Vicky and Bill Stewart
Interview conducted by Emma Stolarski, Pitzer College '18
Does Vamp & Tramp’s approach to a subject matter of cultural/gender/sexual identity and race differ from other booksellers and collectors? How did the focus on this subject matter come about?
Frankly, I don't know about other booksellers and collectors. Although it's a subject that is of some interest to us, when we are approached with a book that has compelling content and production, we agree to represent it no matter what the topic is. We don't focus on any subject. Our two criteria for agreeing to accept books are these: First, at least one of us has to have a wow connection with the book. Second, we have to think we have a good chance of placing the book with a collector or collection. If the book meet these criteria and happens to be on the subject of cultural/gender/sexual identity and race – so much the better.
What is Vamp & Tramp’s relationship with other booksellers and presses?
I'm not sure I understand this question. We are in the business of representing makers of contemporary fine press and artists' books. We try to be honest and up front with everybody – booksellers, presses, and artists – and try our best to do what we say we are going to do. That's how we relate to the world.
How does Vamp & Tramp go about finding more artist books for the collection?
The presses and artists find us. We've been doing this long enough that people generally know what we do and how we try to do things. If they want representation, they contact us – mostly via email – and we start from there. Then the criteria expounded in #2 comes into play.
What is Vamp & Tramp's relationship to the artists it represents?
Same answer as above. We will give advice if asked – about prices, etc. We are not makers, so we can't and don't give production advice. Also, we are not marketers, and don't have the time, energy, or wherewithal to do special promotions for individual presses/artists or books. With 400+ artists and presses, we don't have time for daily chats or exchanges.
How did Vamp & Tramp's representation of artists evolve to include a diverse group of people?
There was no strategy or plan. The group we represent are all makers of books we are excited about and whose work we think we can place – and who wanted us to represent their work. Many of them, if not most, we have only met via email or telephone. Often we don't know the ethnic background or even the gender of as artist. We see the work, and start there.
How do you think Vamp & Tramp has left an impact on the industry of book arts?
I'm completely stumped on this one. We have done what we have done for almost 2 decades, have placed a lot of work, have paid our bills, have made (most of) our artists/presses happy enough to continue sending us work, and have made enough institutions and collectors happy enough with the books and service we provide to continue letting us in the front door – and that's about it. Impact? That's for others to say.
What do you think the future looks like for the artist book industry?
I think to call it an industry is stretching things. But we find more and more interest in contemporary fine press and artists' book. Our guess is that this at least in part a reaction to the virtual world that many of the people find themselves immersed in for so much of their lives. There is definitely more and more work being done. The challenge for the future it seems to us is to find more and more private – that is, non-institutional -- customers for the work. Both the delight of and the challenge for the world of artists' books is how essential the physical parts of the works are. They are labor intensive and therefore not inexpensive to produce – and thus relatively costly. We live in a culture that has a long-standing suspicion of intellectualism and art. For many, it smacks of elitism. Artists' books and fine press books clearly are part of that world.