Artists' books are exceptionally varied and creative by their very nature. The complex medium employs the book, in any of its various guises (scroll, codex, fold-out or single sheet boxed, to name but a few forms of books) as an original work of art. They usually integrate the formal means of conception and production with aesthetic or thematic aspects. Artists' books are considered unique works of art in one-of-a-kind or small edition multiples. Some now are mass produced. The variety of its form makes the artist book difficult to define. The twentieth century witnessed particularly varied and creative experimentation with artists' books culminating with an expansion of the medium in the '60 and '70s. California became a center of production.
The collection of artists' books at Otis College of Art and Design began and grew significantly during this period due largely to the efforts of librarian Joan Hugo, a recognized expert in artists' books. The Otis Library's current collection is approximately 2,300 works. Among the holdings are books by important contemporary artists such as Ed Ruscha and Joseph Beuys as well as work by recent graduates of MFA programs in the book arts such as Sarah Bryant and Daniel Mellis.
The collection also includes books made by Otis students in the Laboratory Press, which was begun by Sheila de Bretteville, Chair of the Communication Design and Illustration Department at Otis/Parsons from 1980-1990. Susan King, Simon Toparovsky, Cynthia Marsh, and Katherine Ng, all important book artists, were among the faculty over the years. This is a unique collection of books, often produced in editions of 2 or 3, with particularly good examples of innovative structures, excellent typography, and interesting content.
The goal of the Otis Artists' Book Collection is not to create a comprehensive archive, but rather to provide a valuable teaching resource available to artists and students. Since the collection is available on only a limited basis, providing access to the books via an online image database is a continuing project, one that we hope will assist those with interest in researching our collection as well as the medium in general.