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Baylor Book Arts Collection: A Cabinet of Curiosities

About This Guide

This virtual exhibit represents selections from the Baylor Book Arts Collection (originally presented in October 2015). Presented by Ben Johansen and Megan Martinsen with photography by Ben Johansen.

What is an artist book?

An artist’s book is a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of “book” as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object. . . .What truly makes an artist’s book is the artist’s intent, and artists have used the book as inspiration in a myriad of ways and techniques, from traditional to the experimental. The book could be made through fine press printing or hand-crafted, the pages illustrated with computer-generated images or cheap photocopies; books became sculptures, tiny and gargantuan; books were sliced up and reconfigured, made from all kinds of materials with unconventional objects incorporated, in unique or limited editions, or produced in multiple copies. With all sorts of ideas behind them, artists continue to challenge the idea, content and structure of the traditional book.

  -Anne Evenhaugen, The Smithsonian Libraries Unbound blog 

Exhibit Images

Exhibit Centerpiece: The WunderCabinet

"As collectors of curious and intriguing objects, Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen have delved into the past to explore humankind's passion for accumulating beautiful, odd and marvellous things. They discovered a lineage that, in its modern form, stretches from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. It includes aristocrats, scientists, philosophers and artists who created fascinating cabinets of curiosities, or Wunderkammern, to display their accumulations of natural history objects, scientific apparatus, artifacts and art.

The WunderCabinet is Cohen and Hodgson's interpretation of these 16th-to-18th-century cabinets of curiosities. It is a glimpse into the authors' own collections through essays, images and objects, presented together in an imaginative and elegant package. By means of the two essential wunderkammer divisions, Naturalia and Artificialia, Hodgson and Cohen scrutinize the practical, the esoteric, the aesthetic and the bizarre. In Naturalia, they divide natural history into evolution, metamorphosis, sea life, herbaria, crystal structures and ornithology. In Artificialia, creations by artists, artisans and scientists, they include labyrinths, rules of perspective, timepieces, scientific instruments, exotic artifacts and magic delights."

- Heavenly Monkey Editions, WunderCabinet


Review of WunderCabinet from The New Yorker

About curiosity cabinets

Curiosity cabinets (or wunderkammer, or wonder cabinets) which became popular in Europe during the Renaissance, are collections of rare, valuable, historically important, or unusual objects. Curiosity cabinet collections were housed and displayed in multi-compartment cabinets. They were created with the intent to inspire wonder and stimulate creative thought.

Examples of objects thought fit for a curiosity cabinet include, exotic natural objects, art, and clothing and tools from non-European or ancient cultures. Items that blurred the lines between animal, vegetable, and mineral, such as coral and fossils, were particularly sought after. 

In time, curiosity cabinets grew in importance and size. Small private collections were absorbed into larger collections. These larger collections were then purchased by nobleman and royalty, who amassed collections which took over entire rooms. As time passed, these noble and royal collections were institutionalized and eventually became public museums. 

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