The Katharine Kyes Leab & Daniel J. Leab American Book Prices Current Exhibition Award Winners 2010
The Exhibition Awards Committee of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries is pleased to announce the following winners of the 2010 Katharine Kyes Leab & Daniel J. Leab American Books Prices Current Exhibition Awards.
A complete list of entries for the 2010 competition with contact and ordering/access information, as well as lists of entries and winners for other years may be found on the RBMS Exhibition Awards Committee page.
Award certificates were presented on Sunday, 27 June 2010, preceding the RBMS Information Exchange at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The list below includes the remarks of the chair of the Exhibition Awards Committee, as given in the presentation.
Division One (Expensive Printed Catalogs)
Princeton University Rare Books and Special Collections, for Liberty & the American Revolution: Selections from the Collection of Sid Lapidus, Class of 1959, with preface by Stephen Ferguson, foreword by Sid Lapidus, and kintroduction by Sean Wilentz, designed by Mark Argetsinger.
The purpose of this catalog is succinctly put in Stephen Ferguson’s preface: “How does one gain … a sense of the past? Not only by experiencing books as physical objects, seeing them as readers of that day saw, felt, and handled them, but—through the extensive quotations from the books themselves found in this catalogue—by making them speak as well.” The purpose of the collection is stated by Sid Lapidus, the collector, in his foreword: “[I]t is my goal that the items I donate to Princeton be accessible to scholars and would-be scholars (undergraduates), and integrated into various courses when appropriate.”
This is, in essence, a catalogue of books and a book of quotations that trace the evolution, in a multiplicity of spheres, of the concept of “liberty”—a concept which it is all too easy to interpret ad lib. Whatever else the many books presented in this catalog may be about, the organization of the entries and passages quoted all address the question posed in the introduction by Sean Wilentz: “What are the boundaries of American liberty?” That Wilentz is the “Lapidus Professor in the American Revolutionary Era” indicates the extent to which the collecting impulse has here evolved into something much more than just a compilation of sources. It’s the collector’s hand-off, so to speak, to the professor and his students: make of this what you will, but here are the means to know what you’re talking about.
The physicality of the books, while not an emphasis of the collection, is reflected in the density of the design and typography of the catalog, an almost extreme example of the style of its designer, Mark Argetsinger. The texture of these texts is itself a pedagogical device, a taste of the books. Pick it up and read it aloud to yourself, and you realize that this is also a catalog of voices.
The Poetry Collection, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, for Discovering James Joyce: The University at Buffalo Collection by Michael Basinski, Oscar A. Silverman, Luca Crispi, Michael Groden, and Sam Slote, edited by James Maynard, and designed by Kristopher Miller.
To begin with, this catalog is an indispensable guide to and demonstration of the scholarly possibilities of this particular collection. As the best of such guides do, it tells us much about the origins and organization (and eccentricities of organization) of the collection as such—“what is this collection all about?”
The challenge to the makers of this catalog was the variety and depth of the materials: the Joyce family collection, which includes books by Joyce, as well as his personal library, manuscripts, photographs, and memorabilia; together with the collection of Sylvia Beach, publisher of the first edition of Ulysses.
It’s a visual feast, the complexity of its design properly representing the variousness of the many items on view, but with the clarity necessary to the understanding of all that variety: each element of the page has a distinct function, and everything is brought into clear relation. The openings are a pleasure to look at and analyze: Kristopher Miller, the designer, is especially to be commended, but every contributor registers in this production. “Dublin, Trieste, Zürich, Paris … Why Buffalo?” This catalog stands as one good answer.
Division Two (Moderately Expensive Printed Catalogs)
Princeton University Rare Books and Special Collections, for Beauty & Bravado in Japanese Woodblock Prints: Highlights from the Gillett G. Griffin Collection with an essay by Laura J. Mueller, designed by Mark Argetsinger.
The “moderately expensive” catalogs of this division can go several ways: some are quite large, rivaling the weightiness of some Division 1 catalogs; others are exquisite, small in scale but with a sense of adventure, perhaps, or on the other hand with traditional but not tired excellence of fit and finish. This is one of the latter (yet another design by Mark Argetsinger, who designed the Division 1 winner).
As with the majority of softcover catalogs we see, one could wish that the binding were a bit more relaxed, only because that would make it easier to appreciate, as fully as possible, the rightness of its proportions. The text is set with a quiet sense of style: it’s meant to be read with the greatest ease possible, but still be suitable company for the excellently reproduced prints to which it points. The appended catalog of the exhibition is a model of its type, with enough technical detail to satisfy the better-informed viewer of the collection, while alerting the beginner to the various attributes and accretions that give these prints their individual identities. The essay is just enough and not too much: it cannot make the reader an instant expert, but does induce the feeling that having so much lightly worn expertise about such things would be a source of great pleasure—and it includes, in its historical treatment, reference to Western collectors who found that out for themselves, as did Gillett G. Griffin, the collector of these prints.
Division Three (Inexpensive Printed Catalogs)
University of Victoria Libraries, Special Collections, for The Lion and the Fox: Art and Literary Works by Wyndham Lewis from the C. J. Fox Collection by C. J. Fox and Danielle Russell; designed by Frances Hunter, Beacon Hill Communication Group, Inc.
Only a man of somewhat advanced years and considerable self-understanding could write, “[It] could be said that ulterior psychological motives—as parasitic in nature as those affecting other compulsive Lewis adherents, fictional or real-life—had helped prompt my build-up of a quite vast body of Lewis’s literary and pictorial output. This 50-year process constituted not simply a process of collection on my part but a broader takeover of my conscious life by a force called Lewis, cleverly acquiesced in by myself for lack of any intellectual personality of my own.”
All of the winners this year exhibit a great deal of self-consciousness about collecting and its motives, high-minded or, as here claimed at least, not so. The design of this one, on the other hand, is not self-conscious, nor is the graphic presentation. Lewis was both visual and literary. The black and white text is complemented throughout by color reproductions good enough, though often small, to represent the range and boundaries of Lewis as artist. The focus remains on the interplay between this lion and this Fox, the writer, and the collector who reads his collection. The catalog itself includes entries containing, in addition to properly detailed description, notes about particular copies and their associations, which serve as extensions of the text.In sum, this is a remarkably handsome catalog that one judge assumed had to be Division 2 (moderately expensive), but somehow they brought it off more inexpensively. It’s a first-rate example of the donor-driven catalog that says, to paraphrase quite radically, “Here’s my collection, here’s why it’s interesting, and here’s how it made me more interesting than I would have been otherwise.”
Division Four (Brochures)
The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, for The Mystique of the Archive by Danielle Sigler and Cathy Henderson, designed by Leslie Ernst (University of Texas at Austin Design Center).
Out of the plethora that constitutes archives—and goodness knows, the Ransom Center is one of the capitals of the Land of Plethora—comes this perfect gem of compression and simplicity. “Taken together, these materials emphasize the complexity of the creation and use of archives while revealing the remarkable reward of working with archival materials”, as they say by way of introduction.
The format is as simple as the subject is complex: in each opening, to the left, a picture of something interesting—perhaps even fascinating, in some cases because it is practically illegible and one pauses to exercise what one has of the faculties that professionals must exercise, faced with such a thing; to the right, facing the thing, a brief identification, and a quotation from someone who has thought deeply about “objects, associations, and authenticity,” or “private papers, public lives,” or “the challenges of the archive,” or “revealing the creative process.”
The criteria for Division 4 of the Leab Awards note that a brochure is a publication designed to “orient the viewer to an exhibition.” This one is particularly successful in shaping a frame of mind, preparing a viewer to feel the temptation, the desire to be more than a viewer, the implicit challenge to get beneath the surface. As one of the epigraphs (credited to subREAL, “the Politics of Heritage”) puts it: “Archives embody the mystique of boredom… Boredom is a front cover preserving archives from intruders looking for easy excitement.” A point well taken, but boredom is not the response that this deceptively simple booklet invites.
Division Five (Electronic Exhibitions)
University of Maryland Libraries, Special Collections, for Nancy Drew and Friends: Girls’ Series Books Rediscovered Ann Hudak, curator; designed by Rebecca Mooney and Erika Ohno; Kathleen Brown, Rebecca Mooney, and Dun-Yee Wong, assistant curators. http://www.lib.umd.edu/RARE/SpecialCollection/nancy/index.html
“Why on earth would a university library want my pristine set of every Nancy Drew? Even my public library wouldn’t have them on the shelves when I was a kid.” The University of Maryland Libraries answered this question directly in their Leab Award entry form: “Based on the University of Maryland’s Rose and Joseph Pagnani Collection of girl’s series books, this exhibition seeks to explore the origins and enduring popularity of the genre. It is intended for academic audiences as witnessed by the program of the ‘Reading Nancy Drew’ symposium held in connection with the physical exhibition; collectors interested in the origins and publishing contexts of these books; and general readers who retain an appreciation of the influence of series books in their own lives.”
The exhibition is an editorial triumph, accessible and informative at many levels, with a consistency of voice that remains always somehow breezy without ever betraying the seriousness of the collecting and curatorial discipline that went into it. It’s not every such effort that might enable a high school teacher to introduce students to bibliographical scholarship and the sociology of reading as applied not only to great works, but also to the everyday reading of the children they so recently were. Yet it’s still a delight to those a bit older: “Oh, you youngsters in your 50s, Nancy Drew was a favorite of mine when I was about 10 or so!” says Doris, age 81, adding her remarks to “Memories of Reading Nancy Drew,” the virtual guest book of the exhibition. Drill deep enough into these pages and you’ll get a quick guide to the interpretation of detailed collectors’ guides, as well, and a bibliography and multiplicity of links. Each of the graphics can be viewed closer up; the design is simple and unobtrusive, giving full play to the bright graphics of the many dust jackets, illustrations, and endpapers on display—all headed by a banner of straightforwardly imitative design featuring the girl who holds her magnifying glass up to the world whose hidden details she is determined to investigate and master.