Artists’ Books Exhibition

ArtistBookExhibit_Spring2019For my first year as a graduate student in the Library and Information Science program I had the great fortune to work with the Special Collections’ archivist and rare book expert, Roger Myers, on curating his Spring 2019 exhibition featuring Artists’ Books. From this experience I was able to gain valuable insight into the great amount of work that goes into planning and executing an exhibit, from selecting the materials, organizing them to fit a narrative, to arranging and labeling, and lastly, to the digital aspect of creating the online exhibition. If you had asked me what an artists’ book was at the beginning of this adventure, my answer would have been vague and uncertain. Even six months later I find it’s still hard to articulate what they are simply because they defy our expectations of what we think a book is. They are unique creations by an artist’s re-imagining of a book as a sculptural form. They take texts, images, and photography and incorporate design with the most unlikely of materials. As UA School of Art professor Philip Zimmerman explains, “they are a work of art […] productions not reproductions [and] one of a kind.”

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Showcase featuring the artist book Language of Her Body by Amy Bloom
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A day’s worth of pulling books from the stacks

One of my first missions was to research current online exhibitions of artists’ books in order to gain an idea of what is out there and what has already been done. After I made a brief presentation of my findings, my next mission was to pull the initial 50+ books from the stacks, which ended up taking a full 6-hour shift (and confession: left me sore for the next two days from all the bending and lifting). Some of my favorite encounters included locating books in crates and boxes, finding special instructions of how to handle the books, and hunting down, with assistance, an elephant oversize book which took the two of us to lift because come to find out, it was made of lead.

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My workstation. Note the Excel spreadsheets on the screens.

My next step was to brush up on my bibliography skills by describing each book as a physical object, including the material used, the book’s binding and page count, as well as dimensions.  And let me point out, when you consider the unique art forms that make an artists’ book, with materials that include metal, glass, and wire – and some with accordion shapes – I found that I had to get very creative when it came to deciphering things, such as the number of pages when it includes foldouts, layers of tissue, or has folds that resemble flower petals. The purpose of describing the books in this way was to aid in the decision-making process when it came to selecting which artists’ books to digitize. Twenty-three would make the final cut, but more on that later.

 

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Exhibit set up

The biggest beast to tackle in this adventure was the task of writing the labels for the 60+ books that made it to the final list. This required brief descriptions of the book’s construction and content, which were not always available within the book itself or the finding aids, so again, having to get creative in either finding the artists’ website or coming up with my own synopsis of what the book with no text is about, or the book that features a woman’s body as an abstract landscape – just to name a couple examples. By the week of setup winter break was on the horizon. Thanks to my experience throughout the semester of creating my own showcase every month in the Reading Room, I felt familiar and comfortable with the process of arrangement, layout, and selecting which portions of the book to display – granted this exhibit consisted of 10+ showcases. Roger was always very open to any suggestions I had on what and how some of the books could be displayed, and again, some required quiet the effort and creativity when it came to their layout. I would also like to add that he was very understanding that it was the end of the semester and that finals-fatigue was setting in, so small mistakes like misspellings and crooked edges on labels were easily forgivable. For me it was worth postponing the start of my holiday because I knew this was a unique experience that not every graduate student may receive while still in school, not to mention with such an expert!

Upon returning from winter break, I had the pleasant surprise of discovering that Roger included my name with his on the Artists’ Books Exhibition poster, something I truly wasn’t expecting (I am only a graduate assistant after all). And as the second semester of graduate school comes to a close, I am putting the finishing touches on the online exhibition, another first for me. To try and summarize what I am taking away the most from this entire project feels near impossible. I have certainly learned a lot when it comes to copyright, metadata, bibliography, and label writing, not to mention the power of Excel spreadsheets and data dictionaries. But what stands out the most is learning about the art and craft that goes into creating artists’ books from the knowledgeable expert that Roger is. I learned about local, national and international artists, not to mention the amazing stories and perspectives contained within each book. Creative expressions utilizing poetry, photography, memoir, and biography are but a few examples of the subjects covered in these beautiful works.

William Blake is credited with creating the first artists’ book during the late eighteenth-century by combining text and imagery on a single page that allowed him to express himself through his poetry and artwork in a unique and original way. Obviously, with the advancement of technology and book-making the artists’ book has changed and advanced with it. From Blake’s original illuminated books, to the sometimes three-dimensional/sculptural works that I had the great opportunity to work with hands-on, which is another important aspect of these works of art: hands-on interaction which allows the “reader” to fully experience and engage with the piece. For me, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin my academic pilgrimage through graduate school, and I feel so fortunate that I was able to have a role from the beginning in August to the end with the online exhibition, which will remain up long after the artists’ books have been taken out of their designated showcases.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.” – William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

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Reconstructing Memory

One of the best takeaways from exchanging stories about how Library and Information Science became our chosen path is that no two stories are alike, and our life experiences and educational backgrounds often differ vastly. Today I share mine with you. During the final year of my undergraduate program in Spanish, I was encouraged to critically IMG_20190402_215656870 analyze everything I knew, or thought I knew, up until that point. This daunting task established that, when attempting this, nothing was off limits. It required I look to my childhood and consider the effects of not seeing myself represented. Suddenly, my admiration of the Berenstain Bear series made sense. There were no books about Mexican immigrant girls like me and certainly no books that even slightly resembled my childhood experiences. Bears seemed to be as “different” as it came, so I read every book in the series the library in our town had available. I then attempted to identify when I first felt reflected in history and in books, and I pinpointed the play written by Cherrie Moraga entitled Shadow of Man. I began to understand how history is constructed, and it seemed clearer than ever that I needed to look to herstory, queer Chicana stories.

During my time in the MA-LIS program, I have implemented this approach that is founded in lived experiences and theory to bring forward the voices of traditionally underrepresented communities. My time at Special Collections has further enhanced this IMG_20190402_221103740through practice. It is difficult to believe that a short nine months ago I arrived in Tucson for the unique opportunity to be a part of an amazing cohort of Knowledge River Scholars and to join a fierce group of women as Graduate Assistants. I have met wonderful individuals that continue to make my time here a joy and they have been so gracious to share their infinite wisdom with me, especially my supervisor Lisa. I am wrapping up the semester with high hopes that I can fully process the collection I am currently working on and further contribute to the born-digital workflow. I am enjoying contributing to the instructional kits for undergraduate courses, and I am looking forward to a new experience in creating an exhibit showcase. Though I am still gathering my ideas, creating an exhibit on the Mexican folktale La Llorona looks promising and seems a fitting way to conclude my Graduate Assistantship and the MA-LIS program.

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Processing Poisoned Pen Press

 

Anaya, R., Córdova, A., & Lamadrid, E. (2011). La Llorona : The crying woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Moraga, C. (1994). Heroes and saints & other plays (1st ed.). Albuquerque: West End Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Grail

Charles Bukowski once said “find what you love and let it kill you,”  and I have found myself thinking about it quite often these last few days. All I knew coming into this program was that I wanted to be Indiana Jones and work with rare and unique objects, something I grew up with a passion for. In a little over a month they will hand me that special piece of paper, the Holy Grail if you will, and set me free with my Masters of Arts in Library and Information Science. I’ll be finishing my time knowing a lot more then when I started , and almost all of that is exclusively due to my supervisor and the wonderful staff here at Special Collections.

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Over the past two years I have spent an extensive amount of time trying to explain to people exactly what it is that I do here and what I want to do in the future. I feel like it’s always so hard to explain to those who don’t know, so today I am going to set the record straight.

Questions: 

1. So what *exactly* do you do? – I’m an archivist, that means is it my goal to provide effective and efficient access to the information and resources for the diverse community. Archivists work in archival repositories, which sometimes are also libraries, the key difference is the kind of materials we hold. Archives look a lot like boxes on a shelf that hold mostly paper documents while libraries are almost exclusively books. My position here is in a library and archival setting, so I get to work with both. Most days that means i’m working in a cold basement hidden behind stacks of acid-free folders and dusty boxes. Other days however I could be working with books that are over 500 years old, rare first editions, or samurai swords- it’s truly a daily coin toss, but also the most appealing part of my job.

A typical day in the basement could a lot like this

The collection I am currently working on was given to us by a local Tucson printing press. They publish mostly poetry and the most amazing artists books. They send us their boxes of stuff and it is my job to go through each box, find the material of enduring value, and reorganize the material so that researchers and the community can use them for whatever reason.

2. So you’re that annoying lady that “shushes” people? The short answer is no. While I also consider myself a librarian I am not the stereotypical lady you see in movies, though I do like my cardigans and wear over-sized glasses from time to time. My time at the desk serving patrons is often limited, as a student here I am not very front line, but in the future I will act as a point of service to ensure that our patrons can find the information they need and can use the collection as we intended. This never includes shushing, also I work in two different libraries and “shushing” is an outdated practice that essentially never happens.

3. What can you going to do with a library degree? EVERYTHING. Okay, maybe that’s over dramatic, but for a person who just wants to find and work with all the things, I am pretty free to do all the things I love with this degree. It’s my personal goal to work in some kind of academic setting in either an archive, museum, or special collections library. Other options include public libraries, academic libraries, and K-12 school libraries.

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Me on May 10th until I die probably

While these questions over the past two years have been daunting I know that it’ll all be worth it soon (43 days exactly). All I have left are the final papers and projects for my last two classes, 1 more graduation reflection essay, and about 20 more boxes of work. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Wanderlust, Women, and Arizona

This week, I was able to set up my very own mini-exhibit here at Special Collections in the reading room. In conjunction with Women’s History Month, this one case exhibit pays homage to the many women who have traveled and explored our glorious state. I wanted to give viewers a glimpse at several different women, both past and present, who have fallen in love with Arizona and explored its many wonders.

The exhibit, of course, cannot highlight all of the many women of Arizona and the borderlands who have contributed to our archive. However, I was able to highlight different types of materials that are housed here: rare small press books (March is also National Small Press Month!), maps, sketches, poetry, and photographs.

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The collection features items from Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O’odham), Hazel E. Mills, Annita Delano, and Nell McCarthy. Zepeda is an award winning poet/author and if you’re able to stop by and read some of her O’odham poetry, you will fall in love with Cuk Son all over again. Mills’ sketches of different travels across Arizona are gorgeous, but also highlight the different ways women participate in travel. Delano is an artist and her photographs of archaeological ruins are extraordinary. Nell McCarthy grew up in Douglas, Arizona and documented her experiences with photographs but I’ve also showcased some of her handwritten, hand illustrated poetry. These are just four of the amazing women that have traveled and contributed to Arizona’s history. I hope you’re able to stop by and view some of their work.

Special Collections & Fairy Tales

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The Sleeping Beauty (1920) illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Throughout my time in the University of Arizona’s Special Collections archives (six months to be exact), I have taken great delight with my encounters with fairy tales, be it intentional or unintentional. Coming from my background in children’s literature studies with the focus on fairy tale traditions, I always keep an eye out for related material, especially when they pop up in the least likely of places when I’m not necessarily searching. One of my favorite discoveries was when I was searching for items for my November showcase featuring military-service and war related material in honor of Veterans Day. In an archival box labeled “WWI and WWII Media”, amongst the Life Magazines with images of war nurses, soldiers, and President Johnson, I discovered beautiful color-reproductions of illustrations featuring classic fairy tale hero(ione)s by the artist Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). Smith was an American female illustrator of the Golden Age of Illustration who contributed works to books and magazines, such as Harper’sLadies Home Journal, and Good House Keeping. Smith was also one of the many artists I had researched only a year earlier for my undergraduate honor’s thesis, so needless to say, I was quite excited with this very unexpected find of the fairy tale protagonists Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Jack .

 

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Stories from Hans Andersen (1925) illustrated by Edmund Dulac

For my February showcase I decided to highlight the Golden Age of Illustration by displaying 20th century books of fairy tales with illustrations by some of the most notable artists of this era. The golden Age of Illustration was a period of remarkable distinction in book illustration productions between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a result of the advances in technology that permitted detailed and inexpensive reproductions of art that ultimately generated a high public demand for this beautiful new art form. Illustrated fairy tale books became one of the most popular genres, garnering the statues of the ultimate “Gift Book”. Among the leading artists of the Golden Age were Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), and Kay Nielsen (1886-1957).

Among some of my sought-after finds was a 1909 edition of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm illustrated by Rackham, a 1911 edition of Stories from Hans Andersen illustrated by Dulac, and a 1925 edition of Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Nielsen. I also came upon the original de Luxe 1919 and 1920 editions of Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty illustrated by Arthur Rackham (I say original because The Folio Society recently produced facsimiles of these works that I am very familiar with), in which Rackham illustrated the classic fairy tales in silhouette. And to my great delight I discovered that The Sleeping Beauty edition is signed by Arthur Rackham on the colophon, No. 31/625. Although I didn’t have space for all of the beautiful books, all three of the artists were represented in the final showcase piece.

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Golden Age of Illustration Showcase

Processing Mystery

I am now weeks into processing the Poisoned Pen Press collection. Poisoned Pen Press is an independent publisher of mystery novels located in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was founded in 1997 by Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters, who is also the founder of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. The extent of the collection is 63 linear feet and consists of manuscripts, proof galleys, cover designs, digital media, and other materials relating to the creation of the book. This experience has differed vastly from the previous collection I processed last semester. Since Poisoned Pen is a corporate body, I am witnessing the interactions between Poisoned Pen staff, authors, and other individuals assisting with the book development process. Some of the great findings have included eye catching titles like Concerto in Dead Flat by Wendell McCall, and cover designs such the one illustrated on Mary Ann Evans’ book Artifacts. I was excited to find books that have been published by Poisoned Pen Press in countries other than the U.S., and even more excited that the Tucson Festival of Books will be hosting some of the authors. They include Eileen Brady, Donis Casey, Jeffrey Siger, and Jon Talton.

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Each accession is being processed as a series and in alphabetical order by author, then title. This will allow all the materials by the same author to be grouped together. Drafts exist in book form and require housing separate from the manuscripts in an attempt to preserve space. To maintain the author-title organization, these drafts will be intellectually grouped on the finding aid. Since the author and title guide the organization within the series level, I am able to add titles to the folders prior to the arrangement being complete. The title and other related data are entered into an Excel sheet that will then be imported into ArchivesSpace, an information management application, to create the finding aid. Currently this document has minimal organization, but sorting and other useful features in Excel will be applied prior to importing.

 

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Progress 🙂

 

The Lost Library Book

Besides the lost library of Alexandria, Benjamin Franklin’s personal library was one of the most famous in history. Accounts of his library depict his study as a large chamber with book shelves covering the walls and alcoves stretching the length of the room, all filled entirely with books. Many believed it was the best, private library in the country at the time. After Franklin’s death in 1790 his collection contained 351 folio volumes, 150 topographical pamphlets, 767 quartos, 1,548 octavos, 1,260 duodecimos, and 200 duodecimos stitched. His will, written in 1788, was said to have included a catalog of his books, but said catalog has never been found. In fact, to this day no one has been able to recreate the catalog of his impressive library, though many have tried.

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After Franklin’s death his will instructed his collection be split among various individuals and societies, the majority going to his grandson, William Temple Franklin. His actual will listing the various people and places is currently in an archival repository in Philadelphia. Researchers who have spent considerable time looking into recreating this lost treasure have found that William left for England in 1790 taking only half of his grandfathers collection, and never came back dying in 1823. The books left in Philadelphia were left with a friend of Williams, which is where the first half of the mystery begins. William used the books he brought with him to England as a form of repayment for some kind of debt that he had, other theories include he used them for cash to bail a friend out of jail. From this point, the books, whose titles were still more or less unknown, became a puzzle.

Different researchers and avid fans have since then tried to recreate and account for all the books originally in Franklin’s possession. Since Franklin was such a book man and took great pride in his library all of his books were shelved and organized based off of his own system. The system essentially included documenting which bookshelf the book was on, what shelf, and what number book on that shelf. Franklin documented these locations on the inside cover of most of his books in a similar, notable fashion. The books that were given to different societies are still, for the most part, in their possession now. Other books, like the ones bequeathed to specific individuals are still being accounted for. Edwin Wolf, who devoted his life to finding these volumes, had the most accurate catalog to date. In 2006 Kevin Hayes completed his work for a catalog titled The Library of Benjamin Franklin with 3,740 titles.

As you all should know, I am a big fan of mystery and “lost treasure” so the idea of people going around estate sales and looking through all kinds of bookshelves for these lost items is extremely intriguing. However, the reason I am interested enough to devote an entire blog post about it is because there might be one volume here at the University of Arizona *starts internally screaming.*

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Me looking at every book with “garden” in the title from before 1780

While these books have all presumably been marked by Franklin himself many of these volumes have been rebound or had their markings erased by unknowing owners (can you imagine?) making finding them a little tricky. The volume that might be here is a needle in a very big haystack. The man, a book expert, who believes he had found it has since then lost his notes and can only remember that it was in the main library and had the word “garden” in the title. According to him he came across this book some time ago meaning it may or may not have since been moved from the main library to special collections, where it should be. So where do I start? I get the Hayes book, which may or may not have this specific titles within in and I start cross-referencing what we have here. Then I take it a step further and start searching for books with “garden” in the title from before 1780, then I go insane and look through a ridiculous amount of books trying to find the small “N” and “C” that he used to organize his collection. Which clearly has been so far unyielding.

 

Why is this search important? They could be anywhere! Keep an eye out and grab all the books from before 1790 that you can and check the covers, check the pages. Look for the “NC” that signified where they sat on Franklin’s shelves. You could possibly even take it back to his archival material and continue searching for the missing catalog. People believe that these books could offer not only an insight into an historically important figure, but it would also be an amazing accomplishment to find and track these books who have since all acquired their own history.

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Find all the books!

For more information I would suggest starting with some basic research on what others have found, and get a hold of a copy of the catalog which can be found in most academic libraries! Good luck, and happy hunting!

https://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44806730.pdf

Lost and Found: The Library Company Acquires Three Books from Benjamin Franklin’s Library

Wolf, E., & Hayes, K. (2006). The library of Benjamin Franklin (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society ; v. 257). Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society/Library of Philadelphia.