Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Gifting–Grab Bag 3 & (60) ARTSY Artists’ Books “ACCIDENTAL” ARTISTS’ BOOKS ?

JEAN SHEPHERD Gifting–Grab Bag 3 & (60) ARTSY Artists’ Books “ACCIDENTAL” ARTISTS’ BOOKS ?


Well, I’m in the jewelry department going past all this stuff.  Of course a kid doesn’t know the difference, really.  I guess that’s where you separate the slobs from other people.  Do slobs really thing that the diamond is a very expensive substitute for the zircon?  The slob world is a very complicated world.

So I’m fooling around in the jewelry department and this is when it hit.  I’m looking for a tie clip for my old man.  They have a collection of chromium-plated tie clips there.  Have you ever seen a chrome-plated tie clip on a seventy-five cent tie?  The combination is enough to set the blood of any good, card-carrying slob to racing.

Oh boy, when I think of some of the stuff I picked for Christmas gifts in those days.  Did I ever tell you about the orange and alabaster perfume squirter that I once gave?  That’s another terrible disaster.

I’m walking through the jewelry department.  I was probably eight or nine years old and I’m about to spring for a chrome-plated tie clip that has a pheasant rising from a field of purest green glass.  I’m looking at this with a great deal of interest because, you see, it is the only one that’s for twenty-five cents.  It’s the big one, the most expensive one.  All the rest are strictly a dime.  This one’s a quarter.

My life savings at that time totaled probably forty cents, and this meant a considerable outgo and it meant a considerable tribute to lay at the feet of my father—the one half of the team that produced me.  At the same time I didn’t know whether or not I was objecting to the fact that I was in that world, or whether I dug it.  I suspect that the reason, secretly, without knowledge, but with great animal instinct, I was buying an atrocity to give him was to fling it in his face!  You brought me into the world—take that, you crumb!  Yes, Hitler’s marching in Europe and you brought me into this world!  A few years and I’ll be marching in Europe!  You brought me into this world, you crumb!  Here—chromium—put that on your seventy-five-cent tie!  Bum!  Well, of course, this is a problem.



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 I categorize a wide variety of artworks as “artists’ books.” This includes some that were probably/certainly not considered so by the people who made them. I’ve mentioned the pre-Columbian Mexican codexes, composed solely of images/pictographs that relate stories of the real and mythical histories of their cultures. And William Blake’s books that he must certainly have considered as a synthesis of art and word that he could only have considered such, though maybe not labeling them that way. Two books that I have in reproduction are rather unusual ones, no matter how one thinks of them. The artists who made the originals would not normally be called “artists.”


The publisher of this work references certain kinds of books that were made, and comments that some 19th century Native Americans, in schools run by the dominant culture,etc., used ledger books to draw pictographs telling stories of their native culture. These were historical narratives. These kinds of drawings, and the authentic books containing them, are held in museums and are collectors’ items.

A 1996 article by Leslie Camhi in the Village Voice comments that “Plains Indians developed the hybrid genre of ledger drawings after the Civil War, when, under the pressures of dislocation and increased military aggression, they exchanged their traditional painting surfaces of stretched animal hide for more-easily transported ledger books….” He notes that the ledger books were turned sideways to draw on. [Probably because their environment and their histories more conveniently fit a horizontal format. This book’s illustrations are 7” X 11.5” and I assume that this is the common size of an actual ledger book.]

I bought this book thinking that it was a representative facsimile of such books, and I enjoyed it as such. Reading more of the publisher’s descriptive matter, I found that what I had in my hands, The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle, was “inspired” by authentic Native American Indian art-books, and had been made and published in 1994 by authors Gay Matthaei and Jewel Grutman, and artist Adam Cvijanovic. So, the Native Indians were not trying to make artists’ books—and the present authors/artist, appreciating those original works, had made an imagined replica, a very well-done homage, creating their own kind of artists’ book. (The first images represent the more traditional culture and the final one here shows the native peoples now regimented in schools and other formalized, European-style settings.





The original of this book was begun in Scotland in 1913 by Muriel Foster, fisherwoman, and, unintended, she was the maker of an artists’ book composed of her fishing-diary entries for the next 30 years. There are over 180 pages, 5″ X 10″ some of them with double-page spreads. In this facsimile, comments by her niece indicate that Muriel Foster never expected others to see her work, but that it was “simply a private document of one of her most pleasurable lifelong activities.” Described by the facsimile’s publisher in 1980, Foster “was a keen naturalist and an artist capable of succinctly capturing the essence of the countryside she traversed.” It is a work of quiet elegance.







You don’t have to know you’re an artist to be an artist.




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