A Letter From Kathleen Walkup re: Mills Book Art Closure
October 21 2015
Dear Friend of Book Art at Mills,
By now you have likely heard that the Mills College Book Art Program is in danger of closure. The college claims to be taking this step as a cost-saving measure; is part of a comprehensive set of actions that includes eliminating certain majors in languages and philosophy and consolidating other curricular areas. None, however, are slated for closure; Book Art is taking the brunt of this cost-cutting.
First, I want to emphasize that the Book Art Program is currently strong, with robust enrollments in our classes and a graduate program that, while small, is unique in the country. We are extremely proud of our MFA alums, who are invigorating the field in exciting ways.
The students and alums have been taking immediate action. One of our alums has started a petition that as of this morning had over 1000 signatures. Another has opened a Tumblr, where our alums are recording their accomplishments and their tributes to the program. Current students held an emergency meeting yesterday to prepare for a college-wide meeting at which the administration plans to explain its position about book art and the other changes.
I am writing to you in hopes that you will consider writing a letter to our administrators in support of keeping Book Art at Mills. I am including a long text below that will I hope provide some history and information about our program. Please send your letters to the administration (emails below). It would also help to have copies of any emails. You can post on our Facebook page: Mills College Book Art Program. Also note that our Dean of Letters, Ajuan Mance, is highly supportive and is doing all she can to prevent this closure, so be sure to thank her for her herculean efforts.
President Alecia DeCoudreaux: firstname.lastname@example.org
Provost Sharon Washington: email@example.com
Dean of Letters Ajuan Mance: firstname.lastname@example.org
Student petition: https://www.change.org/p/save-the-mills-college-book-art-program
This is the program they want to dismantle:
MFA in Book Art & Creative Writing
Mills currently has the only MFA in Book Art & Creative Writing in the country. This is an innovative, interdisciplinary program with an international reputation. In a major bit of irony, the college and faculty have repeatedly stressed over the past few months that what Mills need is interdisciplinary, innovative programs that would help to create a national reputation for the college, yet they are now eliminating the only program at the college that fits those criteria.
Our MFA students are in a five-semester program that culminates in an MFA exhibition in a professional gallery in Oakland. The students teach workshops at City College of San Francisco, and have the opportunity to print broadsides by distinguished writers in Mills’ Contemporary Writers Series. Recent broadsides have been my Eileen Myles, Ann Carson, Joyce Carol Oates, Kenneth Goldsmith, Renee Gladman and many others.
As I mentioned, the undergraduate program is experiencing full classes and robust enrollment. We offer a set of courses that I believe is the most comprehensive in the country. We are experiencing more and more diversity in our enrollments as we welcome students from a variety of backgrounds and interests.
Our curriculum offers a combination of studio, seminar and hybrid classes. In the studios Associate Professor Julie Chen teaches classes that focus on book structure and content. Her course offerings include Introduction to Book Art and three classes that explores historical and contemporary bookbinding and moveable books (Structure of Books, Building the Contemporary Book, Moveable Books). Julie also teaches a professional practice seminar for our grad students.
My studio classes are centered in the letterpress studio. I teach a typography class (Visible Language) a publishing and editioning class (Books as Multiples) and occasionally a class called The Book in Public. I teach classes that combine seminar and studio work such as Artists Books: Concept, Content, Form and I had planned to bring back a popular class, Private Lives, Public Editions: Artists and Writers in Avant Garde Paris. I also teach a core seminar for the graduate program, The Material Book, which uses the excellent rare and contemporary book collection in the Mills Library. Special Collections librarian Janice Braun teaches an undergraduate class in History of the Book.
Additional graduate teaching
Our studio classes are open to graduate and undergraduate students, and many graduate students across Mills, particularly in Creative Writing, Literature, Studio Art and Music take our classes. The Material Book is an approved literature class for the MA in Literature program.
The Eucalyptus Press at Mills was founded in 1930. Except for a brief hiatus in the 1960s, printing and book art (once it had a name) has been taught at the college since the press’s inception. During the 1930s, 40s and 50s the Eucalyptus Press had an important role in publishing talks by our illustrious president, Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, as well as many books by Mills faculty and visiting scholars. The daughters of Mills patron and well-known hand bookbinder Florence Walter donated her equipment and supplies to the college in the 1970s, adding a small endowment to help with upkeep and teaching in the bindery. The Walter bindery became one of two new studios, and the emphasis shifted from production to individual student projects. From 1983-89 Mills had the first separate degree-granting MA in Book Art in the country. The faculty chose to shut down the MA in an act of rebellion against the president of the college. The undergraduate program continued, however, and in 2006 the English Department and the Book Art Program joined forces for our current MFA in Book Art & Creative Writing.
The Book Art Program currently has a binding studio, the main print studio and a print studio for the grad students in our program. The Walter Binding Studio has Florence Walters’ handmade French binding equipment and tools, left in perpetuity for Mills student use. The Rosalind Keep print studio has type from the original Eucalyptus Press along with many other drawers of type, hundreds of cuts from that time period, and a press and type from the studio of Tommy Tommasini, a designer best known for designing the original UN charter. Students in the grad studio use the type and press donated by Gloria Stuart, artist, printer and actor. She donated her equipment to Mills to insure that our students would use it in perpetuity. We have just added an offset press to the main print studio and plan to inaugurate it in spring, 2016.
The studios have taken over 35 years to build and develop. As many of us did who began teaching early in the field, I personally moved in presses and type and travelled all over the Bay Area to pick up tools and materials. We accepted equipment and type with the understanding that it would be there permanently for student use.
Lacking exhibition space, we turned a small vestibule into a Pocket Gallery where we host shows of student work, two exhibitions a year of graduate student work and work by visiting artists. This semester Tucson artist Beata Wehr is in residence.
Mills has a very strong collection for a college its size, including a Gutenberg leaf, a First Folio, a Kelmscott Chaucer, Bonnard and Verlaine’s Parallelement, Lissitsky’s For the Voice, and hundreds of contemporary fine press and artists’ books. Students rarely need to work with surrogates for research and inspiration.
Mills Book Art has worked hard to foster community among our students. We have a Book Art Club. We have regular brown bag lunchtime discussions to get ideas and feedback from our students; our Introduction to Book Art class is one result of these conversations. We hold a Wayzgoose every semester with pizza and raffle prizes, and this semester we instituted a mixer early in the semester. Our TAs hold weekly office hours to help students with their projects. Volunteer staff TAs provide invaluable help through their office hour program. All TAs offer optional co-curricular workshops for the students in our classes. We have three or more openings in our Pocket Gallery each semester. Julie and I host brunches and barbeques for the grad students. And we have an active program of field trips.
The Book Art Program has been targeted because its two faculty members hold positions that are promotable but are not tenured; that vulnerability gives them a way to eliminate two faculty positions with impunity. We believe the college is making a seriously shortsighted and senseless mistake. Please take a minute to let the administration know that our program is valued and important. Thanks hugely in advance for your support.
Here is a statement from Janice Braun about the Program’s use of Special Collections:
One of Mills College’s most esteemed benefactors, trustee, and two-time honorary degree recipient, Albert Bender, sowed the seeds for what would become a world-class collection of early printed, fine press, and artists’ books at Mills College. In 1912, Bender was also a founding member of The Book Club of California, which supports to this day “…book making, fine printing, design, typography, illustration, literature, and scholarship….” It was with this same ethos that the Eucalyptus Press was formed at Mills College by Rosalind Keep in 1932 with its first publication Welcome by President Aurelia Henry Reinhardt. Between 1932 and 1950, 110 books were produced by the press along with countless pieces of ephemera. Over the subsequent decades the Eucalyptus Press imprint has been revitalized by the students in the Book Art Program.
Today, the Special Collections in the F. W. Olin Library is home to a first-rate resource that is heavily used by book art students in both innovative and traditional ways. The Library’s copy of William Shakespeare’s collected plays, commonly known as the First Folio (published in 1623) has been used this fall semester by graduate students in “The Material Book” (Book 260) who examined, compared, discussed, and analyzed what many consider to be one of the most important books in the English language. Undergraduate students, many of them book art minors, in the “The History of the Book” (Book 130) also viewed and discussed the First Folio this semester. This is one of three copies in the Bay Area but is considered to be the finest of the three. It could be said with some certainty that students elsewhere would not be given the opportunity to interact so closely with a First Folio.
In addition to early printed books like the Shakespeare, the F. W. Olin Library has an internationally known collection of fine press and contemporary artists’ books, which support the book art curriculum and are heavily used by those students both in classes and individually. The collection has been developed through purchase and gift with past, present, and future students in mind. The Library has attracted donors who are drawn to Mills College because of the unique offerings of the Book Art Program. The fine press and a contemporary artists’ book collection contextualizes the students’ areas of study through exposure to essential works ranging from William Morris’ Kelmscott Chaucer to a comprehensive group of books from the seminal Janus Press. Also included are books with inventive structure and content as well as examples of twenty-first century trends and innovations.
In our special collections, we highly value access and provide a place where there are no boundaries between the students and the foci of their study and interest. This is another exceptional facet that the Mills College Book Art Program can provide for their students who respond with curiosity, creative thought, and intellectual vigor.