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Photo of an artist book by Narae Kim. Pages fold out accordion-style. Title: Gratitude.

Books as Art

By Maureen Schlangen

A new collection of books in the University of Dayton Libraries highlights works by world-famous artists whose art is the books themselves, and a student-produced exhibit catalog featuring the works is now an open educational resource available worldwide.

The Narae Book Arts Collection, purchased with funds from the Father Raymond A. Roesch, S.M., Endowment, highlights the genre known as book arts, in which the form of a book is the artist’s metaphorical blank canvas. The works, often referred to as artists' books, can contain stories of any type — but words, while commonly used, are optional. They can be handwritten or printed in myriad ways on a variety of surfaces such as handmade paper, and pages can be used for holding words and images or as a medium for creating three-dimensional sculptures within the works. They can also incorporate — or be constructed from — components of other books.

Suki Kwon, professor of art and design and Graul Chair in Arts and Languages, provided consultation for the acquisition, which will be of primary use in a course on book arts.

“When I taught book arts before we acquired the book arts collection, I used my own book arts samples as well as images and videos of artists' books to teach students,” Kwon says. “Of course, it's much better to have physical books that students can see, touch and examine.”

Applications Beyond Art

Because the books and their subject matter connect to a variety of disciplines taught at UD, Kwon sees high potential for use in other courses.

“This is because book arts inherently encompass many facets of arts and humanities, given their nature of formal, content and conceptual constructions,” she says.

The books’ collector, Narae Kim, an artist and art therapist and the creator of 13 of the 38 works in the collection, came to campus Oct. 6–7 for a series of bookbinding workshops associated with an exhibition of the books in the Stuart and Mimi Rose Gallery on the first floor of Roesch Library Oct. 3–Nov. 12.

Kwon and Kim became acquainted when Kim was president of the Book Arts Association’s Korea chapter.

“I attended an eight-week intensive book arts workshop with her in Seoul,” Kwon says. “My fellow participants and I dedicated eight hours every day for those eight weeks. We have remained in touch ever since. When Narae pivoted in her career to become an art therapist and settled in Chicago, she informed me about her book arts collection. While she could have liquidated the collection for profit, she preferred it be used to support students' study of book arts and wanted the items to remain together as a cohesive collection.”

That aligned well with Kwon’s wish to have a tangible collection to teach with and to build awareness and appreciation of book arts. It also aligned well with the University Libraries’ strategies to build collections appropriate to different disciplines and usage, ensure diverse perspectives, increase the use of rare and unique materials in curricula and improve capacity for the use of special collections and archival materials in teaching and learning.

Accessible Outside Archives

In order to increase the visibility of the collection and ensure educational access, University Libraries Dean Kathleen Webb and University archivist Kristina Schulz used funds raised during One Day, One Dayton, UD’s annual fundraising day, to commission senior Sara Wolf, a graphic design major, and senior photography major Elena Bellisario to create an exhibit catalog featuring photos and brief descriptions of the works. Another senior visual arts major, Sophia Piazza, assisted Bellisario with the photography.

Wolf turned the opportunity into her senior project.

“I was excited to learn about a subject matter I honestly knew nothing about prior to taking on the job and was excited to apply what I was learning in my Typography II class about book design to a real-world project that could be a great portfolio piece,” said Wolf, who is graduating in December. “I had never seen pieces like the ones in Narae's collection before. I also was inspired by the way many book artists chose very personal subject matter to represent in their work.”

The book is now available for download and online animated viewing in UD’s institutional repository, eCommons.

— Maureen Schlangen manages UD's institutional repository, eCommons

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