letterpress, printing/typography, wood engraving, paper decoration, restoration and conservation.

The University of Iowa Center for the Book
Site maintained by the Guild of Book Workers with active links to worldwide educational opportunities, professional organizations, tutorials, reference materials, galleries with images--all focused on the book arts.

The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing
Scholarly and few-image approach to information from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) at University College Cork, Ireland, with active link to diversified topics, mostly historical in nature.

The University of Delaware Library Special Collections Department
The University of Delaware Special Collections Department presents their Exhibits of Artists' Book from 1995 through to 2002, accompanied by active links to other artist book collections.

Otis College of Art and Design
The Otis College of Art and Design presents about 2,000 bookworks--famous and not-so-famous--including student books in the Otis Laboratory Press along with books from major production (letterpress) centers.

Bay Area Book Artists
Active links to following topics in the California Bay Area: Learning Resources, Supplies and Books, Professional Organizations, Inspiration: Online Exhibitions and Collections, and further Related Arts Resources.

State Library of Queensland
The Queensland Australian Government provides access to artists' book images from the State Library collection: in addition features Australian and overseas books related to school curriculum and other diverse topics.

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Direct access to the artists' books in The Artist Turns to the Book Exhibit (2005) at the Getty Center in Los Angeles along with icons to other holdings about historical and traditional manuscripts and books.

The Center for Book Arts
Various aspects at The Center for the Book Arts in New York featured: membership, news, classes, exhibits, opportunities, upcoming events and other topics.


This project was funded by a research and creative endeavor (RACE) Grant, 2007 MSU Billings.

Student Associates:

William D. Crandall
Zachary Crane
LaJean Kurtz
Mary E. Westwood
Rozenn Williams (webmaster)

Project Directors:

Connie Landis (Art)
Eileen Wright (Library)

Special Thanks:

Susan E. Colley
Jane Howell (Library)
Dennis Kern (Art)
Debra Ross (Art)
Tim Urbaniak (COT)