The public service staff of Special Collections and Archives work closely with researchers daily. We regularly share stories here about research in Special Collections and Archives that yielded successful outcomes. By doing so, we hope to further expose the wide variety of research that our collections support and to encourage others to ask us for assistance. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 949-824-3947.
Our story today is about Valerie Samuel Henderson, Artist in Residence, and her experiences in Special Collections and Archives. Thank you Valerie!
I had the opportunity to complete a year long independent study as part of a the new Artists in Residence Program in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine. My mentor for the program, the dean of the school of the arts, had encouraged me to make an edition of artist books to incorporate a handwritten poem I had written, which was the theme and foundation for the body of work I produced for a one person show in the University Art Gallery. The dean had said to me when he saw the poem, that if I decided to make an edition of artist books, that he would like to have a copy. I felt a deep encouragement and wanted to challenge the project in part to be able to make a gift of one of the books as a gesture of appreciation.
I was researching artist books and thinking about the format I wanted to use. My program mentor encouraged me to focus on the handmade mark made by the artist’s hand. I had been to the Langston Library and researched books and materials in the general collection but kept bumping into the idea of the artist book as a handmade object in a more sculptural format. I wasn’t happy with the possibilities I was seeing and contemplating. Part of the issue had to do with how I wanted the reader/viewer to interact with my poem. The poem had originally been hand written on a succession of pages in my spiral bound artist sketchbook and the physical act of turning the pages was bound up with the experience of the poem. I produced a number of drawings and paintings as well as a video for my show in the gallery, but the book kept eluding me. The work for the show was installed and we had a reception but as for my edition of artist books, I felt stuck.
Finally, I decided on a trip to visit the Special Collections at Langston to see what they had in the way of artist books, in the hope that I would find some inspiration to break my deadlock. And I did! The librarian asked about what I was interested in and listened to my descriptions of my project. Books from the Special Collection began to be presented for me to look at and also to handle and turn the pages. When the big box was opened up with the oringal lithographs by the French artist Andre Masson, based on the poem by Malarme and his instructions for his poem, I began to get really excited and asked detailed questions about how it was printed and how it came about. One of the senior librarians with an extensive knowledge of the book came out to share with me and answer questions. By the following day I had a plan for my artist book which I was very happy with based on my experience with the wonderful book in the library’s special collection and the support from the library staff. I was then able to create a layout in Photoshop and take it to Kinko’s, where I made a prototype which I gave as a gift to my program mentor who had challenged me and encouraged me as an artist. I am making an edition of 50 books as part of a body of work entitled, “Toward a Poetics of the Land”.