Library of Congress acquires Rosendale Studio Workshop’s handmade book collection

WSW artist creating a handmade book at the studio in Rosendale. (courtesy of Women’s Studio Workshop)

WSW artist creating a handmade book at the studio in Rosendale. (courtesy of Women’s Studio Workshop)

The dying art of creating a book — as a bound volume of information and entertainment and as a work of art — is being kept alive at the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) in Rosendale. And the quality and significance of the work being done there has grabbed the attention of the nation’s most famous library. The last of the more than 200 artists’ books created over the past three decades at the Women’s Studio Workshop were shipped to the Library of Congress this month, completing a $52,000 transaction. The books’ subject matter ranges from original poetry to the impact of the 19th-Century Homestead Act on the growth of the American Midwest to the dozens of plants that grow in vacant lots in New York City. And because they are crafted by gifted artists chosen by a jury of experts in the field, they are worthy of inclusion in the Library of Congress collection, said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare books and special collections division.

“Many of the books created at Women’s Studio Workshop are not only popular, they’re critically important works of art,” Dimunation said. “As a collection, they document an important era in the book arts — this is a very large gathering of artists, the universality of their quality made them worthy of consideration for our collection. Everyone in the field is aware of the work being done at the Women’s Studio Workshop.”

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Tatana Kellner, a co-founder and artistic director at WSW, said she receives numerous requests for the books every year from researchers, academicians and librarians from throughout the United States and many other parts of the world. “We get these calls all the time, and they seem to be increasing,” Kellner said. “I think part of the reason for their appeal is because books are becoming an endangered species, so there’s a nostalgia factor.”

Susan Chute, WSW’s digital and archival collections consultant and former head of the Art and Picture Collection at the New York Public Library, said she was “ecstatic” the Library of Congress had decided to purchase the entire collection of books created at the studio. “Now the powerful voices of women who come to WSW to engage with paper and books as a means of artistic expression will be part of the permanent historical record of the United States,” Chute said. “WSW’s diverse legacy of engagement with society on the printed page from 1974 into the future will be available forever for poets, historians, artists, scholars and dreamers to explore.”

For more information about Women’s Studio Workshop, visit wsworkshop.org.

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