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Unique Books

Which artists’ books in the collection are unique?

Querying our dataset about unique books produced a list of artists’ books in the collection with only one copy in existence. These one-of-a-kind items show a wide range of artistry and inspiration. A love of music prompted Mary Ann Sampson to name her press the One-Eyed Opera Company (OEOCO). Daniel Essig, fascinated with what he calls “traces of past objects,” blends sculpture, painting and woodwork into books resembling treasures in a cabinet of curiosities. Frank Hamrick sees his books as ways to tell complete stories with photographs. Stephen Sidelinger wonders: can you tell which part is sublime and which ridiculous? Terry Shupbach-Gordon’s book came from time spent reflecting on “bits and pieces.” Kyle Holland changed Little Red Riding Hood’s cloak to a blue, hooded bath towel to discuss his problematic relationship with his father and his take on Southern masculine subculture.


MATCH (a)-[:CREATED]->(u:Book{type:'unique'})


Daniel Essig. [Fetish-Gar]

(Asheville, NC. 2014)
Daniel Essig
Southern Civilization Collection
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Daniel Essig is a particularly important artist for this exhibition case featuring one-of-a-kind works, as all his books are unique. Self referring to his works as “book sculptures,” Essig places a blank Coptic book at the heart of every piece he creates. In an artist’s statement on his website, Essig describes the historical meaning of this style of binding: “[Coptic] binding was first used [in] about the fourth century, in Ethiopia or North Africa, or perhaps this is just the area where books were best preserved.” This attention to history and detail in his art reminds viewers that art and iconography are linked closely with the history of books. Essig’s assemblages bring together several of his inspirations, found fossils and shells, ancient binding, African sculptural figures and styles, and cabinets of curiosities.


Terry Schupbach Gordon. Thoughts

(Tobaccoville, NC: Catbird (on the Yadkin) Press. 2012)
Terry Schupbach-Gordon
Southern Civilization Collection
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Printmaker, storyteller, puppeteer and disability advocate Terry Schupbach Gordon pairs poetry and language with woodcut illustrations in her artists’ books to shed light onto the lives and emotions of people living with disabilities. Through her art, she seeks to create works that are beautiful and emotionally affirmative, even if the imagery is difficult. Schupbach-Gordon’s work is, for her, both cathartic and hopeful. She says “In giving my own experiences visual form, I live them again, understand them anew, and give them away.”

(Ruston, LA: Old Fan Press. 2008)
Frank Hamrick
Southern Civilization Collection
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

A Georgia native, Frank Hamrick works with handmade books that convey his ideas through the viewer’s experience of “holding it, feeling its textures and turning its pages.” He sees “the handmade book to be a favorable alternative to the traditional method of exhibiting photographs on the wall...If you were to think of a photograph in the same way you consider a single song, then a handmade book is similar to an entire album of music complete with cover art and liner notes.”

[Of the Cloak]

Kyle Holland. [Of the Cloak]

Of the Cloak
(Memphis, TN. 2010)
Kyle Holland
Southern Civilization Collection
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Artist Kyle Holland created this tunnel book using giclée and watercolor pencil. Taking his cue from the venerable tale of Red Riding Hood, Holland adapted the story to his own life by substituting for the red, hooded cloak a blue, hooded bath towel, the only gift his father ever gave him. Instead of the wolf, he chose to use a buck to metaphorically represent his father. He describes his relationship with his father as always strained and their communication impeded even as they tried to connect through the years. The format of the tunnel book was chosen because it disassociates the viewer from the inside of the book with the first 'page.' With only a peephole to look through, this book yields a glimpse into Holland’s relationship with his father.

Purple Dreams
(Ragland, AL: OEOCO Press. 1990)
Mary Ann Sampson
Southern Civilization Collection
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Purple Dreams is a one-of-a-kind artist's book by Mary Ann Sampson, featuring original drawings that resemble visions from a dream-state. As an artist, Sampson explores the book as a means of expressing visual thoughts that come out of personal memories and experiences derived from her upbringing in rural Alabama.

[Sublime and ridiculous]

Stephen Sidelinger. [Sublime and Ridiculous]

[Sublime and Ridiculous]
(Venice, FL. 2012)
Stephen Sidelinger
Southern Civilization Collection
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Inspired by Japanese art, Sidelinger made two matching accordion blank books out of recycled, aged newsprint, one of which is exhibited here. Drawings in both books are simultaneously in sumi, ashes, indigo gouache, watercolor, and chalk. Sidelinger found one book more beautiful than the other, “but couldn’t tell which is sublime and hence which other is ridiculous.” His books look at being human and ask us to reevaluate our experience of the book as a commonplace medium.

Haw River Portrait, 3-8-14
(Pittsboro, NC: Blue Bluer Books. 2014)
Josh Hockensmith
Southern Civilization Collection
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

To Hockensmith, “books are sophisticated, efficient, and expressive machines.” In Haw River Portrait, 3-8-14, which takes on the form of a scroll, the artist explores river pollution, considering what the river might think if it had rights of its own. Hockensmith juxtaposes legal terminology with watercolor imagery of a river studded with pollution: plastic bottles, straws, paper, and other trash. This combination of form, imagery, and text tells a powerful and evocative story about the necessity of our natural surroundings and their voicelessness in how we treat them. Haw River Portrait is a fascinating one-of-a-kind piece that pulls the viewer into a place of mindfulness and respect for the environment.