Three great art books that'll arrive by Christmas

Still looking for gifts for art book-loving friends or family? Just in time for holiday gift giving (or wish-listing) here a few reviews the best art books I discovered this year.

From the Land of the Totem Poles

"From The Land of The Totem Poles" by Aldona Jonaitis [Amazon] is a wonderful read that is more like two books in one. One part is the story of the American Museum of Natural History as it collects artifacts from the Northwest Coastal tribes in the 19th century. Lots of tales of conquest, competition, back stabbing, and tribal rivalries—and that's just between the various personalities from the museums! It took a German immigrant to become the American Museum's trusted ambassador.

The other part is the story of the Native Americans and a visual treasure trove of luscious color photos of carved masks, rattles, copper panel, and more from the Northwest Coast tribes. I was fascinated to see the early examples of formline design and the ingenious transforming masks. Also fascinating are the details about the clever stagecraft used by NW tribal shaman, like how they used kelp tubes secretly buried in the ground as sound pipes: voices magically came from the burning fire!

268 pages crammed with handsome and historical photos and maps.

The Art of Mark Ryden's Whipped Cream

Here's another great holiday gift book idea, to give or to get: "Mark Ryden The Art of Whipped Cream" from American Ballet Theater [Amazon]. This large format art book  (232 14" x 10" pages!) is the best souvenir from the coolest ballet you never saw.

German composer Richard Strauss's 1924 production features the story of a boy who overeats at a Viennese bakery and has fevered dreams of crazy characters, like whirling Princess Tea Flower, leaping Prince Cocoa, and dancing whipped cream sprites. Nuttier than the Nutcracker! The text explains the political allegories to the politics of pre-WWII Germany, but the dreamlike visuals are astounding and speak for themselves.

And who better to create the over-the-top, candy-coated world of dreamy Viennese treats than fantasy artist Mark Ryden? I really enjoyed seeing the entire design process from Ryden's earliest sketches of sets and characters, to color palates and fabrics, and finally his full color paintings of the spectacle. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes photos showing the luscious sets, unusual costumes, and Ryden-y props. The book's huge 28 inch wide double-page photo spreads dramatically capture the panorama of the wild stage production, giving you a front row seat!

Robert Williams: The Father of Exponential Imagination

This holiday book suggestion is only for a special kind of person on your gift list. "Robert Williams: The Father of Exponential Imagination" [Amazon] is the catalog from an amazing retrospective show of "low brow" artist Robert Williams. As Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (who was Williams' boss) might say, if I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand. If you like Hieronymus Bosch, hot rods, Salvador Dali, tattoo art, Mad magazine, 1950's girlie pulps, and Juxtapoz magazine (which he founded), then Williams is your guy.

I fondly remember Williams' wild weirdo ads for Roth's Rat Fink T-shirts in 60's car mags. My mind was blown when I saw the traveling version of this Williams retrospective at the Bellevue Art Museum in 2020. Your mind will be blown by this hard-to-handle book—it's HUGE!  450 12" x 14" pages and weighing in at 11 pounds!! Some people might also find Williams' lurid imagery and very NSFW subjects hard to handle, but for the true low-brow fan this is an unblinking look at the eye-popping drawings, paintings, and sculptures—and imagination—of Robert Williams. (I loved Williams' synopses for his paintings where he explains his thinking and inspirations in great detail: always whip-smart, funny, self-deprecating, yet unapologetically frank.)