Marama Warren: Living a creative life

Tiny intricate book called 'Hope Boat', presented within a shell boat, with a leaf for a sail.Hope Boat, 2013. Snake book in a boat. Unique.

In early February I attended the ‘Artists’ books, zines and other collaborative ventures’ course at the Australasian Rare Books Summer School, hosted this year by the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

The course was led by Emeritus Professor Sasha Grishin from the Australian National University. Professor Grishin is a leading Australian art historian, art critic, and curator.

Marama Warren

Artists’ books became the main focus of the course and provided me with the highlight of the Summer School and, in fact, of my working year so far.

One of the invited speakers was New Zealand-born artist, bookmaker, and educator Marama Warren. Marama worked as a journalist and publicist in the arts before moving to New South Wales over 25 years ago.

Marama Warren, holding one of her pieces and speaking.Marama Warren presenting at the Australasian Rare Books Summer School, Mitchell Library, February 2016.

On her website Marama writes: “I love playing with words, images and paper, and I especially enjoy making books... My intention is to live a simple and creative life”.

Freelance writing, editing, and publishing also help pay the bills. Out of this lifestyle, has come a substantial body of work in the form of artists’ books.

You can imagine how my professional interest was piqued when the New Zealand and south Pacific elements of many of Marama’s works were revealed during her talk. This was followed not long after by acknowledgment of her New Zealand background, and ongoing connections in this country.

I soon discovered that the Alexander Turnbull Library had none of her works and, as it turned out, nor did any other New Zealand library.

Small book unfolded and tied with a ribbon to display as a lovely piece of flower-like geometry.The Meroogal Garden, 2006. Circular flower fold. Unique.

This is not to say that Marama’s work is unknown – examples of her artists’ books are held in the Australian National Library, the Australian National Gallery, the State Library of Queensland (with Feral Artists group), and Wollongong University.

Her works have been exhibited in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and Japan. They have also been included in anthologies such as the beautifully illustrated 1,000 artists’ books: exploring the book by Sandra Salamony with Peter and Donna Thomas. (See on Google Books.)

A printed Japanese-style hand fan.Dark of the moon, 2013. Fan book. Edition of 6.

A major acquisition

Following the Summer School, an agreement was negotiated with Marama to purchase 60 of her artist’s books. Two large boxes containing the works arrived in mid-May and were unpacked onto the work bench to an accompanying chorus of admiring “oohs” and “aahs” from passing colleagues.

Having all 60 books arranged on the work bench provided a unique opportunity to view the wonderful variety of Marama Warren’s work.

The books were produced between 1991 and 2015, and provide a reasonably comprehensive coverage of Marama’s artist’s book output for that period.

They demonstrate a variety of bindings such as pamphlet, Japanese, concertina, Coptic stitch, stab, and hexagonal.

They also comprise a variety of formats such as circular slot books, and albums, as well as cleverly paper-engineered circular flower folds, star and folding snake structures, and flag books.

Tall and narrow multi-folded book, pulled around to form a star with the cover side on the inner.Love & mercy: selected poems, 1979-2007, 2007. Star book structure. Edition of 33.

A number of the books are unique, the rest having been made in very small production runs.

True to the concept of modern artist’s books, the unconventional formats are combined with interesting papers and miscellanea, and original textual content and imagery, to create works which express the maker’s intent or idea through their every aspect - physical and intellectual.

Bespoke boxing and specialist cataloguing

Obtaining and processing the 60 books in one acquisition event is a large undertaking. It involves, for example, hours of work for the conservation team making bespoke boxes and containers for every work, and for specialist cataloguers skilled in non-standard book cataloguing.

However, now that Marama’s work is well represented in the Library’s New Zealand & Pacific and Rare Books & Fine Printing collections, acquiring additional works will be a much simpler exercise – hopefully allowing more time for a little indulgent enjoyment of the incoming material.

Please note: This collection is currently with the conservation team and has not yet been fully catalogued. However, there are brief records for all of the works on the library’s online catalogue. They can be located by searching the catalogue for “Marama Warren”.

Book made up of a connected set of hexagons, unfolded.Bee Boys song, 2010. Hexagonal binding. Open edition. Inset image shows book closed.

Zines

Although the Alexander Turnbull Library collects artists’ books created by New Zealanders, it was the zine element of the course title which initially caught my eye.

Zines are a new and developing collecting area in the Library’s New Zealand & Pacific Collection.

They are difficult to acquire using standard acquisition processes due to the alternative or counter-culture nature of their publication and distribution, and often even trickier to catalogue satisfactorily once we have them.

Donations of zines are welcome. The Alexander Turnbull Library is interested in acquiring zines by New Zealand zinesters, or zines containing New Zealand or south Pacific-related content. If you’re interested in donating, drop us a line at atl@dia.govt.nz or see our info about it.

Zine publishers working in New Zealand should remember that zines are covered by Legal Deposit and copies should therefore be deposited with the Library when they're published. If you have any questions about whether the zine you have produced should be deposited with us, email legaldeposit@dia.govt.nz or phone 04 474 3104.

New Zealand-born Australian artists

Professor Grishin, by the way, estimated that about one quarter of practising Australian artists are New Zealand-born – which indicates that there are likely to be other expat New Zealanders in Australia whose published output is in scope for the Library’s collections.

Find more artists’ books

The Alexander Turnbull Library has many examples of artists’ books. You can find them using the National Library online catalogue and searching for keywords like handmade, the genre term Artists' books, and subject headings such as Wooden bindings or Fine Books—New Zealand—Auckland—Specimens.

By Rose-Marie Tonk

Rose-Marie is the Collections Librarian at the Turnbull, and has a particular interest in artists' books and zines. At home she has a small but growing collection of paper-engineered books.

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Val September 19th at 3:50PM

Beautiful! So exciting to see things like this coming into the collections! Looking forward to seeing more zines as well!

Lynley September 20th at 7:11AM

Thanks Rose-Marie for this post. It looks amazing and how interesting:)

Dorothy September 21st at 1:21PM

What an exciting acquisition. Wonderful to see her work recognised.

Ken Williams September 21st at 1:52PM

Marvellous work. Marama creates such exhilarating and extraordinary pieces. And is a person as lovely as the designs you see here.

Noël September 21st at 2:00PM

Beautiful work. Thanks for bringing this into a bigger community to enjoy.

Lana Davies September 21st at 5:20PM

I am very proud of my god-mother Marama <3
Little handmade books I have always received,
maybe you are the reason I am so creative today!
I love your work....beautiful! xox

Sandy Aureli September 22nd at 11:24AM

It's just thrilling that Marama's inspirational work has gained this recognition in her home country. Congratulations Rose-Marie on your visionary curating!

Kath September 22nd at 4:03PM

Beautiful art work from an amazing artist. How wonderful to see it all brought together in New Zealand.

patricia September 23rd at 2:47PM

what an amazing collection you have of Marama Warren,s beautiful work ,always unique and special ..patricia

Rhonda FitzPatrick September 25th at 3:46PM

I was privileged to be in Marama's writing group for quite some time, when I lived in Mollymook NS.W She always extended us, and I loved the challenges. Here, in S.A. I have been in the U3A creative writing group, which offered different challenges. I am now moving to Clunes. Vic. 'BOOK TOWN" and am thrilled to hear they too, have a creative writing group. How it does enrich my life. Thank you Marama.

Jane Campbell September 26th at 12:37PM

Had no idea books could be so different from the stand ones I grew up with.
Would love to see more. Congratulations Lou.