Texas A&M: Texas A&M Hosts Guild Of Book Workers Triannual Exhibition

Starting this week, an assortment of one-of-a-kind works by some of the nation’s top bookbinders and book artists is on display at Texas A&M University’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives.

The A&M campus is the penultimate stop for the Guild of Book Workers Triannual Exhibition, “WildLIFE,” which showcases the best of more than 100 entries by experienced artists and craftspeople from across the country. Contributors were asked to interpret the exhibition’s theme however they wished, putting their skills and imagination to the test to create books that double as unique art pieces.

The traveling exhibit was organized by Texas A&M’s Jeanne Goodman, a clinical associate professor and conservator for the University Libraries who serves as exhibitions chair for the Guild of Book Workers. She said many of the pieces on display reflect the strange and difficult events of the last few years.

“A lot of it echoes the isolation that we felt during the pandemic, being stuck at home and wanting to reconnect with nature and kind of questioning where you are in life,” Goodman said.

Of the 50 assorted works that made the cut for this year’s exhibit, some standouts include books bound in fish skin, a tiny tome in the shape of spider, and a fittingly-shaped copy of Jun Mitani’s “Curved Folding Origami Design.”

“There’s enough here that anybody can bring their own personal interests or background and find something that will spark their imagination,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, assistant professor and curator of rare books and manuscripts at Cushing.

Cushing is this exhibit’s only stop in the state of Texas; it will remain there until June 24 before being shipped to the Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. From 3:30-5 p.m. on May 6, Cushing and its partner for this exhibit, the Lone Star Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers, will host a free reception featuring a tour of the exhibit and talks by the two Texas-based artists whose works are featured: Patrice Miller and Elizabeth T. Mellott.

“I’m interested in hearing from both of them about their personal journeys with these books,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s so rare that you get the opportunity to sit in the room with the artist and hear directly from them.”

As Goodman explained, today’s book workers and artists draw from the long and varied history of the bookbinding and paper arts, often putting a new spin on age-old techniques and experimenting with a mix of traditional and atypical materials.

“A lot of the binders use foundational knowledge of known structures, historical structures, but they also invent brand new things,” Goodman said.

Some pieces go far beyond the traditional, sometimes sparking debate about what can rightfully be considered a book. Ultimately, Goodman said that’s part of the exhibit’s aim — to pique people’s interest and get them thinking about how they engage with books and other printed material.

“I wanted it to challenge,” Goodman said. “We want people to come in and say, ‘That’s a book? Wow, I love that,’ or ‘Oh, I hate it’ — I want there to be a reaction.”

The exhibit’s stop at A&M also presents an excellent opportunity to highlight the Cushing Library’s status as a unique hub for these particular artforms. The library is home to the Berger-Cloonan Collection of Decorated Papers as well as multiple collections dedicated to book design and book history. Cushing is currently displaying an assortment of rare and unique pieces from those collections in its lobby, allowing visitors to get a small taste of what they’ll see in the main exhibit upstairs.

“This exhibition has a sort of ambassadorial role to Special Collections,” O’Sullivan said. “We hope that it will encourage others who haven’t been here before to take an interest in the materials that are here at Cushing for them.”