Ellen Wiener: Book as Art, Art as Book

We were drawn to Ellen Wiener when we read that she creates artist’s books. An artist’s book is not an Art Book; it is a work of art that takes the form of a book, often produced as a one-of-a-kind object or in small editions. She tells this story of how she came to the form:

Another time pictures saved my life. My knee [had] swollen to the size of a melon and I was lying in a hospital. Such despair. How to recover and then cope with the mountain of medical paperwork? In a fever the idea emerged swimming in heat. ‘I will do as people have done for centuries – seek restoration as a pilgrim.’ Blue History is a record of that walk to Santiago twelve years ago. I used a staff – I am not young. It transformed the conceptual scale of my work from single images to step-by-step series of panoramas that now stretch to hundreds of feet of paintings, drawings, and prints.

Why, then, books? Because, she says, “I appreciate the special mechanics of books – where information is revealed over time… the opposite, shall we say, of a subway poster or a sound byte. The reader/viewer actually does much of the heavy lifting of invention unconsciously – by mentally stacking tiers of pictures, dialogue, and description to eventually make their own version from the given elements. This creation hovers somewhere outside above the book or the frame… very subjective, very inclusive.”

The books are often small and intimate, say 4 x 6 inches, easy to hold in the hand. Then, on opening one up – slowly, carefully – they can extend to as long as 10 feet. To show you how this works we present three of her pieces. For each, you will see stills followed by an image you can manipulate as slowly as you would if you were exploring the physical book. Breathtaking.


(Use the arrows on the lower left corner to move the image below back and forth.)

Margin and Scree, 2011, Edition 8.
5.5 x 3” Closed, 5.5 x 10 feet opened.
Archival ink jet print on rag paper. Bound in ochre silk removable covers.


panel 9.5

panel 12

(Use the arrows on the lower left corner to move the image below back and forth.)

Clerk of the Carpet, Edition 6.
closed 5.75 x 4 x 1″, opened 5.75 x 110″.



(Use the arrows on the lower left corner to move the image below back and forth.)


Blue History, 5.5. x 3” closed 5.5 x 10 feet opened. 2008. Edition 8.
Archival ink jet print on rag paper. Bound in removable black silk covers.



Ellen Wiener frequently collaborates with poets – her images have appeared on over a dozen book covers. Currently her books can be seen at The Center for Book Arts and Central Booking Gallery in New York. A professor of visual arts since 1985, she has taught at Princeton, Dartmouth, Queens CUNY and, most recently, SUNY Stony Brook. Her work has been exhibited at museums, galleries, and libraries nationwide. She is the manager of The Ink Hotel, a working-retreat house for writers and artists on the North Fork of Long Island. Contact her on her website:


  1. Having seen Ellen’s art books in person .. I find them simply magical- small colorful jewels that spread their wings into stunning visual journeys.

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