Transforming Tradition: A Student Reflection

The following post was written by library student assistant, Danielle. Danielle is a senior screenwriting major.

Working at the library comes with a few perks, one of which is getting to explore student-curated exhibitions at the William H. Hannon Library. This spring, the library is presenting “Transforming Tradition: An Introduction to Nineteenth Century Book Binding.” This exhibition introduces the art of bookbinding in the nineteenth century, highlighting examples of traditional bindings from various countries as well as showcasing how the Industrial Revolution transformed binding design in Europe and the United States. The exhibition, which is located in the library’s third floor, Terrance L. Mahon, S.J. Gallery, will be on display January 30 – May 6. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Exploring the exhibition, I experienced decorative expressions influenced by artistic movements such as Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts. I encountered specialty bindings that showcase the artistry of women designers. I saw how Western colonizers’ consumption of Eastern beauty influenced aesthetic decisions. I was especially intrigued by the presence of several “poison books.” The emphasis on Western bindings with Eastern influences was particularly stunning, and is something anyone with an interest in Asian history should check out! The bindings in that particular exhibit case provide examples of Western consumption of visual aesthetics created by other cultures. European and American decorative arts both popularized and exploited the artistry of Eastern regions made increasingly accessible to them through exploration, colonization, and looting. Books included in this section have Eastern-inspired binding designs that have nothing to do with the textual contents.

Despite the proverbial injunction to never judge a book by its cover, there really is so much to learn from the artistry of bookbinding. By studying the historical trends that went into this art form, we can begin to appreciate the backstories of a variety of influential cultures. If you love art and history, this is an excellent opportunity to take in the important history curated by LMU student archivists.

My Favorite Exhibit Piece: A Reminiscence by Curator Katie Khojasteh

katie standing against decorated wall“Within the “Transforming Tradition: An Introduction to Nineteenth Century Book Binding” exhibition, which I have had the privilege of curating, there are more than a handful of personal favorite pieces. One of my all-time favorites is the binding design for a book titled “Out-of-Doors in the Holy Land,” because I think it is absolutely stunning in its design.* It reflects common motifs of Art Nouveau through the linework, but I am most drawn to its color palette. The reds, blues, and greens are one of my favorite incorporations because they blend together seamlessly as a cohesive color scheme. The depiction of three pomegranates on the binding’s front cover is one of my favorite details because of the rich symbolism connected to the fruit. It represents fertility, power, beauty, and eternal life in Greek and Persian mythology as well as in Christianity. The Art Nouveau section of my exhibit remains a favorite for me because of the unique artistic features and swirling curvature so prevalent in Art Nouveau design.”

Katie Khojasteh researched, selected, and wrote her exhibition during a year-long internship conducted with the library’s Archives and Special Collections department. Her graduate student position was supported by the graduate program of LMU’s English Department.

*Library note: because Katie loved this book design so much, we featured it as the main artistic element of the exhibition’s introductory wall