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Fall 2011Giving

Portable treasures

Book as Art exhibit features one-of-a-kind works

Vanderbilt’s copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Friendship: An Essay was published by Sangorski & Sutcliffe in the early 1900s with rich illuminations on parchment and a binding embossed with red hearts and encrusted with rare stones. It is part of the Nettie Hale Rand Collection of Fine Binding and Printing, donated to Vanderbilt Library in 1941 by Mrs. Rand, an alumna of the university and wife of Frank C. Rand, president of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust.

Claire Van Vliet’s The Gospel of Mary is a fragment of an early Christian gnostic gospel that focuses on Mary Magdalene as a beloved disciple of Christ. This 2006 work, with pulp painted covers and a pop-up centerpiece, has a woven binding and is laid in a clamshell box with a birch tray. Master printmaker Van Vliet, the founder of Janus Press, received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 1989 for her innovations in approaches to the book.

Elizabeth Moodey, assistant professor of history of art, is an expert in late medieval art and illustrated manuscripts. She pulled together these pieces for the library's Book as Art exhibit.

­­This 1926 edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse is a beautiful example of an embroidered binding. It is bound in blue silk and richly designed in a floral pattern with silver wire stems and lettered on the spine and front cover in white silk thread.

rawn from the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries’ more than 3.5 million volumes, “The Book as Art” exhibit offers a dazzling display of nine centuries of bookmaking—from unidentified scribes’ illuminated manuscripts to today’s books by internationally recognized artists. These stunning volumes bear the marks of their makers in ways no mass-produced paperback can achieve.

In this 2007 work Saca la cabeza y respira, Catalina Jaramillo Quijano describes her loves and losses on a trip between Bogotá and Mexico City through her drawings. The title translates as Put your Head Away and Take a Breath.

Such exquisite volumes are valued perhaps more for their beautiful form than their literary function. “The Book as Art” offers a richness of visual form in a multitude of styles: ancient manuscripts on vellum illustrated with gold leaf and brilliant colors; bindings hand-tooled and encrusted with jewels; and covers inset with ivory miniatures, along with contemporary artists’ books that leap beyond the traditional book form.

“Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? We did—and also by their printing, typography, images and more. We loved every moment doing so,” said Connie Vinita Dowell, dean of libraries. “I hope visitors get caught up in the magic of these pages. In this era of digital information and instant printing, this exhibit illuminates the soul as well as the mind.”

Some of the newest volumes may be the most surprising, with their unconventional use of such materials as wood, metal, plastic and fabric and their sculptural assemblages. Some of the world’s finest presses, like Barry Moser’s Pennyroyal Press and Claire Van Vliet’s Janus Press, are represented in the exhibit. These artists’ remarkable talent and their attention to text, image, paper, typography and binding characterize their truly beautiful books.

The exhibit is located in Special Collections, the Library Gallery, the Peabody and Divinity libraries and the Martha Rivers Ingram Center for the Performing ­­­­­Arts.­

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photo credit: Daniel Dubois

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