Rare Book Exhibition Encourages Hands-On Attitude

You can look, but can you touch? 

As of Jan. 5, Scripps College’s Clark Humanities Museum is home to an exhibit
displaying a number of books designed and installed by the students of Assistant Professor of Art Kitty Maryatt’s Core III course, “From Materiality to Immateriality: The Coming of the Artist Book.” The exhibit is
titled “The Artist Book as an Agent of Social Change.” 

The books, collected from the artist book collection at Scripps’ Ella Strong
Denison Library, vary in composition and style. All of them, however, function in some form as an agent of social change. 

They move beyond the conventional codex
framework for books: Jessica Spring’s Sheets features haiku by Dolores Connelly on paper house-like
structures, while Daniel Mayer’s Election
2000 Jargonator 
resembles a wheel that can be spun to mix and match
different political statements.

Although the books cannot be touched at the exhibit, there is opportunity for interaction at Denison Library.

This is one of the more unique aspects of Scripps’ collection: students and visitors are able to visit (by appointment) the rare book room in Denison where the artist books are held. Students are encouraged to interact with the books—not a common practice at most libraries with antiquated possessions. 

“One of the best parts of the class was how hands-on it was, and how we got to look at and touch all of these rare beautiful books,” Isobel Morrison SC ’17 said. “There’s no class quite like it.”

Despite the atypical nature of the practice, Denison Library Director Judy Harvey Sahak believes in the importance of students being able to handle the physical books.

“All books, particularly artist books, express a lot of their ideas through being handled,” she said.

Sahak has been curating the school’s collection of artist books since the late 1970s. As of now, the collection encompasses around three to four thousand books, according to Sahak. The existence of the Core III class is tied intimately to the existence of the Denison artist book collection.

“I tend to acquire to inspire,” Sahak said. “Is a student going to look at [an artist book] and say ‘I can do that?’”

Indeed, the Core III class also learned the process of artist bookmaking and made their own books, in addition to curating the exhibit. Some students who complete the course go on to donate their books to Scripps’ collection. Failed Placement, by Rebekah Manikowski, is one such book and is displayed in the front glass case in Denison.

Though it centers on them, the exhibit is not limited to books. Bundles of the fibers used to make paper and samples of student-made
paper decorate the walls in the room. 

“It’s a very practical course, and also very artistic,” said
Maryatt, who is also the director of the Scripps College Press. “In analyzing
and reading various artist books, students are able to enhance their own
creative work.”

This year’s exhibit exclusively features works by members of
the College Book Art Association (CBAA). The CBAA held its annual
meeting at Scripps Jan. 12, and an ensuing reception gave students the opportunity to mingle with the
artists whose works they showcased. The reception also featured a student-created catalog of analytical essays about the books on display. 

“It was really exciting to know that an actual artist was
reading what I had to say,” Morrison said.

Because the books need to be behind glass for the exhibit, the
class also produced a DVD that showcased the books in their entirety. Although the books cannot be viewed holistically themselves at the exhibit, the DVD
displays all aspects of the books from a complete set of angles. 

The exhibit will run through Feb. 17, and the Institute will host a second
reception on Feb. 15 at 4:30 p.m. 

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