Beinecke opens the book on bookmaking

The first half of Beinecke’s “How will a book …” exhibition explores the process by which a book is created; the second half of the exhibit uses half-completed books to illustrate the means by which a book is completed.
The first half of Beinecke’s “How will a book …” exhibition explores the process by which a book is created; the second half of the exhibit uses half-completed books to illustrate the means by which a book is completed. Photo by Yale University .

“I have a spine but no bones. I have leaves, but I’m not a tree. I have lots to say, but never speak. Can you answer this riddle?”

“A book,” responds the pamphlet at the current exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, titled “How will a book ….” Assembled by Beinecke Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts Timothy Young, the display will showcase the dying art of bookmaking through the lens of children’s literature until Oct. 1.

The show is laid out in two halves. The first half explores the process of creating a book, using D’Aulaires’ “Book of Greek Myths” as an example. Explanations accompany each part of the printing process, including sketchbooks, letters, drafts of texts, illustrations and color separations. The other half of the display develops this interest in half-finished books. A second glass case presents the mock-ups and sketches of several other children’s books, including common household names like “Madeleine” and “Goop Tales.”

The idea for “How will a book …” came to Young when he first purchased the D’Aulaire couple’s archives and saw that the authors had preserved every step of production — from the drafts to the sketches — for their popular myth book, Young said.

“We have the archives to show how books of poetry and the like are produced, but there are so many more pieces to show for children’s literature,” Young explained. “These materials show all the steps of illustration, which is usually behind the scenes.”

Young added that a further motivation for the exhibit was the desire to present more accessible exhibitions at the Beinecke, in contrast to extremely specific academic topics that may be of less interest to summer tourists who visit the library.

Exploring the art of the printed word is especially time-sensitive as well, Young said, since many books are now being created and read on the computer, bypassing many of the steps of book production that were shown in the exhibit.

“The use of computers as tools for book production has caused us to lose the trail from the idea for a book to the finished product,” Young said. “Since files can just be overwritten, there is no natural archive created of the steps along the way.”

Stewart McDonald ’14, one spectator at the exhibit, said that this emphasis on the physical form of a book made him see books as their own art form.

“I realized for the first time how much effort goes into editing text and illustrations and laying out the page,” McDonald explained. “Books can be just as aesthetically pleasing as they are intellectually stimulating.”

Harry Larson ’14, another student at the display, noted that this portion of the show made the exhibition more relatable.

“Anyone who visited the exhibit would have probably read at least one of those books as a child and been interested in how it was created,” Larson said.

“How will a book …” has been on display since July 11 and is open to the public weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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