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Pressing to see book arts grow

Photo by Halie Johnson

Typography was the last class Sandra Brown, a senior literature major, needed to complete her minor in book arts at Mills. But when she went to register for the class last fall, it was already filled with graduate students.

Brown said she noticed that in the four years she's been at Mills student demand for the book arts program has gone way up, but the resources have not kept up with this increase.

"It's not that we don't like what we have; it's just so good that we want more," senior Erin Latimer said of the program.

Although Brown will be graduating in May and doesn't expect to see improvements even in the next year, over winter break she decided that the administration needed to hear from students and the Mills supporting community in order to expand the program – something that program director Kathy Walkup had been working at for years.

Brown spearheaded a meeting "for the love of book arts," which over 15 people attended and many more expressed an interest in attending, she said. The group decided to encourage students, staff, faculty and alumnae to write the Mills administration showing that they support the program growing.

"The reason I took this on is because Kathy has been working at this forever," Brown said. "I can just see her acting as a one-woman army. I thought, 'we have to back her up and show that she's not the only one who wants to see the program expanded.'"

Although the typography class was at its cap, Walkup added three more spaces, so Brown was able to take it in the end.


Studio space appears to be the biggest and perhaps the most difficult challenge the program faces.

"The good news is that book arts is expanding," Walkup wrote in an e-mail. "Beginning next year we will offer more classes than ever before – eight all together over the course of the year. And we will begin offering Introduction [to book arts] every semester."

Walkup explained that this increase was strongly supported by the Provost and is a critical response to over-subscribed classes and to address the undergraduate feeling that they have been shut out of the program by graduate enrollment – because graduate students can enroll for classes before undergraduates.

"We simply don't have enough studio space in which to teach and this is having a significant impact on our ability to expand our offerings," Walkup wrote.

"The problem with more classes is that you have more people using the studio space," Brown said.

This month Gloria Stuart, an actress (Old Rose in Titanic), artist and printer, visited Mills to talk about her work. Stuart recently bequeathed her collection of rare types and her press to the program, according to Walkup.

"We need space for [the donation]," Latimer said. "It would be a shame if the school didn't give us the space and we weren't able to accept her donation."

The program is located in Carnegie Hall above the M Center and consists of two studio spaces with high ceilings. Mills building and facilities records list the two rooms combined as just over 1,200 square feet. They are filled with worktables, presses and storage.


Students are also encouraging the administration to hire more faculty and bring on current faculty members – Walkup, book arts lecturer Julie Chen and Janice Braun, lecturer and director of the Center for the Book – as full-time and tenured.

"They're amazing… they're really talented women," junior Tina Sogliuzzo said of the current faculty.

Expanding degrees

"Our classes are completely full before registration," Chen said. "There is a large number of students who can't get in. We hate to turn people away. The goal is to be able to offer enough classes so that everybody that wants to can take book arts. Right now people sometimes have to wait a full year before they can get into a class."

Walkup is exploring the possibility of creating a combined MFA creative writing with book arts degree.

"It would be phenomenal if we could get this passed, and it is crucial that the school knows that there is sufficient interest in the book arts to warrant such a program," Brown wrote in an e-mail about the first student meeting to expand the program.

Sogliuzzo suggested that the college offer separate undergraduate and graduate sections as a possible solution.

'For the Love of Book Arts' club

Sogliuzzo is one of the students who is in the process of organizing an official club that would have a presence starting next semester.

There was talk of doing a book sale in October as a fundraiser – selling student-made books – which would split the proceeds between the club and the artist, according to Sogliuzzo.

Brown said the club could be instrumental in building Mills' reputation in the outside book arts community by organizing events that would bring other artists to Mills.

The outside community

"I don't think the administration understands how big we are outside of Mills in the book arts community," Brown said.

The Bay area is home to over eight organizations, including Mills, that support book artists.

Walkup believes that the growing interest of book arts on the Mills

campus "echoes the constantly growing interest across the country for this

developing field. More students are indicating that their interest in attending Mills has at least partly to do with our program."

According to Walkup, Mills has a unique program because it is the most comprehensive at the undergraduate level in the country.

"This is a very rare program," Latimer said. "I don't think it's appreciated by the college for what it has to offer."

Letter writing

"I'm definitely in favor of expanding the program. I'll be writing to the administration asking for support for this program," said freshwoman Alyssa Alcorn. "It means so much to the students."

The group spearheading this expansion are encouraging people to write to the administration in support by April 20.

"We will be giving these letters to multiple people in the administration, so drop six copies of it off in one of our boxes," Brown wrote in an e-mail to the Mills community. Boxes are located in the seminar room in the book arts studio and the reference desk in the Olin Library.