National Museum of Women in the Arts
Betty R. Sweren
1931 - present
Photograph of Betty R. Sweren, courtesy of the artist
Place of Birth:
Work Type/Media:
Books and manuscripts, Drawings and prints
Artistic Role(s):
Book Artist, Book Binder, Paper Artist, Printmaker
Artist's Statement:
Betty R. Sweren enjoys her special dual role as a book artist, and as a collector of, and advocate for, artists’ books. Combining a life-long love of books with training in art, music, creative writing and drama, this native of Baltimore, Maryland found herself very much at home thirty years ago when she discovered the exciting, multi-faceted world of the book arts. “I must have been born with a pop-up book in one hand and an italic pen in the other,” she declares.

Throughout a busy life - she earned a BA in English Literature from Goucher College and an MS in Applied Behavioral Science from Johns Hopkins University, taught elementary school, helped start Baltimore’s Center Stage, and raised a family of four - Sweren always managed to find time for hands-on art. She took drawing, painting and sculpture courses at Maryland Institute College of Art and Telfair Academy, graphics classes at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and calligraphy seminars with Donald Jackson at University of California, Santa Cruz.

However, when Sweren realized she wanted to do more than make elegantly written texts, (she wanted to make whole books, from cover to cover), the timely arrival in Baltimore of Pyramid Atlantic Studio allowed her to expand her knowledge and skills in other aspects of bookmaking: binding, papermaking, pulp painting, and letter press printing. With the help of masters such as Rick Hungerford and Jan Sobota, her dream of creating three-dimensional, tactile, interactive books became a reality. Now, Sweren’s own work is in the permanent collections of many rare book libraries, including the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, England).

Her infectious enthusiasm for artists’ books led her to become the long-time Board President of Pyramid Atlantic, and to membership on the NMWA Library Fellows Committee. From 2002 to 2003, The Artful Book exhibit at the Walters Art Museum featured thirty items from Sweren’s renowned personal collection, and she often welcomes classes and gallery groups to her library.

Inspiration for Sweren’s books has come from illuminated manuscripts, ethnic textiles and sculptural art from a variety of different cultures, and Post-Impressionist painters, particularly Matisse. These influences have shaped her concept of the artist’s book as an intricate tapestry, weaving all the elements – paper, binding, imagery, and text – into a visual embodiment of the content. She believes that while an artist’s book may or may not have text, may or may not be sequential, it must always create a unique experience for the viewer: colors, textures and rhythms combining to form a vibrant drama for both the eyes and the mind.

Biography courtesy of Betty R. Sweren

Other Occupation(s):
Collector, Librarian, Teacher, Writer, Board Member
Place(s) of Residence:
Owning Mills
Where Trained/Schools:
Goucher College, Baltimore, MD, USA Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD, USA Telfair Academy, Savannah, GA, USA Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD, USA University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA Pyramid Atlantic Studio, Silver Spring, MD, USA
Related Visual Artists:
student of Donald Jackson student of Jan Sobota student of Rick Hungerford influenced by Henri Matisse
NMWA exhibition(s):
Book as Art I
Book as Art VIII
The Book as Art: Twenty Years of Artists' Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts
Book as Art XII: Artists' Books from the Permanent Collection
Book as Art IV
Book as Art XIV: Temptations