The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

New UI library exhibit showcases enriching history of books

For six months, the “Making the Book, Past and Present” exhibit will be set up in the Main Library Gallery. Co-curated by Eric Ensley and Emily Martin, the exhibit places old and new materials in conversations with one another.
Avi Lapchick
Photo illustration by Avi Lapchick.

When people walk through the University of Iowa Main Library’s newest exhibit, they are transported hundreds of years back with walls lined with old and medieval manuscripts and contemporary artist books that date back centuries.

Co-curated by Eric Ensley and Emily Martin, the “Making the Book, Past and Present” exhibit borrowed materials from the UI’s Special Collections and Archives and placed them in conversation with one another. The exhibit is open to the public until June 28.

“What visitors will take away is an appreciation for some of the very different styles of books that are out there,” Ensley said. “And how things that are hundreds of years old can be very interesting, alongside objects that were made by people right here on campus.”

Ensley, who serves as the curator of rare books and maps in the UI’s Special Collections and Archives, added that the idea behind the exhibit first took root around six years ago, when Ensley was teaching a first-year course at Yale University titled “What is a Book?”

Now at Iowa, he continues to teach the course as a first year seminar. Within the class, he also incorporated studies on Shakespeare-focused artist books created by Martin. Naturally, upon Ensley’s arrival in Iowa City, he and Martin decided to meet.

“This whole exhibit is an extension of this kind of ongoing conversation that Eric and I have been having — both before I knew we were having it, and after,” Martin said.

Martin has previously taught introductory bookbinding classes, as well as classes on artist books at the UI as an adjunct assistant professor at the Center for the Book since 1998. She has also been a studio artist for many years.

“I think one of the interesting things that comes out, especially in Emily’s work— and I hope so in the exhibit as well — is that when we pair these objects, old and new, together, the old objects don’t always say the things that we want them to say,” Ensley said, “And so there can be real tensions there with the past and the present.”

One of the challenges the curators faced upon putting together this exhibit was trying to come up with something that would entice a community that knows so much about books already.

“We’ve got a great team of people at the libraries, and so we always learn something new every time we do an exhibit,” UI Exhibition and Engagement Coordinator Sara J. Pinkham said. “It’s a really interesting job. While I’m not really a subject matter expert, I facilitate the process for those who aren’t doing that scholarly work.”

Pinkham also said the exhibit was a team effort, as many people came together to make it possible.

As for the pieces included, Ensley and Martin had long discussions with one another about which materials would make for the best showing. They also wanted to include various pieces to reach different audiences.

“We were trying to not have any kind of redundancies as far as sort of showing the same thing again, even though we really loved the books that we had to leave out,” Martin said.

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About the Contributors
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.
Avi Lapchick
Avi Lapchick, Arts Editor
Avi Lapchick is an arts editor at The Daily Iowan. A fourth-year student studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, she previously held the positions of staff photojournalist, summer arts editor, and assistant arts editor at the DI. She is happiest when she is writing or painting.