The Visual Arts in Rare Books and Manuscripts

Rare Books and Manuscripts contains a wealth of primary source materials for the visual arts, from medieval manuscript illuminations to contemporary artists' books and mail art, as well as artists' personal papers and business records.  Below are just a few examples of the kinds of resources available for your research in the Jack and Jan Creighton Special Collections Reading Room in Thompson Library.  Please bear in mind that this is not a listing of our complete holdings.

 Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript Illuminations

Rare Books and Manuscripts includes in its holdings a number of illuminated manuscripts and leaves. Cataloging and digitization of the collection is in progress.  Please contact the curator if interested in a particular geographic area or time period.  In addition, there are some very fine facsimiles of important manuscripts, which may be located via a search of the library catalog.

 Woodcuts and Engravings

 Paintings and Drawings

  • One of our many surprises is a small oil still life by E. E. Cummings
  • The Lillian Feldman Schwartz collection includes art objects in a variety of media as well as her personal and business papers.  Consult the curator for details.
  • James Thurber original drawings, many unpublished, are included in the James Thurber Papers  (inventory list of drawings begins on page 114 of the finding aid)


The individual photograph collections offer works that represent the history of the medium and its well-known masters as well as unique artifacts that serve as historical documents.(See separate page devoted to photographic collections.)

Researchers also find photographs of interest within the literary archives of authors such as Nelson Algren, Louis Bromfield, Jessica Mitford, James Thurber, etc.  Consult the finding aids for those collections.

 Artists' Books and Book Arts

 Artists' Papers and Records

  • The Avant Writing Collection includes many examples of contemporary art both within the archival collections of the practitioners as well as within those of their colleagues and friends.
  • George Bellows Record Books (records kept of artworks created after he moved to New York; includes title, description, buyer, exhibits and awards, and often a thumbnail sketch for each painting)
  • Mary Jo Bole Collection (includes mail art, correspondence, information on exhibits, drawings, photos and other materials)
  • Man Ray's letters to his patron, Ferdinand Howald (included in with a portfolio of his photographs)

 Primary Sources in Print

Since our stacks are not open for browsing, we'd like to call your attention to just a few of the important early publications housed in RBMS that are of value for art historical research.