Books are made to be read. Or held. Or contemplated. Or puzzled over. Or discussed. Or admired.
All of those functions apply to the creations at Baylor University’s Martin Museum of Art, where “ExPRESSions: The Art of the Book,” the culmination of a semester-long graphic design class, is on display through May 21.
The exhibit pairs artist books by 14 Baylor students with a corresponding inspiration from Baylor’s Book Arts Collection, a 900-piece special collection of the Baylor Central Library that is marking its 10th anniversary.
That collection stretched the common definition of a book, containing miniature books, hand-printed, -stitched, -crafted and -drawn books; books in multiple pieces; books with nonstandard dimensions; and more. “The definition is like to use is these are works of artists who are using the book as their medium,” said Sha Towers, curator of the collection and an associate director of Baylor Central Libraries.
The exhibit was the project of associate professor of art Virginia Green’s class Art 4338, Special Topics in Graphic Design, and students explored a wide-ranging aspects of book-making, publishing and museum exhibition in the course: printing, binding, paper-making, letter press printing, calligraphy, graphic design, catalogue making, social media marketing and the like.
“ExPRESSions: The Art of the Book” reveals a library unlike any other: A book with a mirrored cylinder to create a curved image; books whose pages spill out in spiral and angular geometries; books of pages in boxes; books with painted pages, hand-stitched bindings and cut-paper images; even poster pages on a wall.
“We wanted to break out of the box of what a book is,” Towers explained. And books aren’t merely objects. “They rely on the interaction with a reader. It’s not just about words on a page,” he said.
Books were created not only to view, but to hold and handle — a new consideration for Martin Museum of Art Director Allison Syltie when creating the exhibit layout. For museum staffers normally trained to guard against the public touching what’s on display, it was “a conundrum,” she admitted.
While Baylor student creations in book-making have been displayed on campus in past years, this is the first such exhibit at the Martin Museum. Green’s students not only created the objects in the exhibit, but researched concepts, designed the exhibit, created the signage and photography, produced an illustrated catalogue and advertised it.
“It takes us about two years to plan an exhibit. That they did it in a semester while making these things and taking classes is remarkable,” Syltie said.