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Book Arts students present contemporary take on centuries old tradition

The exhibit showcases handcrafted works from the Books as Multiples class, where students were challenged to reexamine the notebook. (Valarie Williams)
The exhibit showcases handcrafted works from the Books as Multiples class, where students were challenged to re-examine the notebook. (Valarie Williams)

The Pocket Gallery at Mills College is currently home to “Contemplace: Modern-day Commonplace Books” from the course Books as Multiples. This exhibition presents new work from both Mills undergraduate and graduate students in the Books as Multiples class.

The show opened March 2 and featured interpretations of the Commonplace Book — a notebook used for the collection of assorted wisdom in the form of quotes, passages from books and ideas.

Kathleen A. Walkup, professor and book art program head, challenged students in her Books as Multiples class to rethink the notebook and the approach to taking notes with one assignment and do it by borrowing these notes from other sources while reflecting the artist’s interests. Each student handcrafted fifteen copies of their book which was then distributed to members of the class.

Organized around the theme What We Are Talking About When We Are Talking About Books, students took into account the whole book rather than simply examining its contents. The presentation of a text and its intent was brought into the conversation about books.

Undergraduate Jacklyn Snodgrass’ commonplace book features a pentagram on the cover and contains within its pages magically themed ideas such as an image from The Never Ending Story and quotes from Carl Sagan. The book is handmade using materials available to early bookmakers and printers and few digital details.

“I like magic  and the history of books,” Snodgrass said. “They are both intertwined when you think about it.”

Book artist and MFA student Curt Brown noted that the project fostered a sense of community.

“We all had to borrow from each other,” Brown said. “Some of us incorporated our own creative work with the quotes.”

Brown utilized the same Sagan quote found in Snodgrass’ piece. The concept of borrowing and inspiring is apparent in the books on display as each one will feature a quote found in one of the other books on display. This detail of the assignment gives a nod to the act of transcribing notes from one source of inspiration into a book of one’s own for reference later; it is the philosophy behind the commonplace book.

“The show is varied and diverse,” said Shiloh Rebecca Jines, MFA poetry and book arts student. “There are quotes from Alan Loney, who writes a lot about books, and Eileen Myles.”

Undergraduate student Monica Medeiros’ piece pays homage to pamphlets circulated from the early days of the printing press. The cover of Medeiros’ book, a replica of a philosophical treatise, features the title “An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding” with each line of text in a different typeset font. The back of her book reads, “Handset in honor of Locke and Plato, credit given to inspiration and nod to the heyday of the commonplace book featured on the back of the artist’s work.”

The show will run in the Pocket Gallery in CPM behind the Campanil bell tower. Individuals are welcome to stop by and view the works on display until March 12th.