Life in an Archive: Archives, Books, and Artistry

A Closer Look at an Artist’s Book
by Béatrice Skokan, Special Collections Librarian


Check memory by Martin Casuso was inspired by a small archive of checks that his mother wrote in the 1970s.

Martin Casuso created the artist book Check memory in 2010 as part of a semester long project at the University of Miami Libraries Special Collections. The students from Professor Carol Todaro’s sculpture class were to use archives from the library or their personal archives to create artist books.


The artist’s book includes fifteen short narratives typed on the back of the old checks.

“Using a small archive of checks that my mother wrote in the 1970s, I have written text based on my memory of the place or person to whom the check was written. The cedar memory box with its gilt “Mother” label, seemed appropriate to house these reminiscences. The red leather tag is the luggage tag that was always on my mother’s travel bag. It was good for binding the check pages.”

Martin’s artist book is not only aesthetically pleasing in its simplicity but captures the spirit of his mother, Titia, through fifteen short narratives typed on the back of the old checks. The stories also serve as “aide-mémoire,” capturing snapshots of life in Miami in the 1970s, taking the reader through local cultural landmarks like Belen Jesuit School or shopping at Burdines, the Florida-based department store. As a mother of two boys and an archivist, I love the beautifully crafted box of his candid memories of life with his mother in Miami linking the personal with community history.

So what is an artist’s book? In his introduction to Johanna Drucker’s The Century of Artists’’ Books,[1] Holland Cotter explains:


This cedar memory box houses Casuso’s artist book.

“In almost every case, attention to the book’s visual presence—its objectness—is pronounced, in a manner that embraces elements of painting, sculpture, collage and filmic techniques. The conceptual dimensions of the book are similarly broadened. Some of these artists’ books are made for reading, some for looking, some for touching, many for all three. In content, they range from political statements, to formal meditations, to personal fantasies…Scholars and connoisseurs will want to study them; kids, particularly kids with hungry, highly developed imaginations, will just want to get their hands on them.”

I invite you to visit the University of Miami Special Collections to view, read, and touch over five hundred archival collections and two hundred artists’ books.

Photos by Cory Czajkowski.

Stay tuned throughout Archives Month for stories about how UM students, researchers, donors, and community members are breathing life into UM Libraries’ unique and distinctive collections. Happy Archives Month!

[1] Drucker, J., Granary Books (Firm), & Press Collection (Library of Congress). (1995). The century of artists’ books. New York City: Granary Books. P. 1