Circle or Zero, an artists' book by Mari Eckstein Gower
March 3, 2017

Vamp & Tramp Booksellers Bill and Vicky Stewart put as many miles on their minivan each year touring the country to share their love of artists’ books as the average person racks up in his daily work commute.

Birmingham, Alabama is where Bill and Vicky call home, yet they spend nearly 11 months on the road each year, driving coast to coast to visit Special Collections libraries and show their assortment of artists’ books. “We average about 40,000 to 45,000 miles each year on the minivan,” Bill said.

During their west coast tour, Bill and Vicky brought their traveling “road show” to Rivera Library on the morning of March 2, 2017. Their display featured dozens of artists’ books ranging from colorful pop-ups that showed traditional cultural costumes, to miniature books carved out of wood, to accordion-fold books that depicted stylized creation myths from myriad cultures, and more.

Their passion for artists’ books is the result of “pure dumb luck,” as Bill stated. He first encountered artists’ books while he was selling first editions of literature and mystery fiction at a book fair. “I stumbled across one of these books and thought, ‘Wow! How much more exciting is this?’” he said.

Bill bought his first artists’ book that day and immediately shared it with his wife and business partner, Vicky. “That was nearly 20 years ago,” he explained. “We started small and grew more and more.”

Vamp & Tramp Booksellers began as a brick and mortar bookshop in Birmingham and gradually evolved into the traveling business model that it is today. “When it came time to make a decision about whether to keep the shop open, we decided to get rid of all the first editions,” Bill stated. “The best way to sell artists’ books is to travel around the country and let people see, touch, smell, and sometimes even taste the books.”

Bill and Vicky closed the doors to their physical bookshop in 2003 and started living on the road in 2004.

It was several years ago during one of their cross-country tours that Bill and Vicky first met Cherry Williams, UCR Library’s Director of Distinctive Collections. Like Bill and Vicky had, Cherry fell in love with artists’ books right away.

“People need to have a hands-on experience with artists’ books,” Cherry said. “It’s very different to be able to touch them than it is to see the books inside an exhibit case. It engages all the senses. I think the artistry is really amazing, how they envision and create.”

Bill agrees. “There are things that resist the digital world,” he explained. “We find when we give presentations to students, the physical part of the book becomes part of the esthetic experience – how it opens, how it feels. Artists’ books are sort of the antidote to the digital world.”

Attendees of the Vamp & Tramp event voted on which book that UCR Library would acquire, and the book selected was “Circle or Zero” by Mari Eckstein Gower. “It’s a limited edition of 15, which means there are only 14 others in the world,” Cherry explained.

“Circle or Zero” (pictured above) will soon be available for request in Special Collections on the fourth floor of Rivera Library. Many other artists’ books are currently available, until this one has been cataloged, and we encourage you to come explore our collection.