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Re: Book Arts in Tuscaloosa
In response to the recent posts about MFA programs in book arts,
specifically some erroneous statements about the program at the
University of Alabama, I would like to clarify what we are doing down
here as a graduate student in the book arts program, which is
part of the School of Library and Information Studies.
Someone recently characterized our program as one which "centers on
the artistic presentation of unbound materials, which means not so
much restoration of old books as it is the tasteful and aesthetically
pleasing process of casing special editions from small-presses."
The writer has, however innocently, misrepresented the program as it
exists in the fall of 1995.
It is true that a master's degree in either writing or bookbinding means
little if you don't produce good work; however, it is not the degree
that I am working for, but the technical skill I will need to work as
a book binder or a conservation technician, or a papermaker or
There are several advantages to studying the book art s here in
Tuscaloosa. Among them are: clean air; a million oak trees; the
resources of a public liberal arts university; the relatively low
cost of a public liberal arts university; cheap rent; financial aid
if needed; opportunities for study overseas; links with businesses
and individuals for summer internships; and freedom to shape your
education in ways that can include all your interests.
Since the book arts program is part of the library school, students
have privileges on the S.L.I.S. computer network, which includes continuous
access to the internet , e-mail, word processing and presentation
software, multi-media software, etc.
The book arts program is designed for a concentration in either book binding or
If you want to learn to bind books, the program is a good one because
our book binding professor, Paula Marie Gourley, teaches a
curriculum that includes non-adhesive structures,
non-Western styles, simple bindings for printing projects, and a
series of progressively more intricate bindings including quarter-,
half-, and full-leather bindings as well as some advanced techniques for blind- and
gold-tooling and edge gilding. Current graduates are working in major
libraries and university conservation labs.
If you want to learn printing, the program isa good one because our
printing professor, Steve Miller, teaches everything from letterpress
printing with lead type and polymer plates to hand papermaking in our
papermill. Students who concentrate in printing produce a series of
projects including broadsides, multi-signature books, and other
projects, many of which are produced on paper they have made. Current
graduates have set up their own successful private presses.
Other courses in the program include paper decoration, box making, and the
history of the book.
Instead of a thesis, students produce a creative project under the
direction of a committee. The project draws on everything you learn
or have brought to the program, and could include fine printing, fine
binding, limited editions, or whatever you and the committee agree
upon. This means that although the master's degree doesn't mean you
are a master, it does mean that you know the craft well enough to
produce quality work, not just "artist's books."
I am pursuing a study of parchment making, and hope to offer a course
in it eventually. This interest has been encouraged, and a workshop
with Henk de Groot, a parchment maker in Rotterdam, has been included
as part of the University's summer study tour next year in Germany,
Switzerland and the Netherlands. I plan to use what I learn to
produce my creative project, which may include limp vellum bindings
and binding on boards.
Since the interests of students here are varied, the instructors help
fit the program to our needs, and our well-equipped bindery and
typographic laboratory enable us to produce a wide variety of
projects as we narrow our interests to a single focus. This is, to
me, one of the best aspects of the program here: you have room to explore
your interests in many areas of the book arts, but when you find a
focus, you are encouraged and supported by peers and instructors.
If you want to talk to a real person about the program, call the book
bindery: (205) 348-9055.
This post is not meant as an advertisement but as a clarification of
honest under-estimation. We welcome any applicants to the program,
but only eight students are accepted each year, and as of this post,
two of the positions are filled, so anyone interested should apply
John Marc Green