The artist's way: Archives acquires 700 books from Granary Artists' Books Collection

Originally published in yFile: York University’s News.

An extensive collection of nearly 700 artists’ books is now a part of the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections. York University Libraries’ acquisition of the Granary Artists’ Books Collection from Granary Books in New York City means that many of these works made or conceived by artists – some of which are out of print or no longer widely available – will soon be accessible to the York community.

Steve Clay, the founder of Granary Books, has assembled a collection of writers, artists and bookmakers who have worked to explore and define the correlation between verbal and visual relationships in independent publishing. Some of the featured artists and authors include, Michael Snow, Sol Lewitt, Johanna Drucker, Dieter Roth, Ida Applebroog, John Baldessari and also Jen Bervin, Tom Phillips and Timothy Ely. The artists’ books collection also includes a representative assortment of Granary’s publications produced from 1985 to present.

“The acquisition of the Granary Artists’ Books Collection is significant because these works can have an important impact on research in several different programs at York,” explains Visual Arts, Design & Theatre Librarian, Mary Kandiuk. “The study of artists' books crosses disciplines. In the Department of Visual Arts artists are exploring making their own artists' books, while in the Creative Writing Program writers are exploring the written form through book arts.”

AHumument-story imageTom Phillips' A Humument, published by Tetrad Press in the 1970s

Perhaps one of the more notable works in the collection is the first edition copy of Tom Phillips' A Humument, published by Tetrad Press in the 1970s. In 1966, Phillips purchased a canary-coloured used book, the ninth printing of the Human Document by W.H. Mallock, for three pence. He set to work artistically altering every page by painting, using collage or cutting up sections to create an entirely new version of the book that tells the non-linear story of Phillips’ protagonist, Bill Toge. Phillips’ new book was called A Humument, and the first version of all 367 treated pages was published in 1973. Over the past 40 years, A Humument has been revised four additional times and is now known as one of the 20th century’s best known artists’ books.

"I often teach A Humument in my Creative Writing and Book History courses, but I've always used the web-version or the trade paperback," explains Liberal Arts and Professional Studies faculty member, David Goldstein. "Next time, I will bring my students to the archive to look at the first edition artist book. It will be a unique experience for my students – being able to learn from an original copy of Phillips' work will definitely have an impact."

In addition to the A Humument, another noteworthy title is Tabulation by Timothy Ely. According to Granary Books, “Timothy Ely has produced a formidable body of work over the past 30 years. He is widely acknowledged as one of the pivotal figures in the revival of book art in the seventies and eighties and his unique books and bindings have been exhibited and collected worldwide. Every serious collection of artists' books and book art should own at least one example of this extraordinary artist's work.”

JenBervingroup-storyimageLibrarians Lisa Sloniowski (far left) and Mary Kandiuk (far right) with artist and poet Jen Bervin and LA&PS faculty member David Goldstein

Also included in the Granary Books collection are the works of poet and visual artist Jen Bervin, who gave two talks at York University on March 5 and 6 as part of the Creative Writing Reading Series. Jen Bervin’s work brings together text and textile to explore the work of Emily Dickinson.

The Granary Books collection can be viewed at Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, on the third floor of Scott Library.

For more information about the artists' books collection, contact Mary Kandiuk, visual arts, design & theatre librarian, at


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