SCAD Librarian Elliot McNally on Artist Books

Elliot McNally. Image courtesy of Emme Raus.

Elliot McNally is the Special Collections Librarian at SCAD Atlanta who organized the successful artist book symposium and competition last week. A 2009 SCAD graduate with a B.F.A. in fibers, McNally is responsible for the preservation, arrangement, description and access to ACA Library's unique material. ACA Library features an amazing collection passed on from the Atlanta College of Art that consists of rare art books, exhibition catalogues, little magazines, prints and a large collection of artists' books. The dedicated SCAD library staff collect contemporary artists' books and are proud to have the largest institutional holding of Nexus Press books, a collection previously part of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. We caught up with Elliot McNally about her library work, the purpose of artist books and a recap of SCAD Atlanta's 2016 Artists' Book Symposium and Competition. 

Emme Raus: Why did you want to become a librarian? What drew you to work at SCAD?

Elliot McNally: After graduating from SCAD, I moved to Pittsburgh and taught bookmaking classes, exhibited my art and worked at the Andy Warhol Museum and restaurants. I enjoyed the teaching aspect of what I was doing most and, after meeting the archivists at the Warhol, I realized my experience with different materials, art handling and thirst for knowledge would transfer to archival and special collections librarianship. Pittsburgh has a great library school, so I got my Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh, and have been lucky to work in special collections as an archivist on collections of textiles, art, poetry, social activism and worked with an ambassador to Norway. When the job at SCAD opened up, my grant was wrapping up in Buffalo, NY, and I was excited at the prospect to work with artists' books and students again on a small art school campus. The pull from Buffalo winters to the South was also strong.

The sculptural artist book contenders in the Artist Book Competition at SCAD Atlanta on May 12. Image courtesy of Emme Raus.

ER: Can you tell us what the purpose of an artist book is?

EM: An artists' book can have many purposes and as many reasons as any art form, but I think what unites all artists' books is the utilization of the book form to create work that is meant to be handled, experienced and "read."ER: What makes artist books valuable, especially for students? 

EM: I think the value of artists' books for students, or anyone, is that they get to experience art in a hands-on way, get a little confused and relearn the definition of a book. If you are open to accepting a new definition for something as concrete as a book, it becomes easy to open yourself up to different viewpoints and relearn anything. I also think it is important to see and experience art that is off the wall and get the personal experience of discovery that so many artists' books offer. It's such a great way to play with your message and let form and function interact to create an interactive and intimate multi-sensory experience that fits on a shelf.

Artist book competition winners Norah Zagorski (Left) and Milo Reid (Right). Image courtesy of Emme Raus.

ER: How did the event “Artists Books, Zines and Everything In Between” go? What were some of the highlights? Which students won the Student Artists' Book Competition Awards?

EM: The event went well. We had a panel discussion with five local artists and entrepreneurs working with books: Robin Bernat, William Boling, Carolyn Carr, Amanda Mills, and juror Ashley Schick. One of the highlights was the awards presentation where Ashley Schick, printmaking M.F.A. alumna, handed out awards and the student winners showed their books to the audience and talked about their process. We had such an amazing pool of student work, Ashley chose five categories and spent a whole morning assessing the entries. The winners in each category are as follows:

Sculptural Books

First Place: Bentley’s Blueberry Tea, Norah Zagorski

Second Place: Good Afternoon Balloon, Morgan Ball

Third Place: Sacred, Helen O’Connor

Honorable Mention: Untitled (One-Way Trip), Liangyi He 

Wordless Books

First Place: Hue, Helen O’Connor

Second Place: Munch, Misha Freyberger

Third Place: Illusion, Linh-Chi Nguyen 

Books with Text: Original Content

First Place: #FAFATL, Amy M Douglas

Second Place: Room for Jesus, Kasey Melin

Third Place: Monotonous, Ye Sol Lee 

Books with Text: Sourced Content

First Place: Unfavorable Amazon Reviews, Milo Reid

Second Place: Pan’s Labyrinth, Carlos Albaladejo

Third Place: Relativity, Keeley Gribb

Honorable Mention: Grand Budapest Hotel, My Thao Nguyen 


First Place: Deep Inside My Mind, Alexander Solomon

Second Place: SCAD Atlanta Radio Music Zine (3), SCAD Atlanta Radio

Third Place: On LGBT Representation in the Media, Hannah Pasedag 

Librarian’s Choice

First Place: Einstein’s Dreams, Vitor Silva

Honorable Mention: Looking, Peter Tran

A selection of artist books from the Artist Book Symposium and Competition. Image courtesy of Emme Raus.

ER: What are some of your favorite artist books?

EM: This is a tough question! It probably changes everyday. I really enjoy the conceptual artists' books the most. Instead of favorites, I will tell you about the first artists' book I ever saw that challenged the definition of a book for me: On the Slates by Clark Coolidge. It is an unbound roll of pages cut to the size of dollar bills rolled and wrapped in a dollar, tied in a shoe lace, shoved into a man's dress shoe and finally placed in a shoe box wrapped in tissue. I was hooked!ER: Do you have any advice for a student looking to create his/her own artist book?

EM: My advice would be to keep it simple! The best artists' books are the ones that are very clever, but use simple forms to compliment and add to a cohesive design and idea. Also, if you want to make an artists' book, you should come up and see our collections and take a bookmaking class (or minor) here at SCAD! That is how I learned and I loved it. The student winners and other entries will be on display in the library from Monday, May 16 through summer 2016.