Personal Libraries Inspire Artists

10 December 2012


Samples from my On-the-Shelf and Off-the-Shelf Printed Materials in my Personal Library

Sample of My Personal Library, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

1. From my Personal Library, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Sample of My Personal Library, Stacks of National Geographics, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

2. From my Personal Library, Stacks of “National Geographic,” Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

3. Sample of My Personal Library, Flip Books, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

3. From my Personal Library, Flip Books, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

4. Sample of My Personal Library, Pop Up Books, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

4. From from Personal Library, Pop Up Books, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

5. Sample of My Personal Library, Stacks of Vogue, Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

5.  From from Personal Library, Stacks of “Vogue,” Nikon DSLR, December 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Let me know which you prefer and why.


In every room of my home is some space devoted to books (really, print materials that include magazines), which are part of a modest and eclectic collection. Books spill onto floors and rugs, rest on shelves, lean against windowsills, stack onto tables, atop desks, hide in corners, pile on chairs,…in singles, pairs and multiples. No matter how many times I thin their ranks, they still reproduce and remain stoically visible. And still my inherited DNA dictates a neat and tidy home.

Sometimes a section will have a theme: pop-up, flip, visual arts, literature, children’s, memoirs, history, nature, travel, cooking, health. Oh, and there is the expansion of my books on photography. These pockets of goodies also include books I’m currently reading as well as the remainder of the Sunday New York Times.

I read mucho non-fiction. But I am lured by a classic or modern fictional narrative.

As a former arts administrator and educator, there is a tendency for me to lean towards stuffing my brain with arts-related matters, but I’m swayed by a great review about any genre of literature, pop culture, psychology, and science. With the winter holidays starting this past weekend, books are in the forefront as gifts for others and myself.

The printed page has inspired readers to conquer fears, open borders, perform unusual acts, seek guidance, help others, invent the extraordinary, and push creativity. Mostly, books are revered as threads that carry civilization’s deeds and experiences: real or imaginary. While their current status is being re-designed and re-invented, their staying power is not at all questioned by me.

When I arrange and re-arrange books in my personal library or browse through them at the university library, I put them into a smaller frames of reference: the still life of painting and photography. These daily objects become much more; they are elevated to a plane of beauty.

Maybe that’s why was I dazzled with the works of artists such as Jane Mount, Tatsuro Kiuchi, Hollis Brown Thornton, Wendy Machaugton, and Mickey Smith.

"My Ideal Bookshelf,"

“My Ideal Bookshelf,” edited by Thessaly La Force and art by Jane Mount, image from

"My Ideal Bookshelf,"

“Cooking,” painting by Jane Mount; Google Images

I found myself thinking about these artists’ choice of artistic subjects: bookshelves. For example, Jane Mount creates real-life, fictional and semi-fictional shelves that represent a personal collection: a mini-library with brushes and paint. Her art is found in My Ideal Bookshelf (edited by Thessaly  La Force), which is a compendium of popular icons and their favorite books.

Jane Mount replicates or invents an array of bookshelves from relatives to the well-known who are book aficionados. Her ink-and-gouache paintings are a view into someone’s personal philosophy of life, because books are known to reveal volumes (really, no pun intended) about their owners.

On that note I just read a review (Sunday New York Times, click here to read it) about the paper engineer Courtney Watson McCarthy’s new book, (Antoni) Gaudí Pop Ups (2012). Last year a friend gave me her Pop Ups of M.C. Escher (2011), and it’s quite wonderful.

Gaudi Pop Ups by Courtney Watson Mc Carthey, image from Sunday New York Times, November 30, 2012

Gaudi Pop Ups by Courtney Watson McCarthy, image from Sunday New York Times, November 30, 2012

So I keep filling my on-the-shelf and off-the-shelf areas. Some pastimes are so revered that it’s impossible to redirect the passion. And quite honestly, why would I want to deprive myself of such joy. Happy book buying and keep adding to your personal library.

Note: I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog.

This entry was posted in Human Nature, Literature, Photography, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Personal Libraries Inspire Artists

  1. patriciamoed says:

    Wonderful post! I had never really thought of physical book collections as inspirational, but you’ve opened my mind to it. My personal favorites above are #2 and #5. I love the geometry of #2. It is a work of art!

  2. petit4chocolatier says:

    I also am surrounded by books in my personal and work life. I love the feel and smell of a book.
    Turning each and every page anticipating the next chapter. Sort of like life. Love your post!!
    I love stacked magazines, and books straight up on a shelf; lovely site!

  3. Reblogged this on kbvollmarblog and commented:
    Wie Sally als Künstlerin Bibliotheken sieht, fasziniert uns Buchfeen. Und wirkt es nicht befreiend, dass sie Zeitschriftenstapel einfach auf dem Boden liegen lässt?
    Danke liebe Sally und herzliche Grüße von
    Siri und Selma
    We, the Bookfayries, are fascinated by Sally`s presentation of libraries seen with an artist`s eye. And isn`t it a relieve reading about her piles of magazines just lying on the floor?
    Dear Sally, thank you so much! Greetings to all our fans 😉
    Siri and Selma

  4. We are surrounded by books in our home and keep buying more! I like the photo of the stack of mags side on – takes a bit of working out and good fun.

  5. munchow says:

    I completely share you passion for books and printed matters. My shelves are flowing over with books, and since I cannot throw away books, it’s becoming an ever increasing problem. Maybe I should just buy myself a library one day and move in – if I could only afford it. Just of National Geographic I must have two yards of book shelves…

    • The mere thought of a stately (or even less) room completely devoted to printed material seems a giant luxury. As you I cannot imagine life without National Geographic–stacked and ready for another day’s perusal. Many thanks.

  6. You are a well rounded person. Reading is a passion that enriches us in so many ways. I wish I have a library although somehow the web is kind of my huge library. Best wishes to you and your family.

  7. Dina says:

    A great and very inspiring post, thank you! I’ve got lots of new ideas now – and our bookfayries as well. I’ll come back to you…

  8. Dear Sally,

    thanks a lot about the insight into your library. I collect books only and if I find articles concerning the books in my library I fold them and off they go into that book. But most of the arcticles I am interested in I copy and they go on my disc drive for articles.

    I just run a series of articles about famous old libraries in Dublin on my blog. But that is finished now. My new project: to present private libraries, just “normal” libraries. Reading your well written article with all those great pictures I got the idea asking you if you would allow me reblogging this article on my blog in the near future? Just have a look, please, to decide if you want to be reblogged on my blog.

    Thanks again with greetings from the North Notfolk coast
    Klausbernd an his Bookfayries Siri & Selma

    • Yes, I do the same. Often I find reviews of books or articles about authors, and slip them into books that they have written. I do “follow” your blog, and you definitely have my permission to reblog my post. Thank you for your comment. I’ll be watching for your next series.

  9. I can relate to what you wrote. I grew up in a home with thousands of books, and I began adding my own as a teenager. I used to ride my bike to a Salvation Army store three miles away and buy books for not much money (which is what I had). These many years later, I still have the bound volume of all the issues of Harper’s Weekly from 1857 that I paid 25¢ for.

    That said, there are some advantages to digital publishing, and I’ve been thinking of going the e-route with several books about language and photography that I’ve been unable to arouse interest for with a conventional publisher.

    • Harper’s Weekly in bound volumes–wow. Years ago I was researching an object of American Material Culture, and used the (university’s) library’s bound editions. I slowly turned pages of those icons of early Americana. I do agree that digital can be a path to take. After all here you and I are building an online community through cyberspace. I understand your leanings; e-publishing is probably the most sensible “route” to pursue.

  10. "Occam Blade" says:

    The trouble with my “bookshelf” is that the majority of what’s on it are periodicals such as Vogue, PDN [Photo District News], LFI [Leica Foto Internationale], among others. After awhile, my better half suggests that some should be donated to the local swap shop at our recycle center. I label these magazines as “reference material” but that’s beginning to lose its luster in an already crowded basement…

    • Another Vogue devotee–most people are shocked when they learn that I’m a fan. But I look at the publication through the lens of a photographer and writer. Isn’t every book a reference to use at “some” point? Thanks.

  11. As you know, I share your passion for the printed word! I really liked your photographs of stacked magazines, balanced precariously. (Almost a commentary of the precariousness of printed, rather than digital reading matter.)

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