Tag Archives: artistsbooks

Clarissa Sligh: Jake in Transition

Sometimes in Technical Services, we get to work with the visual arts as they intersect with the Rubenstein Library’s mission of cultural documentation.  One such collection, acquired by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, is the Clarissa Sligh Papers. Sligh is a visual artist, writer, and lecturer. As a teenager, she was the lead plaintiff in a 1955 school desegregation case in Virginia which later inspired her book “It Wasn’t Little Rock”. After working in math and science with NASA and later in business, she began her career as an artist, using photographs, drawings, text, and personal stories to explore themes of transformation and social justice.

The Bingham Center began acquiring Sligh’s work in the 1990s as part of a collection of artists’ books by women. In 2011, we began the process of transferring her archive to Duke. One of the works represented in her papers is Jake in Transition, a series of 51 black and white photographs, some superimposed with text, documenting one man’s transition from female to male. The project explores issues of gender, identity, and physicality. Sligh revisited those themes in her book Wrongly Bodied Two, which juxtaposes Jake’s story with that of a female slave who escapes to the North by passing as a white man.


Sligh took the original “Jake” photographs between 1996 and 2000, a time when transgender issues were still largely ignored. Her work is particularly relevant now that the transgender rights movement has gone mainstream. This isn’t surprising for a woman who has been ahead of her time since at least 1955.

Post contributed by Megan Lewis, Technical Services Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

‘Tis the Season: Gifts to the Rubenstein Library, Day Three

Frontispiece of Holy Bible, with circular photographic onlay.
Frontispiece of Holy Bible, with circular photographic onlay.

To celebrate the holiday season this week, we’re highlighting a few of the many wonderful books that the Rubenstein Library has received as gifts over the past year.  We are truly grateful for the generosity of our donors.  A hearty “Happy holidays” and thanks and to all of those who have contributed to making 2013 a wonderful year for the Rubenstein Library!

Funds donated to the Rubenstein Library in 2013 facilitated the purchase of two very different books featuring photographs.  One, the Holy Bible published by Eyre and Spottiswoode in 1865, features twenty mounted photographs by Francis Frith.  Frith, an Englishman, was a pioneering photographer of the Middle East in the 1850s, and some of the early photographic views of Holy Land sites such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem are included in this Bible.  This purchase was made possible by the addition of funds to the Leland Phelps Rare Book Endowment Fund.

"Bethlehem with Church of the Nativity," by Francis Frith, from Holy Bible.
“Bethlehem with Church of the Nativity,” by Francis Frith, from Holy Bible, 1865.

A generous donation of funds for materials related to military history facilitated the acquisition of Lee and Amy Pirkle’s work A Real Fighting Man.  Published in an edition of twenty copies in 2012, A Real Fighting Man is an artist’s book that combines art based on snapshots sent home by Lee Pirkle (Amy’s grandfather) from the Korean War with text chosen by Amy from an essay that Lee wrote about his wartime experience.

Lee and Amy Pirkle, A Real Fighting Man. Image courtesy of Vamp & Tramp Booksellers.

A Real Fighting Man‘s flag book structure, as seen above, allows the reader to juxtapose sections of image and text in many revealing ways.

A “Surprise Box” from Judy Malloy

MalloyBoxOpenWhile the staff here at the Rubenstein Library often travels to bring collections back to Durham, we also receive a great many packages from around the world.  For us, there’s nothing like opening those newly arrived boxes to assess the contents’ research value and find their place within the context of the collection to which they belong, and within our holdings as a whole.

Judy Malloy, the pioneering author of electronic literature such as Uncle Roger (1986), one of the first hypertext fictions, recently sent us a “surprise box” of additions to her papers here.  It was, indeed, full of wonderful surprises!  They included a painted notebook from her work Paths of Memory and Painting, a portrait of Malloy by Irene Dogmatic, and some documentation of recent online works.

The box also contained a couple of Malloy’s early artist’s books, including “up”, from around 1975, which incorporates a computer chip into its design.

Judy Malloy, “up”, from the Judy Malloy Papers.

Documentation of some of Malloy’s performances and art projects from the 1970s to the 1990s is also included.  A hand-painted sign captures her passion for both the freedom of expression online and the tactile enjoyment of physical artwork.

Sign from a Cyber Liberties event at the University of California, circa 2004.

We look forward to many more surprises, both from Judy Malloy and other authors of electronic literature and from the many other boxes we crack open every week!

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections.

New Acquisitions: Artists’ Books by Women

In June and July we’ll celebrate the beginning of a new fiscal year by highlighting new acquisitions from the past year.  All of these amazing resources will be available for today’s scholars, and for future generations of researchers in the Rubenstein Library! Today’s post features additions to the collection of artists’ books by women in the Library’s Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.  Check out additional posts in the series here.

Image courtesy of Nava Atlas.

Dear Literary Ladies by Nava Atlas. New Paltz, New York: Amberwood Press, Inc., 2010. Edition of 15. Gift of the author.

According to Atlas, “this artist’s book fancifully poses questions on writing and the writing life, with the replies derived from classic authors’ letters, journals, and autobiographies. Reaching back to answer contemporary questions with voices from literary history reveals the timeless concerns and challenges of writers, with a particular emphasis on these issues from a female perspective.” The book was also produced in a trade edition.

Skirt Book: Made in the USA by Julie Mader-Meersman. 2010.

This unique artists’ book is made in the form of a skirt with custom fabric printed with scans of country of origin tags from clothing. Booklets made from fabric remnants and original textile tags are sewn on around the garment.


32 Big Pictures: A bound series of hand cut collages about Barbie by Dana F. Smith. San Francisco, California, 2011.

The images in this book were originally created from magazine collages overlayed on the pages of an over-sized Barbie coloring book. According to the artist, “it was created as a painstaking labor of love and reveals untold ways that Barbie is interlaced with modern American culture.”

“Barbie’s Makeover.” Image courtesy of Dana F. Smith.

Post contributed by Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.  





Race, Gender and Identity in Artists’ Books

Date: Monday, March 25, 2013
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Perkins Library, Room 318 (Rubenstein Library Classroom)
Contact Information: Kelly Wooten, kelly.wooten(at)duke.edu

The book form can become a vehicle for personal histories and obsessions. Please join us for a discussion of how Clarissa Sligh and Nava Atlas have explored their own experiences of race, gender, and identity through book arts. Both artists have placed their papers at the Sallie Bingham Center, which also has a collection of over 300 artists’ books by women.

Photos of Nava Atlas and Clarissa Sligh

Clarissa Sligh  is a visual artist, writer, and lecturer. When she was 15 years old she became the lead plaintiff in the 1955 school desegregation case in Virginia. After working in math and science with NASA and later in business, she began a career as an artist, using photographs, drawings, text, and personal stories to explore themes of transformation and social justice.

Nava Atlas is known both as a vegetarian cookbook author and as a fine artist. Her artists’ books engage images, text, and structure to explore themes of social justice and women’s roles. Many of her works re-appropriate found materials and challenge the language and images used to reinforce gender roles and stereotypes.

Read more about Atlas and Sligh in the Spring 2012 issue of Women at the Center.


Post contributed by Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian, Sallie Bingham Center

Book + Art = You!

As this semester winds down, don’t just hit the books. Make one!

For the conclusion of this semester’s Book + Art festival, undergraduate students from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are invited to participate in a juried exhibition of student artists’ books, to be held at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hanes Art Center. Works selected for the exhibition will be displayed in the John and June Allcott Undergraduate Gallery at UNC’s Hanes Art Center. From the works selected for exhibition, one will be awarded best-in-show honors.


  • The exhibit is open to undergraduate students from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill.
  • All entries must be original work by the artist.
  • There is no entry fee.
  • Limit three entries per person.
  • Completed entries are due by Dec. 17th, 2010.

You’ll find instructions on submitting your work at the student exhibition’s website.

Or, if you’re in need of some inspiration, visit the Duke University Libraries’ YouTube channel to see students from Merrill Shatzman’s “Book Art: Text as Image” class discussing artists’ books from the Bingham Center‘s collection.


Pictures at an Exhibition

Click to enlarge.

On Friday, library staff members and UNC SILS students gathered for an impromptu gallery talk for our new exhibit, “Book + Art: Artists’ books from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture,” led by curators Christine Wells and Kelly Wooten and exhibits coordinator Meg Brown. For more pictures from the gallery talk, visit the Bingham Center’s Flickr photostream.

And remember: book artist and photographer Bea Nettles will be speaking tomorrow at 5:30 PM in the Rare Book Room as part of this fall’s Book + Art series of events!

Book + Art

Date: 13 October 2010-9 January 2011
Location and Time: Perkins Library Gallery during library hours
Contact Information: Kelly Wooten, 919-660-5967 or kelly.wooten(at)duke.edu

During your next visit to Perkins-Bostock Library, be sure to stop by the Perkins Library Gallery to see the eclectic selection of artists’ books on display in “Book + Art: Artists’ Books from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.” Or if you can’t visit in person, you can enjoy the online exhibit!

R & J: the txt msg edition. Elizabeth Pendergrass. J. Hastings, 2006.

So what exactly is an artists’ book? In the most general terms, it is an original work of art that that incorporates or innovates upon the book form in some—often dramatic—way. These books combine traditional arts, such as graphic design, printmaking, and bookbinding, with the full spectrum of contemporary art practice and theory, expanding and redefining the form. In this exhibit, you’ll see books in the form of a cell phone, a grandmother clock, women’s underwear, and even the traditional paperback book structure. The themes highlighted in this exhibit and in the Bingham Center’s artists’ book collection as a whole reflect the strengths of our broader collection of print and manuscript materials documenting women’s lives: motherhood and family, the domestic sphere, women’s bodies, sexuality, and women’s health.

This exhibit is part of this fall’s Book + Art series, part of a semester-long celebration of book arts in collaboration with UNC Libraries. In the coming weeks, the Bingham Center will be sponsoring several events about the book arts:

Aging Gracefully. Bea Nettles, 2002.

Bea Nettles, Book Artist and Photographer
Date: Thursday, 21 October 2010
Time: 5:30 PM
Location: Rare Book Room

Bea Nettles is a book artist and photographer whose work addresses issues of family relationships, the body, and the ways in which personal identities reflect political and social realities. She will give a lecture with book signing and light reception to follow. For more about Bea Nettles, visit her website.

Careers in Book Arts
Date: Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Time: 9:30 AM
Location: Room 217, Perkins Library

Panel discussion about making a career out of a love of book arts, featuring Laurie Corral, founder of Asheville Bookworks, Dave Wofford of Horse and Buggy Press, and Meg Brown, Duke conservation librarian and exhibits coordinator. Moderated by Beth Doyle, Duke conservation librarian.

Post contributed by Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center of Women’s History and Culture.

Happy United Nations Charter Day!

The United Nations Conference on International Organization officially convened between April 25 and June 26, 1945 in San Francisco. On 26 June 1945, delegations from 50 countries signed the United Nations Charter, a constituent treaty by which all member nations are bound in an international body and in which organization’s mission and commitment to peaceful resolution are defined.

The Veil by Julie Chen, 2002.
Photo courtesy of Vamp and Tramp Booksellers.

Over fifty years later, book artist Julie Chen wove the text of the famously eloquent Preamble into her 2002 free-standing concertina, The Veil. This carousel book offers the artist’s reflections on the political conflicts in the Middle East through both words and abstract visual meditations which unfold over the text of the charter. The Veil will be featured in the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture’s Book + Arts Exhibit this October.

Post contributed by Christine Well, UNC SILS graduate student volunteer, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

An Artist Responds to Hurricane Katrina

The artistic response to societal tragedy is always a difficult balance: how can art contribute to understanding and interpreting, without aestheticizing suffering? In the past decade, films, novels, and other creative approaches to events such as the Holocaust, 9/11, and the conflict in Darfur have provoked controversy and debate about art’s place in the discussion of international politics and personal suffering.

Shortly after the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landing on the Gulf Coast, the RBMSCL acquired a unique artist’s book, Katrina by Beth Thielen, made in 2007. An opening supported by waves of paper reveals tiny human figures trapped in a whirlpool, begging for help. The text asks, “How do we make a just society when there is an underlying contempt for helplessness?”

In correspondence with this post’s author, the artist explained: “I made the work because the moment was such a clear and rare reveal of the darker undercurrents of our country…. During Katrina we all watched the images of people with outstretched arms pleading towards the sky. Is there any image more archetypal of helplessness? It is a crying baby’s pose. Reproachful disdain to helplessness… is as primitive as a school yard bully calling someone a crybaby after taking their candy.” She continues, “To feel with is to feel for. A civilized response.”

Thielen’s work joins another artist’s book in the RBMSCL’s collections, Habitat by Jessica Peterson, which explores Katrina’s destruction of Biloxi, Mississippi. Both works add to our collections of Southern Americana and artists’ books by women. Nearly 300 more works of fiction, films, essays, and scholarly works on Hurricane Katrina can also be found in the Duke Libraries’ online catalog (see these catalog records here).

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections