University of Utah's Hidden Gems: The Book Arts Program

I recently had the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the University of Utah’s Marriot Library. It seemed daunting at first. The tour would last for three hours, during which time I would be lead through all five levels of the building. To be honest, I didn’t think I would be seeing anything I hadn’t seen before.

I was surprised to find that I was wrong. I suppose that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that there were far more sections of the library than the corridors of shelves I was familiar with. Yet, I had not taken the time to explore them. And, had it not been for this eye-opening expedition, I may never have done so.

 

I hope that my story helps to convince you to do a little Lewis-and-Clarking of your own in your campus library. But if you’re still skeptical, allow me to highlight one of the many incredible departments I was introduced to. Perhaps it will inspire you to leave the beaten path behind.

 

The University of Utah’s Book Arts Studio is located on its library’s fourth floor. This is a single staircase away from where many an undergrad typically attends study sessions. Yet, if I were to ask these same students whether they had heard of Book Arts, I don’t imagine many would say yes. Maybe if I specified, “You know—the place upstairs that has all the display cases outside?” I would get a few nods of recognition.

 

 

Did you know that the displays contained within said cases are often the work of the Book Arts Program staff and students? Inside the studio, there are a number of historical printing presses and other antique apparatus that make work such as this possible. The first time I entered the facility, I could only stare on in amazement. I like to think of myself as an artistic person, but even so, I don’t think I would have known how to get one of these devices working, let alone create something worthwhile with it.

Luckily, the Book Arts Program offers plenty of educational workshops for various printing and bookbinding related art forms. Most of them are even designed for beginners.

 

The workshops themselves can range anywhere from leather binding to letterpress. Perhaps the greatest draw of all is that the majority of these workshops for the 2016 calendar year are free; some with registration, while others welcome drop-ins. This is thanks to a recently received NEA grant, which allows the program the funding to reach a wider audience. This isn’t limited to just students of the University of Utah, either. Anyone over the age of 18 is welcome to apply, whether you are a local or living across the country.

 

(Featured above is a Red Butte Press book produced at the Book Arts Studio. Work of Matthew Basso and Andrew Farnsworth, Judy Blunt, and Ralph Powell, with art by Laura Decker and Claire Taylor.)

 

Even for those who aren’t necessarily interested in arts, I encourage you to pay the studio a visit. The Book Arts Program provides almost as much in the way of history lessons as they do art workshops. There is a huge emphasis not only on the printing and binding techniques taught in the studio, but the simple act of keeping said techniques alive.

In today’s society, I think we have that mindset of “Out with the old, in with the new.” We will quickly decide something we no longer use is irrelevant and move on to something more efficient. Yet we never stop to think about what will happen to the old practices that we banish into obscurity. If no one keeps teaching them, they will someday be forgotten. Then, irrelevant or not, that practice will be completely extinct.

 

 

Organizations like the Book Arts Program want to prevent this from happening. They teach us that, just because a new method may be more effective, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t beauty to be found in the old way, too.

 

So I recommend that all of you take some time to explore. Pay a visit to the Book Arts Program if you’re in the area; or any other portion of your own library that you don’t frequently see. Because, as the Book Arts Program has taught me, sometimes breaking out of what is simply, ‘working for you,’ can lead you to some pretty great discoveries.

(To learn more about registering for a University of Utah Book Arts Program workshop, please go to www.bookartsprogram.org.)