NMWA unveils new Library Fellows artist book: A journey through "the streets of used to be"

When is a book a work of art? It might be a handmade sculptural object, or an illustrated manuscript, or even an artist-designed exhibition catalogue. The National Museum of Women in the Arts is a leader in the promotion of artists’ books as an art form, contributing to the field through active collecting of artists’ books by women, through its Book as Art exhibition series, and through the Library Fellows Program.*

Last Wednesday marked the Twentieth annual meeting of NMWA’s Library Fellows. Now what, you may ask, is the Library Fellows Program?

the streets of used to be

Stout displaying the book to the Library Fellows with Beane in the background

The Library Fellows Program was established in 1989 to encourage and support the creation of artists’ books and to benefit the Library and Research Center. They hold a competition (formerly every year, now every other), where book artists submit mock ups of artist books for consideration by the group. The Fellows’ contributions are used to produce the artist’s book proposed by the winner in a limited edition of 125 copies (25 of which go to the artist, while the rest are sold at our museum shop).*

During the meeting (aside from all the business matters) was the big reveal of the finished book produced by last year’s winners, poet Carol A. Beane and artist Renée Stout. Their book, the streets of used to be, is a combination of six of Beane’s poems and five of Stout’s images (created in a variety of media, then scanned and reproduced onto the pages) on individual pages slipped into the pockets of an accordion style handcrafted paper folder. The book itself is a symphony of tactile and visual experiences, from the abaca-cotton blend of the folder, to the intense colors and images, to the pages which you can reorder to suit your preferences.

When asked how they came up with the ideas behind the streets of used to be Beane stated that she drew her inspiration from the life she sees in and on the streets while walking in DC; from efforts to survive with some measure of dignity, from people biding time. Stout wanted to create with her paintings visual metaphors of Beane’s poems, to have her images distill and resonate with the emotions of Beane’s poetry. The finished product is a stunning combination of words that meander like city streets and images of brilliant color and symbolism.

About the Author: Malini Sud is NMWA’s Library and Research Center Assistant.

*Information taken from here