Athenauem Library Artists' book collections

The Athenaeum's Erika & Fred Torri Artists' Book Collection


The Athenaeum's artists' books collection has become one of the most important collections in the Athenaeum's holdings and is a driving force in the library's development. It was initiated in 1991 when Joan & Irwin Jacobs Executive Director Erika Torri received a generous donation from life member Hope Shipley with the advice "to use it for her dreams." Erika Torri had long hoped to start a collection with artists' books because that was her passion for many years prior and it seemed to her a most natural fit for the Athenaeum. The budget never allowed for extensive acquisitions, so this was a much welcomed gift. She purchased Harry Sternberg's limited edition A Life in Woodcuts, published by Brighton Press, and thus the collection was launched. 


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The mission of the collection was established with a focus on regional artists and presses and on artists who emphasized art and/or music in their works, and to add certain additional genres or presses from time to time which seemed important to the depth of the collection.


A most important gift from J. Robert Orton Jr. in 1995 and 1996 of about two hundred books from the RSM collection changed that mission slightly and added to the breadth of the Athenaeum collection. That donation comprised books and pamphlets from the 1960s to 1980s, most of them by artists known for their artwork other than books and all of them conceptual in nature. This area had long held the executive director's attention and interest, and that notable gift now enabled her to continue collecting in that genre. This part of the collection is not duplicated in any other regional collection in close proximity and has helped the Athenaeum collection to become one of the most prestigious in Southern California.


Since the initial acquisition of the first Harry Sternberg book the collection has grown enormously through purchases, sponsored acquisitions, and generous donations - now numbering close to 2,000 books - and so has its reputation. It is sought out by  artists, researchers and collectors and can be viewed by making an appointment with the library staff.

The Athenaeum's artists' books collection was named the Erika and Fred Torri Artists' Books Collection due to a naming opportunity during the "Campaign to Reclaim" fundraising effort to expand the Athenaeum into all its historic buildings, a project completed in January 2007.


In 2010, the Athenaeum published a booklet exploring the library's complete collection of artist's books by the much heralded contemporary artist Ed Ruscha. A second booklet focusing on the Athenaeum's complete collection of Ida Applebroog's artist's books was published in 2011. The third booklet on Allen Ruppersberg was published in 2012 and the fourth and fifth booklets (on John Baldessari and Bruce Nauman) were published in 2013. In 2016, the booklet on Roberta Allen's complete collection was published, and, currently, booklets on Allan Kaprow and Mel Bochner are planned. All booklets—catalogues raisonnés—are sent out to a list of national and international institutions interested in artists' books.


The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library has decidedly become a pinnacle in the artists' books world, and both those familiar and unfamiliar with this genre are invited to research this outstanding collection.


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The library's collections include more than 14,000 monographs that consist of art books, music books, and young people's books in art and music. All library materials except artists' books are available for public viewing without an appointment. In order to view an artist book, please call the library staff at (858) 454-5872 at least one day in advance.