The Library as Incubator Project is pleased to feature this interview with Esther K. Smith and Dikko Faust, the founders of NYC-based Purgatory Pie Press. Here they answer some questions about their use of libraries, and how libraries can work even more effectively for artists. - Laura
Tell us about your relationship to libraries.
Esther K. Smith: We have had quite a few library exhibits of our artist books and limited editions – including Victoria & Albert (London), Metropolitan Museum of Art, RISD, Pratt, Smith College, Harvard University (in the room next to their Gutenberg Bible!), City University of NY – and we have an exhibit scheduled for Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus library sometime later this spring. Many libraries collect our artist books and limited editions: MoMA, Whitney, National Gallery of Art, Tate (London), Walker (MN), Corcoran (DC), SF MoMA, U Wisconsin, NYU, UCLA, UCSB, UCSD, University of SF, U Washington, Seattle, Free Library of Philadelphia.
I was a visiting author/artist in a New Jersey library for their summer children’s program – the kids all made Instant Books and the librarian published some of them via photocopy.
I did research at the Morgan Library last fall, working on a book for a client based on incunabula – it was so exciting working with those early printed books – and then I got interested in pre-printing binding structures, etc.
Dikko and I both did London Seminars when we were at Beloit College (different years, but we both studied Blake) and one of the professors there worked in London Museums and was able to write us little notes so that we had access to original Blake hand-colored books at the Victoria & Albert Library and British Museum Library.
I teach at CUNY and worked with a librarian at my campus on a zines project with the students. I brought them into the library for a presentation about zines (that was also sort of a stealth how to use the library intro) then they made zines, published them via photocopy, and donated a copy to her collection.
When I was a Beloit College student, I took a children’s literature class and did a project where I went into the Beloit Public Library and had kids tell me stories that I wrote down and made into books.
I like libraries. I like their variety. I like natural light, skylights, windows and natural wood. I like to be able to explore the stacks.
But I also love libraries where I work among scholars – researching Blake with original printed books in the British Museum Library was the high point of my undergraduate experience.
What can libraries do to serve artists more effectively?
Esther K. Smith: Exhibiting our work is number one. This is great for everyone – librarians need to fill cases, we artists need to show our work – and then of course events surround exhibits are great too.
Buying and collecting and safely archiving our work for posterity is really important, but this is specific to book artists who make museum quality limited editions. Buying one-of-a-kind artist books does not make sense for libraries – this is specific to libraries with special collections. Real education about contemporary artist books and limited editions is important. Some librarians get it and some just don’t know much.
Public events can be lovely but it is important to have the right amount of staff support. In a few (free) hands-on events, we were mobbed – some people picked up the work we brought to show and in one case cut up a piece; in another case, someone grabbed a very rare book and took it to her work table to copy (it was there for gentle handing) and we were put in the position of having to reprimand. It is best if it is clear when an event is for adults, or for kids, or for both, instead of the situation of the artist having to police that. I love working with kids but I plan kids’ events very specifically and differently from what I do with adults.
Also, please raise funds to pay the artists.
Dikko Faust: Think of books as cultural artifacts, not information retrieval devices. Think of how out-of-date microfilm is, but the oldest book still works.
Judith Hoffberg spoke to a class of mine years ago and said “I have gone through computers, losing everything at least 3 times – but I have books from when I was a child.”
Libraries need to understand the importance of supporting books. Yes, access to the internet is important, but that stuff should run on donations from the big money electronics/software people instead of stealing budgets away from books.
I usually find one or two books in a subject using the catalog and go to the stacks and see what surrounds them – usually find something more than I bargained for…
Dikko Faust and Esther K. Smith travel as visiting artists, lecturing, demonstrating, and making collaborative projects in art centers and universities. Faust teaches letterpress at SVA. Smith teaches Artist Books at Cooper Union. The press also designs and prints logos, letterheads, invitations, custom books and cards. Purgatory Pie Press made the wood type logo for Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Green, Brooklyn and their posters, bookmarks and business cards. For WORD bookstore in Greenpoint, Bklyn, Purgatory Pie Press made wood type greeting cards: EAT. DRINK . SLEEP. READ. WORD. Visit purgatorypiepress.com for more information.