Amatoria Fine Art Books

interior of amatoria fine art books
Photo by Susan Yee

AMATORIA FINE ART BOOKS grew out of a fascinating collection owned by local collector and historian Richard Press, who passed away in November 2020. Over a span of decades, Press roamed the world looking for rare books. He was particularly interested in Jewish art and history, Japanese art, photography, architecture, design, sculpture, pottery and ceramics. He knew about African, Indian and Islamic art traditions. And on and on and on. Press was omnivorous in his interests, and his collection went down one side road after another as his curiosity and knowledge grew. He would bring the books back to Sacramento, aiming to keep some and to sell others. His midtown store, piled high with the delightful chaos of a genuine collector’s lair, would open at seemingly random hours. It was frequented mainly by arts aficionados from around the region.

When Press retired in early 2020, his collection and business were taken over by an out-of state book dealer, Lawrence Hammar. Hammar, in turn, sought help managing the business and the roughly 15,000 volumes of art books.

miranda culp and laurelin gilmore of amatoria fine art books
Miranda Culp and Laurelin Gilmore. Photo by Susan Yee.

“I was driving by one day and saw the bookstore open,” recalls Laurelin Gilmore, a local artist and librarian. “I did a U-turn, came back, found it was a different bookseller and that Richard Press had retired.” Soon after, she began working in the store. “It felt like I had been training for it my whole life. Sacramento and the region doesn’t have anything else like this.”

Miranda Culp, a fiction editor and freelance writer who worked with artists, heard the store needed an assistant when a friend from her college days at Goddard College in Vermont forwarded a Facebook job posting. The qualifications involved good writing skills and familiarity with art. “It changed my life forever,” she says happily.

amatoria fine art books exterior
Photo by Susan Yee

In the early months of the pandemic, Gilmore and Culp bought Hammar out. They have been clearing passages through the densely piled books and turning the tiny space into a gathering spot for artists, theater troupes doing table readings of new plays, writers reading from their new books and other local creatives of one stripe or another.

These days, Gilmore’s and Culp’s Amatoria is one of Sacramento’s hidden gems, specializing in quality art books and rare editions from around the world. They help fill in holes in collections that other stores can’t. “A person’s library tells you so much about themselves,” Culp explains. “We consider ourselves to be shepherds of those collections. Books have a personality and a magnetism of their own, and the bookstore really has a way of materializing things. It’s a way of bearing witness every day, where something just comes up in the air.”

interior of the book store
Photo by Susan Yee

Local artist and community college instructor Eric Wood is a regular. “Part of a place like this is about reading and teaching curiosity,” he says. “It’s pretty hard not to browse. Browsing is surface knowledge, which can lead to curiosity and deeper knowledge. A bookstore is a scalpel, putting that knowledge in people.”

Artwork by Joha Harrison
Artwork by Joha Harrison. Photo by Susan Yee.

Tony Marquez, who spent years on the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and was instrumental in developing the Broadway Sacramento theater series, knew Richard Press since the late 1980s and has been fascinated by the eclecticism of the Amatoria collection ever since. “I enjoy everything about this bookstore: the quality, the customers, and Miranda and Laurelin,” he says. “Today, I’m buying a bunch of stuff: a Man Ray book, some books on contemporary Mexican art, and a book on photo illustrations, a review on Latin American literature and arts, which has articles by [Mexican poet] Octavio Paz, [French writer] André Breton, just a bunch of really good people.”

rare books
Photo by Susan Yee

Gioia Fonda, another local artist and community college teacher, agrees. “My interests are changing all the time, and my book collection doesn’t catch up to my interests.” When that happens, she visits Amatoria, not necessarily to buy but to browse and take notes. While teaching a class on murals, she recently visited Amatoria to glean information from its many books on the great muralists. “It’s very life-affirming to see a book on a shelf, and you thought you were the only one who cared about it. When I come here and see books that are very obscure, I feel less alone. This is an anchor. This is an artists’ space.”

books on display
Photo by Susan Yee

Amatoria Fine Art Books

1831 F St.;