Hands-On Learning Leads to Exhibition

Turning the Page: The Evolution of Artists’ Books is a collaborative project undertaken by the 17 students in Professor Leah Niederstadt’s ARTH 398 Exhibition Design class. We were challenged to conceive, design and install an exhibition featuring artists’ books from the Wheaton College Permanent Collection, the Smart and Restricted Collections from the Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, as well as student work from Professor Claudia Fieo’s course Special Topics in Printmaking, which focused this year on creating books.

Our goal is to convey the progression of artists’ books, from the scroll to the classic western codex form, to the highly innovative, structural manifestation of the artist’s book. We show the versatility of the medium, which can range from a reconstructed traditional book, to a work inspired by a concept, to a desire to convey a message. The materials used in the exhibited works reflect a variety of approaches: Tatana Kellner’s Bushspeak (2003) is made exclusively of handkerchiefs while Sara Karig’s Vorkuta Poems (1993) is paper cast in the shape of a human head.

One of our challenges as curators was how best to use the space of the Beard and Weil galleries to articulate our vision of the exhibition’s themes: Evolution, Storytelling, Social Content, and Art versus Commerce. These themes represent aspects of the style and content of books from Wheaton’s collections, and the works displayed within each section demonstrate how an artist can take these facets to new, dynamic levels. Displaying nontraditional forms of books that defy easy installation presented another challenge, met by building shelves and refurbishing existing display tools such as cases and pedestals. The installation provided a unique opportunity to gain insights into the practical, hands-on side of the exhibition design process. We collaborated on all phases of exhibition planning, from narrative development to research, and from label writing to installation.

We invite you to see the fruits of our labor, on display in the Beard and Weil Galleries through April 1.

—Dania Piscetta, Class of 2011 and Jillian Pfifferling, Class of 2011

The members of the Exhibition Design class behind Turning the Page

Professors Leah Niederstadt and Claudia Fieo talk to the group in the Weil Gallery

College Archivist Zeph Stickney and students help to display some of the delicate books

Photographs courtesy of Kirstie Parkinson