Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas




November 2007

"Artists' Books is a term given to publications mixing words and images in unusual, inventive ways. Since the early twentieth century, artists who are also writers and writers who make art have been designing books that magnify the communicative power of their separate media and bypass traditional modes of distribution and display. Some of these books are unique objects, or are produced in limited editions…".

  M. Kasper

Reciprocity: An Artist's Book

Dear Reader:

In 2003, I was awarded a fellowship by the Worcester Cultural Commission/ Massachusetts Cultural Council in support of my reciprocally-inspired poetry/art manuscript. Besides being given monetary encouragement, it made me believe that I wasn't the only one who thought "Reciprocity" was a worthy project (see Judy's Journal - February 2005). The manuscript continued to grow, and journals accepted individual poems for publication. I designed a query letter that I thought would certainly awaken the publishing world to the phenomenon of "reciprocity."

Ten publishers have turned down my proposal since 2003, and uncharacteristically, I was giving up hope. While rejection is something every writer and artist must cope with (see Judy's Journal - March 2005), this project was difficult to let go of. Then in August, a brochure from the Mead Art Museum arrived in the mail. It described an exhibit called "Off the Shelf: Artists' Books from Amherst College Collections." I had slight knowledge of artists' books, and something said, "GO!"

On September 27th, after stopping at the Fiber Art Center in Amherst, Massachusetts to see a gorgeous collection of contemporary one-of-a-kind artists' books, my husband and I headed to the Mead. Amherst College was one of ten sites in northwestern Massachusetts celebrating the art of the book. "Off the Shelf" is at the museum until November 18 and needs to be seen to be appreciated. Since the exhibit is made up of artists' books from Amherst College's Collections, you have the opportunity to see these fine examples at a later time.

The exhibit showed one-of-a-kind and limited edition books that combined both art and writing. As I looked at each one, I felt a surge of inspiration that propelled me into a frenzy of thought. Michael Kasper, who wrote the enticing brochure, gave a gallery talk that day. I enjoyed hearing him, but my mind was racing ahead. I had just seen "Reciprocity" in a new light.

Could "Reciprocity" be transformed into an artist's book? The answers came as I unpacked Michael Kasper's definition:

Would it be a publication that mixed words and images in an unusual, inventive way? Yes. Most poems and paintings I make are not overtly related to each other, but about 10% of the time a phenomenon that I call "reciprocity" occurs. Creating any painting or poem comes from the need to act upon a strong urge to respond to an event, memory, observation, or idea. However, when that work is done, there are times when something insists, "There's more." My task is to leave the door open and continue, using the other medium. Painting and poem are bound together in response to an event that may have taken a split second to happen, but many hours at my easel and word processor to resolve.

Since the early twentieth century, artists who are also writers and writers who make art have been designing books that magnify the communicative power of their separate media…
Amherst College's collection of artists' books make up a body of work worthy of notice and admiration. As I researched the phenomenon of "reciprocity" to see if other artist/writers had experienced it, I discovered that I was working inside a tradition. Edgar Degas had written a sonnet about his sculpture, "Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen." The renowned list grew as I continued to read: Jean Arp, William Blake, Marc Chagall, e.e. cummings, Leonardo da Vinci, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Marsden Hartley, Roberto Matta, Michelangelo, M.C. Richards, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Dorothea Tanning. The longer I am a member of a thriving community of poets and visual artists, the more I realize that there is a large group whose reputations may have not reached iconic proportions, but who nonetheless do the work of both. Have they made artists' books? I would need to do more research to find the answer. Have they experienced "reciprocity"? If so, they have not written about it. I do know that a book seemed to be a natural vehicle for delivering my two-sided creation. However, I needed to design and produce that book.

…and bypass traditional modes of distribution and display.
While publishers and bookstores are not a thing of the past, widespread use of the home computer and the Internet seem to have loosened their hold. My design for "Reciprocity" would present difficulties for a traditional publisher, even if they were interested in the concept, images and poems. The "book" that I am producing invites the owner to take it apart - twenty-two images are reproduced on matte photography paper and encased in acid-free plastic sleeves which are then set inside a cover and hand-bound. Slip a reproduction out of its sleeve, put it into a double-sided clear acrylic frame and see the image, with its reciprocal poem on the reverse side.

Some of these books are unique objects, or are produced in limited editions…"
On December 1st, I will be offering "Reciprocity: An Artist's Book" on this website as a signed limited edition of one hundred. There will be a link from the home page to a special page devoted to "Reciprocity: An Artist's Book."

My thanks to Michael Kasper for permitting me to quote from his "Off the Shelf" brochure.

Any and all questions and comments about my artist's book are welcome! I hope that you will be as excited as I am about it. You can contact me at And please join me for the next Judy's Journal.