The bestof art books

Art books offer just the sort of indulgence that makes for a great gift: They’re so beautiful, yet people often hesitate to spend that sort of money on themselves. Here are a few standouts for your shopping list.

Vintage Black Glamour. Nichelle Gainer. Rocket 88. $70.64. The photographs and the lovely fabric cover will seduce you, but the history will compel you. Nichelle Gainer assembles a gorgeous and powerful collection of photographs depicting beautiful black women, from artist’s model Selika Lazevski in 1891, through actress and activist Fredi Washington in the 1940s, to Pam Grier in 1975. Gainer writes, “Their style, grace, and elegance were magnified by their struggles and triumphs; by the impact they had in their professional fields and on culture throughout the world.” (Buy the book from its independent, London-based publisher at

My Favorite Things. Maira Kalman. HarperDesign. $35. As the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum reopens in New York this weekend after a major renovation, the first-floor drawing room of the Carnegie Mansion is filled with objects selected by artist Maira Kalman. My Favorite Things is not the catalog but instead a charmingly idiosyncratic story outlining Kalman’s family roots, the pieces she selected for the show, and more generally, the bits and details that define her. Kalman writes, “The pieces that I chose were based on one thing only — a gasp of DELIGHT. Isn’t that the only way to curate a life?”

Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream. Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel. HarperDesign. $50. Cubs fans, take note: Otis and Dorothy Shepard are responsible for a lot of what you love about your team. In the offseason before opening day in 1937, Otis Shepard redesigned the logo, the players’ uniforms and even Wrigley Field itself to give the Cubs a friendly new face. He brightened the colors and planted the ivy, but his work for the Cubs is only one piece of the legacy he and his wife, Dorothy, left behind. Hathaway and Nadel offer a lively portrait of two designers who fused modernism and consumerism to marvelous effect.

An American Odyssey. Sabine Arque. Taschen. $200. This collection of early Photochrom photography offers some of the first color images of the United States. The book itself is a statement — it’s big enough to serve as a coffee table — but that format offers the reader a sumptuous view of an earlier era: portraits of Native Americans in New Mexico, a noticeably sparse skyline in Manhattan, and a rather youthful-looking El train in Chicago. Many of the images date to the two or three decades after the Civil War ended, in many cases offering people their first glimpses of natural wonders we take for granted today. Consider, as the authors write in their introduction: “The colors of the Grand Canyon — the reds, browns, ochers, and white of its strata burned by the sun were unknown to all but a select few.”

Jennifer Day reviewed these books for the Chicago Tribune.