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Accordion Books: Interplay Between Form and Content

This digital teaching collection focuses on accordion books, which are a specific type of artists' book.

Accordion books: interplay between form and content

Image of folded accordion book with butterfly pop-up

Contemporary book artists take their inspiration from what has come before while utilizing new techniques and technology to create unique works of art that can be used in a variety of classes. The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives defines an artists’ book as “a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of “book” as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object. What truly makes an artist’s book is the artist’s intent, and artists have used the book as inspiration in a myriad of ways and techniques, from traditional to the experimental.” To read the complete essay, visit the Overview Essay tab of this guide.

How to Use this Digital Teaching Collection

There are many components of this Digital Teaching Collection for you to explore!

  1. The Gallery: Browse the gallery of images below to get a glimpse of our digital source set. Click on the image to be taken to a digital database where you'll find a larger version of the object, more details about it, and be able to download a copy to use for research.
  2. Overview Essay: Want to understand how these archival items work together? Read our overview essay to better understand the greater context of the objects and the histories that surround them. 
  3. List of Sources: Visit the list of primary sources to read descriptive text that our librarians have written. These descriptions will help you better understand the object and will jumpstart your research. Click on the image to be taken to a digital database where you'll find a larger version of the object, more details about it, and be able to download a copy to use for research.
  4. Teaching Guide: These collections have been designed with students and educators in mind. Visit our Teaching Guide to find discussion questions, activity ideas, and complete lesson plans for K-12 and undergraduate audiences. 
  5. Additional Resources: The search for primary sources does not stop with one institution! We've listed other digital collections and repositories that have archival sources relevant to this topic as well as tips for continuing your research.

The Gallery

In this rotating gallery, you'll get a glimpse of some the items from this digital teaching collection. Click on the image to be taken to a digital database where you'll find a larger version of the object, more details about it, and be able to download a copy to use for research. To see the entire set of sources, visit the List of Sources

The Gallery

Brown & black mobius strip with accordion folded instructions

The Happersett Accordion. Invented by the eminent pataphysic authority," by Susan Happersett, 2001

The Happersett accordion is an artist’s book made from stiff brown paper creased into accordion folds and glued together at the ends to form a Mobius strip. A Mobius strip is a one-sided surface that is constructed by affixing the ends of a rectangular strip after giving one of the ends of the strip a twist. It’s a mathematical concept of an object that is a non-orientable, two-dimensional surface that has only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space. It is accompanied by an accordion folded certificate of authenticity with assembly instructions and warning that the product is mind boggling Mobius device.

Photo of accordion folded book

Free Little Bird, by Donna Thomas and Peter Thomas, 2019

Free Little Bird combines text from an Appalachian folk song and excerpt from Maya Angelou’s book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” with a nested accordion binding and a repurposed mahogany wood cover. The front cover is engraved with an image of a bird. Pages are laser cut in paper doll style with bird images and there are 9 linocut blocks with text and images of birds.

Image of open accordion book with printed image of woman and child

[the coaching book] by MalPina Chan, 2013

[The coaching book] by MalPina Chan is an artist’s book that utilizes immigration papers, maps, family photographs, and artwork to examine the artist’s own Chinese-American heritage. The book is accordion-folded and uses monoprint, image transfer, kozo paper, and silk-covered board.

Image of 3D black and green plastic accordion book

Orihon, by Tom Burtonwood, 2014

Orihon by Tom Burtonwood is a 3D-printed, book-like object that consists of eight leaves and six relief illustrations. Illustrations were created using photogrammetric scans of a sculpture. Leaves are connected by hinges and folded in accordion-style.

Image of heart shaped accordion book in a heart shaped tin

The Wedding Plans, by Kirstin Demer, 2006

The Wedding Plans by Kirstin Demer is an artist’s book in accordion fold with heart-shaped pages. The pages feature an original poem that is hand-set and printed by the artist on cotton paper. The book rests in a heart-shaped metal case with a transparent plastic lid.

Seal of National Endowment for the HumanitiersThis digital teaching collection has been made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.  Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this digital collection do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.