Color Our Collections – End of the School Year Stress-Relief

Today’s coloring sheet features an illustration by Florence Harrison from Poems by Christina Rossetti (London, Glasgow & Bombay: Blackie and Son, Ltd., 1910). The image comes at the end of the poem ‘Summer’ — something most of us are looking forward to at this point!

If you’d like to see more of this item, make an appointment to visit us and ask to see the book in person — the call number is on the coloring page.

Good luck with the end of the semester, everyone!

Competing with Finian’s Rainbow

by Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, Irish Studies Librarian

This immigrant librarian was delighted to see Ireland’s national holiday celebrated in American elementary schools. It was dismaying, however, to walk down a school corridor in March of 1996, and see the walls bedecked with rainbows, crocks of gold, and leprechauns.

Did a film about a leprechaun and a crock of gold so captivate American audiences that no other stories could compete? Have books of Irish stories been available for children who grew up in America in the last century?

Padraic Colum, The King of Ireland’s Son, illustrated by Willy Pogany. NY: Macmillan, 1921.
Rare Books Medium PR 6005 .O38 K54 1921

Padraic Colum (1881-1972) and Ella Young (1867-1956) are the only Irish authors whose books have been recognized with a Newbery honor. The Newbery medal was founded in 1922 and is awarded annually by the ALA for an American-published children’s book. In addition to the medalist, a few books are named honor books each year. Colum and Young are also among the few Irish authors mentioned in American reviews of children’s books in the first half of the twentieth century.

Colum’s The King of Ireland’s Son, illustrated by Willy Pogány, has many stories woven into a framing narrative. Between the time when Connal, the King of Ireland’s son, is sent on a quest by the Enchanter and the end where he and Fedelma, the Enchanter’s daughter are finally married, there are many stories and adventures, some concerning Connal and Fedelma, and some being stories told by our characters — stories within stories.

As in all Colum’s books for children, the art of the storyteller is always close to the surface.

Padraic Colum, The King of Ireland’s Son. Illustrations by Willy Pogany.

And then a flock of ravens came from the rocks, and flying straight at them attacked Fedelma and the King of Ireland’s Son. The King’s Son sprang from the steed and taking his sword in his hand he fought the ravens until he drove them away. They rode on again. But now the ravens flew back and attacked them again and the King of Ireland’s Son fought them until his hands were wearied. He mounted the steed again, and they rode swiftly on. and the ravens came the third time and attacked them more fiercely than before. The King’s Son fought them until he had killed all but three and until he was covered with their blood and feathers.

Colum, 51
Padraic Colum, The Girl who Sat by the Ashes. Illustrated by Dugald Stewart Walker. NY: Macmillan, 1919.
Rare Books Medium PR 6005 .O38 G57 1919

Colum’s children’s books, published by Macmillan, are drawn from the literature of a number of countries and cultures. His The Golden Fleece and The Children’s Homer were much-read and constantly recommended for youth, and his Hawaiian stories were written at the request of the Hawaiian legislature. His Irish stories include The Girl who Sat by the Ashes, and The White Sparrow, and The Forge in the Forest is a collection of stories of different cultures all told in a forge, a traditional setting for storytelling.

Typically, Colum’s books have stories within a story, so that the narrator and context of the storytelling is part of the story. In The Big Tree of Bunlahy, for example, the narrator sets the scene by claiming that the big elm tree in his small native village is world-famous. The narrator proceeds to tell of many instances where he sat under the tree as a boy, often in the context of an errand such as a visit to the shoemaker, and he tells of a colorful series of people who gathered under the tree, and the stories that they told on different occasions. Stories vary from early Irish literature such as the story of Oisín (Usheen) and Tír na nÓg, to stories about animals and birds.

Colum’s children’s books are just one aspect of the literature for which he was known. He was already well-known in Ireland as a playwright and a poet when he left for America in 1914. In fact, he is mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses as one of Ireland’s most promising young writers in 1904.

In his long career in America he taught literature at Columbia University in New York, sometimes co-teaching along with Mary Colum, his wife.

Another Irish emigrant, Ella Young, who made her home in California in the 1920s, was involved, as Colum was, in the Irish Literary Revival. She, too, taught in a university. She taught Irish myth and lore at the University of Berkeley in California. And Irish myth and lore is at the center of her books of stories for children. Shown above is her 1932 book, The Unicorn with Silver Shoes, illustrated by Robert Lawson.

Ella Young, The Wonder Smith and his Son: A Tale from the Golden Childhood of the World. Illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff. NY: Longmans, Green, 1927.
Rare Books Medium PS 3547 .O4745 W66 1927

The Wonder Smith and His Son was a Newbery Honor book in 1928, and The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales was a Newbery Honor book in 1930.

The Wonder Smith is Young’s name for An Gobán Saor, a mythical builder, stonemason and trickster, who figures in many Irish folktales. The title page by Boris Artzybasheff, with its decorations inspired by the designs on Irish illuminated manuscripts, enhances the idea of these tales orginating in ‘the golden childhood of the world’.

Ella Young. The Wonder Smith and his Son. Illustration by Boris Artzybasheff.

It is interesting that the works of these two writers of the Irish Revival, settled in America, were selected by American publishers and reviewers alike. They represent a new image of Ireland for American readers, one of a nation with its own folklore and literary traditions. Earlier books such as Only an Irish Boy by Horatio Alger, told stories of Irish immigrant children who ‘made good’ in America, and so the insistence of these writers on the existence and richness of Ireland’s culture was probably very welcome.

Our Fall 2013 exhibit was on Irish children’s literature, and we hope to have a selection from that exhibit online in the near future.


Happy St Patrick’s Day to you and yours
from all of us in Notre Dame’s Special Collections!

St Patrick’s Day 2018 post: St. Patrick’s Day in America (1872)
St Patrick’s Day 2019 post: St. Patrick and the Nun of Kenmare
St Patrick’s Day 2020 post: St. Patrick’s Day Postcards

Or, you can browse all our Irish Studies related posts.

The New Morality

by Daniel Johnson, English; Digital Humanities; and Film, Television, and Theatre Librarian

James Gillray’s New Morality (1798) is a loaded work from one of England’s greatest caricaturists at the height of his powers. The eighteenth-century had witnessed a flowering of both English art generally (with, for example, the establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768), and caricature specifically, especially in the work of Gillray’s predecessor, William Hogarth (1697 – 1764; for an example in RBSC, see Hogarth’s illustrations for Hudibras, below), although some care should be taken with terminology. Hogarth was concerned enough by the slight implied by “caricature,” that he created  a print in 1743, “Characters and Caricaturas,” to emphasis his separation from the latter style. As the editors of the Public Domain Review write, “for Hogarth the comic character face, with its subtle exploration of an individual’s human nature, was vastly superior to the gross formal exaggerations of the grotesque caricature.”

Comic grotesquery would remain controversial, but it provided a powerful vehicle for visual expression, and its exaggeration need not imply a lack of technical mastery. Gillray was an early member of the Royal Academy (admitted April, 1778), and during “a sabbatical” from satirical work in 1783-85, he produced capable, non-satiric prints ranging “from nostalgic pastoral illustrations to ‘eyewitness’ reconstructions of celebrated marine disasters” for Robert Wilkinson” (Hill xx). His failure to “secure commissions” from Benjamin West and John Boydell (an example of whose famous Shakespeare illustration commissions, featured in the RBSC’s “Constructing Shakespeare” Spotlight Exhibit in 2016, can be found in RBSC holdings Graphic Illustrations and A Collection of Prints), helped determine his future direction; by “the early nineties Gillray finally decided to devote himself fully to the profession of caricature” (Hill xxi). Although his earlier “commercial failure was absolute and ignominious, yet it is paradoxical that his laborious hours cutting and notching with his engraver’s burin and stippling tools should have immeasurably strengthened his hand as a caricaturist” (Godfrey 15). Nor was capturing the exaggerated likenesses a trivial exercise. Without the benefit of willing models, let alone photographs, artists had to hunt “on big game safaris in the wilds of Westminster” and memorize faces from afar – “Earl Spencer, when warned decades later that there was a caricaturist in the gallery of the House of Lords, shrank on the front bench and ‘sat huddled-up [with his] face and beard in his knees’” (Hill x).

By the time Gillray produced The New Morality, in 1798, he was making some of his “most artistically brilliant and inventive images” (Hallett 36). He had also settled down from the pose of “a detached, cynical ‘hired gun,’ concealing any actual political convictions beneath a veil of ambivalence and irony” to a closer apparent alignment with the Tory government, which some allege was stirred by “a secret annual pension of £200” from 1797-1801 (Hill xxii and Hallett 35). Indeed, The New Morality was commissioned for the Anti-Jacobin Magazine (though also issued on its own) to go along with the poetical “New Morality” of George Canning, politician and eventual prime minister in 1827. The imputation of bribery was a detractor and source of embarrassment for some critics, though Gillray’s sympathies had started to manifest some years before the pension.

The allegorical density of The New Morality makes the image ripe for close and detailed analysis – an intense engagement supported by the magnifying glass of high resolution scanning at RBSC. The bookseller, Bernard Quaritch Ltd, describes the tableau thus:

On the right of the print is Lépaux, a member of the French Directory who had given prominence to Paine’s Theophilanthropic sect, preaching from a stool and attended on his dais by grotesque Jacobin creatures, while behind him are the monstrous embodiments of Justice, Philanthropy (devouring the globe) and Rousseauian Sensibility. Prostrated immediately before Lépaux are the two ass-headed figures of Coleridge and Southey, clutching their works, behind whom is seen the ‘Cornucopia of Ignorance’ and a flowerpot of plants resembling Jacobin hats with cockades. Out of the water rolls the monstrous Leviathan, resembling the misled Duke of Bedford (he has a fishhook through his nose), on whose neck rides the filthy Thelwall; on his back are Fox, Tierney and Nichols, waving their red bonnets[.] Emerging from the waves behind the Duke are diminutive sea-monsters and horned creatures clutching their works, while in the sky fly five grotesque birds, all representing various political radicals. In the foreground is a train of monsters: Paine as a crocodile (crying proverbial tears); Holcroft as a dwarfish figure in spectacles and leg-braces (Southey thought the likeness to be accurate); Godwin as an ass reading his Political Justice; and a snake representing David Williams, founder of the Royal Literary Fund.

(N.B. The acquisition of Gillray’s New Morality at RBSC coincides with the acquisition of a number of books written by “the filthy Thelwall”; RBSC’s holdings of Thelwall can be found here). The image’s breathless and baroque movement across a vast cultural landscape of major and minor political, philosophical, and poetical figures is a visceral reminder that a highly charged, partisan news media is hardly a twenty-first century invention. Graphical satires “functioned as powerful supplements to, and interventions in, the predominantly textual sphere of political journalism and printed social commentary [… in which newspapers and journals] were frequently subsidised [sic] by either the government or the opposition, and consequently functioned as propagandist mouthpieces for their policies” (Hallett 35).

The physical qualities of the print are noteworthy in their own right. While the plate was designed for mass printing, the print itself bears witness to bespoke treatment in its coloration. According to Draper Hill, “individual copperplate etchings, available plain or exquisitely colored by hand, were collector’s items from the moment of issue,” and perhaps most interesting, we “know nothing” of Gillray’s “colorists; presumably they were teams of extremely accomplished ladies working in relays” for the female printseller Hannah Humphrey, at whose residence Gillray lodged (ix, xi). Ironically, Gillray’s “technical wizardry” with his engraving tools “would be concealed by the bright hand colouring which became the norm for a published print” (Godfrey 15). Nevertheless, the colorized prints bear witness to a partnership with artisan labor, rendering each one a unique production.

Works Cited

Godfrey, Richard T. “Introduction.” James Gillray: The Art of Caricature, Tate Gallery Publishing, 2001, pp. 11–21, 38.

Hallett, Mark. “James Gillray and the Language of Graphic Satire.” James Gillray: The Art of Caricature, Tate Gallery Publishing, 2001, pp. 23–37, 39.

Hill, Draper, editor. The Satirical Etchings of James Gillray. Dover Publications, 1976.

African American History Month

We join The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to celebrate African American History Month.

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s New Literary Tradition Packaged to Sell

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian and Curator

Poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was interested in creating an African American literary tradition based on oral sources. In both works of poetry shown here, Candle Lightin’ Time and Li’l’ Gal, Dunbar used dialect, a choice he made for some of his work. Unlike most contemporary white writers, who used dialect in openly racist ways, Dunbar appropriated dialect as a way to represent fully African American expression.

Beginning of “The Plantation Child’s Lullaby” from Li’l’ Gal (1904).

The books’ appearance—the detailed and beautiful bindings, illustrations, and page designs—point to Dunbar’s publisher’s confidence in their profitability. Dodd & Mead of New York produced a string of the writer’s works, a partnership that helped propel Dunbar’s popularity. Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944), one of the most successful book designers working in this period, created the bindings. Her art nouveau style featured plant motifs and gold-stamping.

The photographs for Candle Lightin’ Time were taken by the mostly white members of the Hampton Institute Camera Club, an amateur group of photographers affiliated with the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia. The illustrations in Li’l’ Gal were taken by Leigh Richmond Minor (1864-1935), an art teacher at the institute and a trained photographer. Although the pictures were staged, their subjects are presented fully as individuals, another way in which Dunbar’s books overturned contemporary, racist depictions of African Americans.

Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872 to parents who were formerly enslaved, Dunbar showed early literary talent. He edited his high school newspaper, served as president of the school’s Philomathean Literary Society, and edited a newspaper for Dayton’s African American community for a short time. Financial hardship kept him from pursuing a college education and he found work as an elevator operator, although he continued to write.

With the support of local backers, he published Oak and Ivy in 1893, a collection of poems in both standard English and dialect. By 1895 his work was praised and championed by Frederick Douglass and by literary critic William Dean Howells. Although Howells and other white critics focused heavily on Dunbar’s use of dialect (much to the writer’s dismay) and placed his work in a tradition of white writing about plantation slavery, the breadth and variety of Dunbar’s literary work transcended the racist limitations of most dialect writing of the time.

In addition to poetry, Dunbar wrote novels, short stories, and at least one play. He gained national and international recognition at the turn of the twentieth century, one of the first African American writers to do so. He was an important literary precursor for writers of the Harlem Renaissance, two decades later.

In Rare Books and Special Collections, Dunbar’s works are part of growing collection of African American literature and historical works published before 1920 and the start of the Harlem Renaissance. Other writers include Benjamin Brawley, Maud Cuney Hare, Helen S. Woodruff, Walter E. Todd, Leila Amos Pendleton, and Oscar Micheaux.

Color Our Collections: St. Brigid’s Day and “An Alphabet of Irish Saints”

by Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, Irish Studies Librarian

St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st, marks the beginning of Spring in the Irish calendar.

In our exhibition of Irish children’s literature some years ago, we showed the first children’s alphabet book written completely in Irish that we know of — Na Rudaí Beaga (c. 1920) by Pádraig Ó Bróithe, illustrated by Lucas Rooney. We recently added a bilingual alphabet to our collection. An Alphabet of Irish Saints, illustrated by the same artist, was first published in 1915.

This book has a two-page spread for letters of the 18-letter Irish alphabet, each entry listing a saint and including a verse in English by Charlotte Dease and one in Irish by Tadhg Ó Donnchadha. An illustration, an ornate letter in the Gaelic font, and notes on the saint and associated place and festivals complete each entry.

The English verse refers to the story of Brigid receiving a promise that she could have all the land that her shawl, or mantle, could cover, to build her abbey. Her shawl spread to cover a great expanse of land. While this verse suggests a learned woman leader who could also cook, scrub and sew, the Irish verse must have been far less appealing to any young reader. It takes the form of a prayer to St. Brigid, and the prayer asks that the comely young women of Ireland would emulate her in practicing hard work.

Whether or not Brigid was a real person, an abbess in the fifth century, her legends have been part of Irish tradition and custom for centuries. In fact, look closely at the illustration above, and see the rushes strewn on the floor. These were surely added by the artist in reference to the story of the saint weaving a cross of rushes from the floor, and hence the traditional Crois Bhrighde, or Brigid’s Crosses, made at this time of year around the island of Ireland through many generations.


From February 1-5, 2021, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books based on materials in their collections. Visit The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s #ColorOurCollections site for more information and to find other color options.

Happy Holidays from Special Collections!

Rare Books and Special Collections is open by appointment only through this Friday (December 18, 2020). After that, we will be closed for the Christmas and New Year’s Break (December 19, 2020 through January 5, 2021).

Special Collections will reopen on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, again by appointment only. Visit the Hesburgh Libraries Service Continuity webpage for the most up-to-date information about both the Libraries in general and Special Collections in particular.

This is the last blog post for 2020. Happy holidays to you and yours from Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections!

Poetry, Art, and Plastic: The Imprints of Ediciones Arroyo

by Erika Hosselkus, Curator, Latin American Collections

Over the past two years, Rare Books and Special Collections has acquired a series of unique chapbooks produced by Ediciones Arroyo, a small and specialized press located in the town of Arroyo Leyes, Argentina. An exciting addition to our collections, each “book” is small and lightweight, bound in black recycled plastic, and features the work of a contemporary poet from Argentina or elsewhere in South America. 

Ediciones Arroyo is the brainchild of Alejandra Bosch, founder and owner of the press and a writer in her own right. A proponent of a thriving literary community and an advocate for recycling, Alejandra pursues these dual interests in the creation of her books. Each one includes between two and ten poems by a single poet. A short biography and whimsical illustrations, often by Julián Bosch, Alejandra’s son and collaborator, accompany the text. 

The book covers are aesthetically bold, each bearing the name of its poet in bright, colorful letters. The black plastic that once packaged milk – something that might otherwise be considered garbage – is cleaned, cut and sewn by Bosch, to create artistic editions of a roughly uniform size.  

Inside, readers find new, previously unpublished pieces, often by young, up-and-coming poets of diverse backgrounds. These imprints, coupled with literary festivals that Alejandra sponsors and organizes, offer support and a creative space for writers. 

RBSC’s collection of Ediciones Arroyo imprints currently includes more than 100 editions and is growing. We are proud to be the first North American institution to collect Ediciones Arroyo and to serve as a repository for the poetry of a dynamic group of South American writers. 

I recently asked Alejandra what it means to her to see her work, and the work of so many contemporary Argentine poets, here at Notre Dame. She expressed pride and also enthusiasm for the idea that young people here in the U.S., linguistically and culturally distant from Argentina, are now able to read these poems as they learn Spanish. “For me as a writer, it is fabulous, also, that these poets are in the university, when we trained by reading and translating the great North American poets. It is beautiful,” she said. Julián, a tattoo artist and poet as well as illustrator for Ediciones Arroyo, is also motivated by the idea that others are reading the poetry that he and others have worked so hard to create and disseminate. This contact with Notre Dame, “makes me want to forge ahead, beyond this pandemic year and all of the negative,” he states.   

Ediciones Arroyo began in 2016, with 9 poets. Today, the press’s catalog includes more than 80 poets, “and they’ve all traveled to Indiana!,” Alejandra notes. Alejandra and Julián have recently begun working on bilingual editions with a number of Brazilian authors. They both aspire to bring their work, and the contemporary poetry of South America, to other university libraries in the near future. 

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2020

We join the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month.

The Woodcuts of Consuelo Gotay

by Erika Hosselkus, Curator, Latin American Collections

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we feature the work of Puerto Rican printmaker, Consuelo Gotay. Educated in Puerto Rico and at Columbia University in New York, Gotay’s woodcuts are striking and reflect her early association with the workshop of iconic Puerto Rican printmaker, Lorenzo Homar. Rare Books and Special Collections holds five artist books that pair Gotay’s images with the poetry and prose of major Caribbean writers. 

Today, we share three of these collaborations, Selección de textos del cuaderno de un retorno al pais natal (1993), Salmos del cuerpo ardiente (2006), and Las brujas (2014). 

The first and earliest of these is a selection of texts (presented in Spanish and French) from Afro-Caribbean poet, Aime Cesaire’s, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Journal of a Return to My Native Land), originally published in 1939. If Cesaire’s poem is known for its exploration of Caribbean identities, particularly negritude, Gotay’s woodcuts illustrating the work are a sort of homage to the region’s natural beauty. Pleasing prints of ocean, swaying palm trees, and picturesque villages are interleaved with text. 

 

The second, Salmos del cuerpo ardiente, features text by Puerto Rican writer, Lourdes Vázquez, and ten original woodcuts by Gotay. Vázquez’s “psalms” point to harsh realities of life in Puerto Rico in the first decade of the twenty-first century, particularly violence and addiction among young people. A fitting and somber complement, one of Gotay’s woodcuts here is an elegy to those tortured and killed when violence reaches its pinnacle.

In Vázquez’s words,

LA TORTURA
Es como un BOXEADOR COMATOSO,
Un mero asunto familiar,
Un maleficio inexplicable.

 
 

The third and most recent of these works, Las brujas, is both a children’s story and a metaphoric lament for the youth of Puerto Rico who become involved in drug violence, by Puerto Rican writer, Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá. Gotay’s prints here combine the visual elements and the themes that appear in the earlier works. Palm trees frame the small house of the story’s good bruja (“witch”), Nina, in a manner reminiscent of her Cesaire portfolio. Los muchachos, on the other hand, are a reminder of the struggling youth portrayed in Salmos del cuerpo ardiente. 

Each of these titles is a limited edition. Together they reflect the engaging and thought-provoking artistic output of a talented Puerto Rican printmaker.

Related Previous Blog Posts:

Labor and Linen — The Prints of William Hincks

by Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, Irish Studies Librarian

For Labor Day, we decided to feature people involved in the various stages of the linen industry. These illustrations belong to a recently acquired set of prints: William Hincks: The Linen Industry: A set of twelve sepia printed and coloured aquatints. London: Published as the Act directs by R. Pollard, Spafields, June 20, 1791.

Waterford-born artist William Hincks created a set of prints depicting linen production in the north of Ireland. It is assumed that he spent some time in Ulster, but this has not been documented. He published the prints in London in 1783, and the set was republished in 1791 by R. Pollard of Spafields, London.

The linen industry played an important part in Ireland’s economy, accounting for the occupations of a large proportion of the people of Ulster in the eighteenth century. The prints show a whole range of tasks performed in the pre-industrial production of linen, from ploughing and sowing flax seeds in a County Down field, to selling the linen at Dublin’s Linen Hall.

The fourth plate is the first with an indoor setting. Women, girls and a man are engaged in beetling, scutching and hackling. These were all very unfamiliar verbs for me, and I recommend the video of Ulster Folk Museum curator, Valerie Wilson, who describes the process of linen-making from beginning to end. The video is at the end of her blogpost, Warp and Weft: The Story of Linen in Ulster.

This print, the sixth in the series, shows women spinning, reeling, and boiling the yarn or thread.

Following spinning and boiling, the next print shows a weaving shed, with the tasks of winding, warping and weaving. At this time, Ulster had an estimated 40,000 weavers, so one can imagine that the activities depicted were common in villages and towns throughout the province.

The prints will be available for viewing on request once we are able to have a fully open reading room. Also in our collection is a helpful booklet, Illustrations of the Irish linen industry in 1783 by William Hincks, by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, which describes and discusses this print collection.

As Irish economic history forms an important part of the Irish collections at the Hesburgh Libraries, we have many books treating various aspects of the linen industry. We are glad indeed to have a set of William Hincks’ prints, with their view of activities and equipment that were once an important part of Irish life.

RBSC is closed Monday, September 7th, for Labor Day.

Compendium Animalium: (Re)creating an Early Modern Book

by Erika Hosselkus, Curator, Latin American Collections and Jen Hunt Johnson, Special Collections Conservator

In the fall of 2019, my fellow curator, Julie Tanaka, and I planned our exhibition, Paws, Hooves, Fins, and Feathers: Animals in Print, 1500-1800. This exhibition was an opportunity to share Rare Books and Special Collections’ holdings with South Bend community youth as much as a showcase of our natural histories featuring animals. We promoted the show with local school districts and arranged visits for first graders, second graders, and high school students.

Beyond tours, which are primarily a visual and aural experience, we wanted to provide a fun, hands on opportunity for local kids related to our exhibition. Touching, holding, and even smelling is integral to the experience of handling a book—especially an old book. We wanted young students to be able to feel the weight of traditional early modern wooden boards and handle a half leather binding. We wanted them to be able to view our woodcuts and engravings of an early modern rhinoceros, elephant, sloth, and other critters up close! 

This desire to share the physical experience of a rare book with kids prompted us to explore the possibility of creating a facsimile of an early modern book that students could handle freely. As curators in a special collections setting, we interact frequently with conservators, our colleagues skilled in the treatment and preservation of books. They provide guidance on handling rare materials and perform repairs that facilitate use of our materials on a daily basis. This project, however, was a special opportunity to collaborate with our preservation department, particularly one of our conservators, Jen Hunt Johnson, and our current Gladys Brooks Fellow, Maren Rozumalski. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge and has postponed our use of the facsimile, but it has nonetheless been completed! This blog post is an opportunity to share the facsimile with readers and to highlight the collaborations that often occur between curators and conservators.

Julie and I met with Jen, Maren, and Sara Weber, our digital project specialist (and the constant force behind this blog!) to flesh out the details of this project. Ultimately we decided to create a sort of composite facsimile volume comprised entirely of images selected from the works featured in our physical exhibition. Sara photographed the images that Julie and I selected. They were formatted and printed on heavyweight paper chosen to mimic the look and feel of early modern rag paper. Jen and Maren then performed the heavy labor to construct this artifact! In the following paragraphs, Jen describes her work on, and experience with, this project.

Creating opportunities to promote our collections is a goal that’s shared between curators and conservators. As the facsimile provides an opportunity to bring elements of the RBSC exhibit to a broader audience through school visits, and other programming, the project also introduces participants to the work that conservators do in the library to treat and preserve books. Handling this book offers a tactile experience to illustrate the ways in which an historic book structure functions, and allows the audience, particularly children, to handle materials such as paper, leather, and wood, that they may be less encouraged to interact with when encountering our rare and fragile materials. This is an opportunity for participants to feel engaged in an environment where there are often barriers and restrictions to objects that can limit the sense of personal connection.

Creating the facsimile during the initial outbreak of a pandemic was not without its challenges. Working remotely restricted access to tools, equipment, and a proper surface to work on. Coordinating decisions regarding printing, sewing, material choices, and also foreseeing and troubleshooting problems was much harder to do through emails and still images, as compared to face-to-face meetings, and ready access to materials and supplies. In the end, a patio table and clamps set up in my living room served as a sturdy station for preparing wooden boards. A lying press, non-slip foam shelf liners, and careful balancing made do for a job backer to secure the material being worked. A 12 x 12” granite floor tile made a reasonable weight, applying even pressure when drying large areas like endsheets when a book press was unavailable. I even had to source material from a mail order wood shop when I realized the original wooden board I had purchased to work with was too thick to fit our textblock, and local vendors were closed due to the pandemic. None of these situations were ideal, but working through the process and figuring out what worked was ultimately rewarding, and fun!

We are very excited about the final product that has emerged from this collaboration. Here we share some photographs of our unique creation, Compendium Animalium, and we look forward to sharing the volume in person in the future with students on campus and in the South Bend community!