Press "Enter" to skip to content

First graduating class of Book Arts MFA shows exhibition at Swarm Gallery

The first graduating class of Mills College’s MFA Book Arts & Creative Writing program will open The Book is The Body, an exhibition featuring their eclectic collection of art works at Swarm Gallery in downtown Oakland on Feb. 23, 2013. Mills College is the only college in the nation to offer this cross-disciplinary program.

(Ari Nussbaum)
(Ari Nussbaum)

The program allows students to work in art studios and writing workshops to create a synthesis between their written work and visual work.

Mills has been offering Book Arts classes since the early 1980s, including classes on letterpress, printmaking, and book structure. Professor Kathleen Walkup, the Program Head of Book Art, has served as a Professor of Book Art at Mills College for several decades.

“I was a lucky person who came in at the beginning of the field and have been able to grow with the field and help formulate it,” Walkup said. “Pioneering work has been really exciting. I feel extraordinarily lucky that I ended up at Mills because it has been a great environment to develop the program.”

The exhibit will serve as a landmark for the new MFA program, which has, until now, only had one graduate since it

“The English Department and Book Art program worked long and hard at implementing this collaboration, knowing that we would be creating something very exciting and new,” said Cynthia Scheinberg, Chair of the English Department and Dean of Graduate Literary Studies.

The  of the program is what attracted Kate Robinson, 2nd year MFA, one of the students who will be exhibiting work at Swarm Gallery, to Mills.

“There’s nothing else like it,” Robinson said. “It’s incomparable.”

Robinson’s project for the exhibit is entitled “The Integrity of the Structure” and does not fit the usual definition of “book art.”  The art installation made up of Japanese-style screens with text that people can walk through, giving the effect of walking through a book.

“This project started off as a play that I’d been working on in some way or form for years,” Robinson said. “I’d been thinking about relationships and how as a person we’re operating under these different institutions and different systems that both constitute ourselves as individuals and ourselves as we interact with other people.”

This out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged in the Book Arts & Creative Writing program, according to Walkup.

“Students are really taking the cross-disciplinary thinking and applying it to projects that really guide their visual thinking and writing together. We might see performance pieces or other projects. It’s not just a book in a gallery,” Walkup said.

Robinson agreed book arts is about much more than typical book-binding.

“The exhibit is going to be very innovative and surprising; there’s probably only one actual book,” she said.

Another student 2nd year MFA, Kat Howard, will be displaying a project entitled “Cornered,” which is a human-sized tunnel made of hand-embroidered paper quilts.

“The inspiration behind my project was the Brontë sisters,” Howard said. “They wrote wildly imaginative stories, while their real lives were restricted and controlled by their father. My project interrogates woman’s relationship to the domestic space, themes of the gothic, and the haunting dependence that some women have with the home, historically and even in the present.”

Job prospects for students in this program, or undergraduates with a Book Arts minor, include publishing, book restoration, teaching, letterpress printing, and special collections librarianship, among others.

In addition to Robinson and Howard, the exhibit will feature the work of graduate students Mirabelle Jones and Rob Borges.

The opening reception for the exhibition will be on Feb. 23 at 6 p.m., with a reading and performance on March 3 at 7 p.m. at Swarm Gallery, near Jack London Square.

The gallery is open 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.