On View Now: What Lies Beneath (Visit if you dare…)

Curated by the Small Library’s Reference Team, What Lies Beneath: The Macabre and Spooktacular of Special Collections, takes a deeper dive into the catacombs of UVA’s archival netherworld. Leaving no page unturned nor manuscript box unopened, curators Anne Causey, Regina Rush, and Penny White have ferreted out the frightening and ghoulish side of Special Collections. The resulting exhibition is designed to whet the appetite of ghoul seekers young and old.

Ever want to see our stacks in person? Our exhibition poster might change your mind. Or you might want to pick one up to take back to your dorm–weirdo!

Would you believce that’s a real spider on the wall? Ok, ok, we admit, it’s a facsimile of a spider.

Located just a stone’s throw away from West Range #13—the purported room of the University of Virginia’s masterful matriculate of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe—lies a subterranean treasure trove of historical and literary scholarship.

Poe’s raven gets top billing, of course.

Yes, that’s a real raccoon coat and tail (More Cooning With Cooners, SK341 .C6 K83 2011-Marion DuPont Scott Sporting Collection); a leather book edged with shark teeth by fine binder Gabby Cooksby (Fantasy & Nonsense: Poems, PS2702 .T77 2001-Clifton Waller Barrett Library, James Whitcomb Riley Collection); and a miniature book bound in black calf suede and leather with colored leader onlays and shaped into the head of a hound by fine bookbinder Jarmila Sobata (The Hound of the Baskervilles: Conclusion & Retrospection, McGehee 05222 -McGehee Miniature Book Collection).

Did you know there are more than 3,000 species of spiders roaming around North America? We even have a few right here in the stacks, including The Spider written by Luide Woelflein and illustrated by Tomo Narashima (PZ92 .F6 D52 1992e) from the Brenda Forman Collection of Pop-up and Moveable Books.

No Halloween exhibition at this university would be complete without paying homage to the former Hoo and reigning Master of the Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. Books, including miniatures (The Tell-Tale Heart, 2015, on loan from private collection and Poe, Master of Macabre, McGehee 01687 -McGehee Miniature Book Collection) and pop-ups (The Raven: A Spectacular Pop-Up Presentation of Poe’s Haunting Masterpiece, PS2609 .A1 2016b -Robert & Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund) are but a small sampling of Poe-influenced holdings. The broken windowpane on view in the exhibition—rumored to be from Poe’s Room 13 on the West Range—has the following verse etched into its glass: “O Thou timid one, let not thy/ Form rest in slumber within these/ Unhallowed walls,/ For herein lies/ The ghost of an awful crime.”

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the short-lived Commonwealth of England following the defeat of King Charles, died of natural causes in 1658. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1661, Cromwell’s body was exhumed and subjected to a posthumous execution: he was hanged, beheaded, and his body thrown into a pit. His head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685. This plaster cast is a copy from one of several death masks created(by pouring plaster or wax over the deceased’s face shortly after death)following Cromwell’s death in 1658, prior to his grim exhumation. (MSS 5368-a-Gift of Charles C. Abbott).


Come meet James Steele, the Revolutionary War soldier who lost his head and lived to tell about it. Have a Dance with Death…or, perhaps, you may want to sample an embalming recipe that’s simply to die for. As you explore this exhibition, we hope you will go, in the words of Edgar Allan Poe,“deep into that darkness peering…wondering, fearing, doubting,dreaming dreams no mortal dared to dream before.”Come and See…If You Dare!

What Lies Beneath is on view in the First Floor Gallery of Harrison/Small through December 21, 2019.


On View Now: Fred Hagstrom’s Passage, The Little Book of Slavery and their Origins

The blog has been on summer vacation! We are so pleased to be back with the news that we have a new mini-exhibition ready for visitors! We encourage you to stop by the First Floor Gallery to take a look at  “Fred Hagstrom’s Passage, The Little Book of Slavery and their Origins.”

hagstrom_caseThis exhibition features two recently acquired artists’ books that draw on artifacts deeply rooted in our collections of African-American history and slavery-related materials.Using iconic images and texts from the transatlantic slave trade and the anti-slavery movement, American artist Fred Hagstrom produces a compelling interpretation of this history. On display with Hagstrom’s books are artifacts the artist used as the conceptual foundations of his artistic statements about the immorality of slavery. In both books, he produces heavy layers of texture and color in his interpretations of the iconic diagram of the slave ship Brookes, photographs, engravings, and texts from the era of slavery.

Of particular note is Hagstrom’s use of our library’s famous daguerrotype of Isaac Granger Jefferson, who was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson. Visitors may compare the original image with Hagstrom’s interpretation of it.

This daguerrotype of Isaac Granger Jefferson is frequently reproduced as an historical artifact; Hagstrom's pixellated image of it, juxtaposed with high-resolution close-ups of the equally iconic image of the "Slave Ship Brookes," opens new interpretive possiblities.

This daguerrotype of Isaac Granger Jefferson is frequently reproduced as an historical artifact; Hagstrom’s exaggeratedly pixellated image of it, juxtaposed with high-resolution close-ups of the equally iconic image of the “Slave Ship Brookes,” opens new interpretive possiblities. (MSS 2041. Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History)

Detail of Hagstrom's Passage as it is exhibited.

The page featuring Isaac Granger Jefferson in  “Passage,” as it is exhibited. (N7433.4 .H34 P37 2013. Associates Endowment Fund)


Also on display is one of our copies of the famous diagram of “The British Slave Ship Brookes,” as it appeared in “An Abstract of the Evidence Delivered Before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, in the Years 1790 and 1790.” Edinburgh, Printed for J. Robertson, 1791. (HT1162 .a5 1791 no.1 Plate)

This exhibition offers just a glimpse into Mr. Hagstrom’s work, which we hope will be a fertile ground for study by students and scholars alike. Our artists’ books collections cover a wide variety of genres, aesthetic approaches, and subject matter, and we are particularly interested in examples that relate to our varied collecting strengths. Perhaps this exhibit will tempt you to come take a closer look at Passage or The Little Book of Slavery in our reading room after the exhibition comes down. Until then,  here are some more of the striking justapositions to be found in Passage:

The front cover of Passage. Image courtesy of the artist.

The front cover of “Passage.” Image by Peter Lee, courtesy of Fred Hagstrom.

A page spread in Passage. Image courtesy of the artist.

A page spread from “Passage.” (Click twice to zoom in to read the text.) Image by Peter Lee, courtesy of Fred Hagstrom.

Passage pages 5 (2)

A page spread from “Passage.” (Click twice to zoom in to read the text.) Image by Peter Lee, courtesy of Fred Hagstrom.

You can learn more about Hagstrom’s work on his Carleton College website.

Virginia Festival of the Book 2013: Special Collections Edition

Every third week of March, hundreds of authors and bibliophiles sojourn in Charlottesville, immersing themselves in book culture at the Virginia Festival of the Book.  The Special Collections Library was well represented in this year’s festival.  Both of our curators (and fellow bloggers) Molly Schwartzburg and David Whitesell, as well as Honorary Curator and Director of the Rare Book School Michael Suarez, gave talks on a wide array of subjects, including the history of an abolitionist print, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spanish dramas, miniature and artist books, and e-books.  U.Va. alum and former Special Collections student employee Lex Hrabe also made three appearances at the festival, sharing with area school students the inner workings of his young adult thriller, Quarantine: The Loners.

The Print That Changed the World: The Description of the Slave-Ship Brookes

The Rare Book School hosted this lecture by U.Va. Professor and Honorary Curator Michael Suarez, S.J., which described the circulation and history of the famous, or should we say, infamous, original diagram depicting enslaved Africans in the stowage of the British slave-ship Brookes. Special Collections’ copies of the print from 1791 and 1808 were on display.

Michael Suarez gives his talk on the publication history of the printing of the stowage of the slave ship Brookes to a packed audience in the Harrison-Small Auditorium, 21 March 2013. (Photograph by Nicole Bouche)

Special Collections has three plates of the “Stowage of the British Slave Ship Brookes.” Featured is our 1808 print, originally from volume two of Thomas Clarkson’s The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the Slave-trade by the British Parliament (HT1162 .C6 1808 v.2. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

Audience members view Special Collections’ “Stowage of the British Slave Ship Brookes” prints and the books from where they originated. (Photograph by Nicole Bouché)

Lope de Vega Meets Shakespeare: Spanish Golden Age Drama Bibliography Considered

David Whitesell’s lecture, which was hosted by the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, focused on the bibliography of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spanish drama.  He provided an introduction to Spanish Golden Age drama, explained some key challenges of the genre’s bibliographers, described how proponents of the New Bibliography have addressed these challenges, and closed with a case study of how the methods of analytical bibliography might advance the understanding of Spanish Golden Age drama and its reception.

David Whitesell gives his well-received talk on viewing bibliography through Spanish Golden Age drama in the Harrison-Small Auditorium, 22 March 2013. (Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

Special Collections Director Nicole Bouché and Associate Professor of English Andy Stauffer chat as audience members view examples from David Whitesell’s personal collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spanish plays. (Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

David Whitesell, Michael Dirda, and G. Thomas Tanselle share a laugh after the talk (in foreground from left to right). Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for the Washington Post, and G. Thomas Tanselle is the President of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia. (Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

The Codex is Not the Only Book: the iPad, the Poet, and the Artist and Monumental Ideas in Miniature Books

Molly performed at two Virginia Festival of the Book events on the same day: first as a panelist and second as an exhibition guide.

The panel, “The Codex is Not the Only Book,” featured Virginia poet Mary-Sherman Willis, Charlottesville publisher Katherine McNamara, and Molly. The three discussed the 2012 ebook of Willis’s poem Caveboy, illustrated by Collin Willis and designed and published by McNamara at Artist’s Proof Editions. It was published around the same time as a limited-edition print book, which contains the same text but a radically different overall design; this volume was designed and produced by Collin Willis for Artist’s Proof.

As a panelist, Molly discussed her long-standing interest in how readers perceive e-books and how special collections libraries should begin thinking about preserving examples for the long term—a project that the field is just beginning to consider. She spoke about the ways that reading an ebook like Caveboy raises questions in the reader about the lines between the roles of the writer, publisher, and the software platform—in this case, Apple’s iAuthor. And she described some of the questions special collections librarians are asking themselves about creating a historical record of the digital revolution in book production—could a library actually acquire an ebook, rather than simply purchase access to a file? If so, where would that ebook end, and the interface begin? How will researchers look back at the early ebook phenomenon in twenty, fifty, or five hundred years?

Hosted by the member artists of Virginia Arts of the Book Center, Molly gave an engaging exhibition talk on Monumental Ideas in Miniature Books, a travelling exhibition that features 87 miniature books by artists from eight countries.  In her talk, she discussed the artistry of books and the relationships between miniature books, altered books, and artists’ books.

Molly Schwartzburg discusses Envelope Journal No. 3 by Jesse Alan Brown with exhibition viewers. Brown’s work is made of No. 3 coin envelopes, magnetic clasps, and PVA adhesive. (Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

Insects by Sarojini Jha Johnson is featured in the foreground of the case. (Photograph by Tessa Currie)

Stefanie Dykes’ altered book, Querl, and Alicia Pelaez Camazon’s artist book, Esperando, appear prominently in the foreground of this case. (Photograph by Tessa Currie)

Unlikely Heroes in Youth Adult Books

U.Va. graduate (Class of 1999), former Special Collections student employee, and author Lex Hrabe was a panelist for the Saturday session at the book festival. During the week, he had given talks to two schools, including his alma mater St. Anne’s-Belfield (Class of 1995), and was a panelist for Unlikely Heroes in Youth Adult Books.  Lex is one half of Lex Thomas, the pen name for the writing team of Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies.  The duo wrote the young adult thriller Quarantine: The Loners, which was the subject of his talks.  Lex’s proud mother Margaret Hrabe is the reference coordinator for the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library!

The YA novel Quarantine: the Loners is first in a trilogy, and was published in July 2012;  book two Quarantine: the Saints will be in bookstores on July 9th of this year. (PZ7 .T366998 Qud 2012. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

Sign at St. Anne’s Belfield School announcing author and alum Lex Hrabe ’95 for his book talk (Photograph by Margaret Hrabe)

Lex Hrabe talks to students at St. Anne’s-Belfield. (Photograph by Margaret Hrabe)

We hope you all get to join us next year at the Virginia Festival of the Book.  Be sure to check out Special Collections’ involvement!


This Just In: An Artist’s Book from CODEX

In mid-February, I took a trip out to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the biennial Codex International Book Fair, which began in 2007 and has emerged as the premier venue for artists, printers, and dealers to display and sell artists’ books, fine press editions, and book art, with a particular emphasis on fine limited editions. Held this year at the beautiful Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, which overlooks the San Francisco Bay, the fair was a light-filled, dazzling display of creative production and craftsmanship. This new venue was necessitated by the growing number of visitors and exhibitors at the last fair. If, as they say, the book is a dying medium, “they” haven’t seen the diverse productions of book artists in recent decades, nor have they observed the increasing visibility of artists’ books beyond the small world of book artists and collectors.

Looking down on the Codex booths and buyers. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

I went to the fair seeking items that would help us expand Special Collections’ already robust and diverse collection of artists’ books and fine press editions, which are used widely in teaching by academic and Rare Book School faculty alike. I left having met dozens of artists, printers, and publishers from around the world, and waited eagerly for the arrival of my various purchases for the collection.

A great artist’s book is like a great poem. When you read such a poem the first time, you see it whole, appreciate its beauty and formal sophistication, grasp it fully on some level. When you reread it, you suddenly find that you do not understand it at all, and you’re not even sure what questions you need to ask of the poem before you can begin to understand it again. The deep pleasure that poetry brings me begins when I start formulating these questions, and it does not end until I must put down the poem to go wash the dishes or answer my email. It is this type of engagement I seek when I am selecting artists’ books for the collection.

I had this kind of experience when I came across the elegant Spandrel, a collaboration between Frank Giampietro and Denise Bookwalter, published by Small Craft Advisory Press at Florida State University, which had a booth at the fair:

The front cover of Spandrel. The book is very thick and has the appearance of great heft, but is surprisingly light when you pick it up. This is due to the cut interior and the Hosho paper, which is thick and fluffy. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

The title is an architectural term that refers to the empty space at the side of an arch (I can’t seem to explain this in words–I recommend that you Google it!). The press provides an excellent description of the book’s form: “Spandrel uses traditional and non-traditional processes to play with the reading of a poem.  One poem is on the first page and slowly transforms through the 150 pages into the second poem, which is on the last page.  In the middle of the book the text is unreadable but as the viewer nears the end the text comes back into focus.”

What this description doesn’t note is that none of this is printed: the text is an absence, cut out of the book with a laser, its font like a stencil. The shadows produced by the stacks of slowly shifting cuts on subsequent pages produces the visible text:

The first page of the text proper. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

A detail view of two words on the first page of the book reveals the edges of cuts below. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

The laser printing very slightly singes the page, producing a tinge of brown around each letter. Near parallels between the text of the poem and the form of the book begin to emerge as one considers the opening page: the singed pages and “roasted almonds” share the same color. The receding darkness behind each cut on the page seems somehow connected to the “dark cabinet.” There are disjunctions too: laser cutting is a relatively new technology associated with high-tech industry, while mason jars evoke homemade preserves. But this jar doesn’t hold preserves, just as this book doesn’t hold printing. Both hold something singed by heat. There is a sort of symmetry here.

But what happens next is more interesting. Looking at the first page, one might imagine that the entire text block (the “stack” of all of the book’s pages), was laser cut in one step. Page after page, the same poem appears again and again, but soon, it begins to shift slightly, and then more, until it moves towards illegibility and then back to legibility. Each page is cut separately from a series of digitally generated tempates:

Photo by Molly Schwartzburg

Photo by Molly Schwartzburg

Photo by Molly Schwartzburg

In the final pages, the text becomes clearer and clearer, and lighter and lighter, as there are fewer shadows to define the text. It finally resolves into this chilling poem, which takes more effort to read than the first one did:

Photo by Molly Schwartzburg

The image of domestic comfort in the opening poem is replaced by one of urban violence in the latter: ball-peen hammers are a dangerous weapon. The poem’s opening symbol of happiness–whole almonds protected in a clear jar inside a closed cupboard inside a home–is replaced by an image of the layers of someone’s skin, then skull, then brain being violently broken, shattered, and compressed respectively by a heavy blow. The lack of human actors in the first poem suddenly becomes apparent.

The second poem seeks actively to shock: mason jars are replaced by snot, and the strange elegance of the opening page is utterly lost.The reader begins shifting back and forth between the two poems, seeking to understand the differences between them, the justification for their juxtaposition, the physical location in which one word or phrase replaces another. I find my own mind running down multiple interpretive paths: which wins out in this book, happiness or the social self? What would happen if the two poems traded places, and it began with the social self and ended with happiness?  Once I come to the word “ball peen” this suddenly seems to be a book about a man, since I only associate this kind of violence with men. Is he the subject of both poems? Is there a woman in the domestic space of the kitchen? And why are there almonds in the jar instead of preserves? And while I’m at it, what does any of this have to do with spandrels? It has something to do with empty spaces, with round holes produced by a hammer, with jars, cupboards. With absence–an empty house with an empty space in a cupboard, and a “social self” who experiences only violence. What lesson am I to learn from all of this? What is the poet  telling me? What is the book telling me?

There are likely no clear answers to these questions; the two poems are not entirely symmetrical, do not have some kind of straightforward causal relationship. If they did, the book would fail because it would be clever, even smug. Instead, its mysterious, discomfitting texts and physical form together produce a fertile space for contemplating the poetry, heightening the reader’s capacity to observe the very specific elements of sentences, phrases, and lines. It is a dazzling example of the productive relationship that can exist between a book and its contents.

This is just one of the many wonderful items found at the fair. Too bad I have to wait two years for the next one!

If you get overwhelmed looking at books at Codex, step just outside and take in the view. The Bay Bridge may be seen on the left. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)



Exhibition Now Open: “Miniature Books and Money”

Come on by Special Collections to see our latest short-term exhibition, “Miniature Books and Money.” Drawing almost entirely from the McGehee Miniature Book Collection, the exhibition features almost 100 miniature books in just two exhibit cases, showcasing some of the ways that one topic–money–can be approached through this 12,000 item collection.

This exhibition is launched as a partner project to an exhibition currently on view at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, Monumental Ideas in Miniature Books 2. Learn more about the VABC show here. You can visit the show at their space “Beneath the Art Box”  at 2125 Ivy Road, Charlottesville. Both exhibitions have been mounted in celebration of the 2013 Virginia Festival of the Book, which runs March 20-24.

Our theme was inspired by an artist’s book by Charlottesville book artist Amanda Nelsen, also featured at the VABC. Her book, entitled Fine Print, investigates the rhetoric of junk mail credit card offers with elegance, artistry, and humor.

“Miniature Books and Money” runs through April 18, and may be found on the First Floor Gallery of the Harrison Small building on the UVa Grounds during standard opening hours.

The exhibit features 79 volumes from the Winthrop Press, who provided tiny paperback editions of short stories to be packaged with cigarettes and other products in the 1910s. Come find out why so many of them are associated with the Catholic philanthropic organization, the Knights of Columbus.

If only we could make miniature labels for miniature books! But we worry about your eyes enough as it is…

One of seventy-nine publications of the Winthrop Press in the exhibit, this book’s gorgeous cover image is cheaply printed.