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Starting an In-Home Art Library

The secret is knowing where to look, what to look for and having the time to find it.

By Carol E. Merrill

How in the world did one woman, with a limited budget create one of the largest in-home art libraries in the state of Utah? There is no doubt that it started with a passion for the arts and being willing, at times, to sacrifice what I thought I needed for what I truly wanted. Perhaps, that is not the best advice for everyone, but for me, it worked wonderfully. I never went without paying a bill or eating a meal, but I was willing to forego some of the extras that makes everyday living enjoyable. Ah . . . but I was happy as I sat down next to a blazing fireplace and opened, yet another, intriguing art book.

It wasn't long ago that I drove to a small city in California and walked into one of my favorite used bookstores. The moment I walked into the store I knew that I had found an incredible treasure. Staring straight at me was the out-of-print book, "Richard Schmid Paints the Advanced Figure." I had looked for the book for quite a while and couldn't find a copy I could afford. I quickly walked to the shelf, grabbed the book and held it close to my chest. I wasn't going to let this book go! Uncertain how much this book was going to cost me, I went to the register with a little bit of fear and trepidation and asked, "How much is this book?" I was told it was seven-fifty. I was thinking that it was $750.00. I had heard that a mint condition of this book would be pricey, but I had no idea it was THAT pricey. Imagine my surprise when she told me that it was $7.50. I am now a proud owner of "Richard Schmid Paints the Advanced Figure" and I couldn't be happier. The used bookstore had no idea of the value of what was sitting on their shelf. They were happy with the sale and I was thrilled with my new treasure.

I have learned that there are three types of art book buyers: The hobbyist, the passionate artist and the collector. Most people fit into the first category, many people fit into the second category and fewer individuals fit into the third category. I started as a hobbyist, grew into the passionate artist and, surprisingly, became the collector. It doesn"t matter which category you fall into, the quest for finding the perfect book is the same. The secret is knowing where to look, what to look for and having the time to find it.

Over the years I have developed certain strategies in looking for and finding the books that will add quality and quantity to my library. By following these simple ideas of where to look for books you will be on your way to creating a wonderful library:

Phone books I frequently have the opportunity to travel and one of the first things I will do when I know I am going out of town, is to research local bookstores, thrift stores and antique stores. I then take my list and do a little internet research. If a bookstore has all of the latest up-to-date books, I will not take the time to visit them. It is very likely that I can find the same books at my local bookstore. However, if the store advertises that they specialize in used and rare books, then I will always take the time to visit.

Used bookstores The very best type of used bookstores are the ones that do not have computers. Chances are they may not know the difference in value between a "hard-to-find" book and one that is just run-of-the-mill. Used bookstores that are owned and operated by one person are wonderful. Often times, the owner is willing to discuss lower prices if you buy several books. Building a relationship with a neighborhood bookstore owner is a great way to have them save some of their best books for you and you will develop a wonderful working relationship in the process.

Thrift shops Who would have ever guessed that I would find several incredible art books over 100 years old at a thrift shop? Make sure that you have plenty of time to look through books and don't overlook a book just because of a title. It is true that you "can't always judge a book by its cover." Often times, thrift shops do not have an "art" category for their books, so be sure to look in the biography, history, landscape and photography sections.

Antique stores Many antique stores will use art books as part of their displays, but don't take the time to research their value. Since books are not the main target of their sales, they often are unaware of the contents or worth of the book. Antique bookstores are a great resource for finding vintage and collectable books.

Garage sales Every once in awhile you may run across a person who is trying to de-clutter their home and get rid of books. This is a good way to pick up a book or two at a very low price. We have all heard of people who have discovered valuable paintings at a garage sale, well, valuable books are often unpublicized treasures.

Bookstores Many of the chain bookstores have bargain sections of books near the checkout stands. Keep an eye on this section from month-to-month because it is constantly changing and you can find some beautiful books for reasonable prices.

Estate sales It is easy to identify if an estate sale will have something you are looking for in the area of art. If you see paintings, frames, canvases, etc. when you first walk into a home, chances are there will be art books somewhere in the vicinity.

Museums There are fabulous books that are only available at museums. If you can, start collecting museum books that are focused on specific arts, types of art or artists. You can research museums on-line and go to their "stores" to find the books that are currently on sale. Remember, museums will rotate their books based on the exhibit.

Friends When close friends travel to other states or other countries, I will often give them money and they get excited about looking for a something special to bring back to me for my collection. Adding books from Cyprus, Switzerland, France, Taiwan, etc. has provided me with books that I may not have been familiar with, had I tried to find them on my own.

On-line purchasing If you need to save money and love a little competition, ebay is fun way to purchase books. Sometimes that same book is on sale, by different people, and the prices will vary greatly. Be sure to contact the seller and they can tell you if they have additional art books and are willing to sell them to you and ship them all at once to save you excessive postage. I have found that it is advantageous, before bidding on a book, to check with Amazon.com to see if the same book is available for a lesser price.

Be Brave Never overlook an opportunity for an adventure in discovering books. I was driving down a relatively remote road somewhere in the middle of Vermont and noticed a detached garage filled with books. I pulled off the road to investigate and met the home owner. Imagine my surprise when he invited me into the garage to look at the books. It was there that I found and bought over a dozen books. The man shared with me that some of the books had belonged to his grandmother who was a writer and lover of art. I bought six of the books that had belonged to his grandmother, and each book was well over 100 years old. The art books are exquisite and I love knowing that they had belonged to his grandmother. Oh, and he sold me each of his grandmother's books for $3.50 each. We occasionally stay in touch and I appreciate, yet another, friend.

With 500 plus books in my collection, I had to find a way to organize them in bookshelves that made it easy for me and my students to find reference materials and ideas. I created sections based on categories, i.e., anatomy, drawing, color theory, how-to books, landscapes, seascapes, floral, still life, animals, etc. Then, of course there were additional sections that included: renaissance, baroque, neo-classical, romantic, impressionism, museums and specific artists.

What began with five or six "how-to" books has now become an enviable collection of current, past, hard-to-find, rare and collectible books. My library didn't happen over night, but over a period of 10 years I created one of the finest in-home art libraries in the state of Utah. I have learned one very important lesson over the past year of collecting books . . . if you have a passion in life (or art) follow that passion and, therein, you will find long term joy and fulfillment. Happy Hunting!

Carol E. Merrill is a classical academic and impressionist artist from Layton, Utah. She is the owner of Merrill Fine Arts Studio, where she teaches classical academic oil painting, classical impressionism and impressionism art. She has authored the "Artist Progression Journal" and three instructional manuals for her classes. She teaches evening, Saturday and three-day workshops at the base of the Wasatch Mountains in Layton, Utah. She has studied art in the United States, Canada and Europe seeking to find those who can help her in sharpening her skills as an artist and an instructor. She has is, also, the director of the Women's Center at Weber State University. She received her Bachelor's of Art degree from Weber State University and her Master's Degree in Social Work, with an emphasis in Clinical Counseling, from the University of Utah. She is a local, national and international motivational speaker who focuses on helping others to set goals and fulfill their dreams.