UI to offer M.F.A in book arts


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In the era of technology, it seems people are always trying to come up with the latest gadget.

But for a group of University of Iowa students, their focus is a bit more traditional: how to make and create with paper.

On Wednesday, around 10 students stood over a basin of water, swishing liquid around in smaller trays before pressing a single thread into their papyrus-colored half-finished paper.

This was just one class the UI offers in papermaking, bookbinding, and letterpress to undergraduate students.

And soon, graduate students will also have the opportunity to focus on the craft.

The UI Center for the Book will become one of five schools in the nation to offer an M.F.A. in book arts, starting fall.

Rachel Singel, a first-year graduate student in printmaking, practiced making pamphlets for the first time Wednesday morning. Singel, who plans to apply to the M.F.A. program,said she took a papermaking class last year.

“Once you take that, there’s no going back,” she said.

The UI already offers a graduate certificate program, with roughly 25 people enrolled, but faculty members said they want the program to grow.

And some experts maintained book arts is not a dying field, despite the recent popular wave of electronic books.

“I think the books that will survive are the ones that are beautiful,” said MC Hyland, adult and artist programs director at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

This area of study actually seems to be growing, some said.

“A lot has to do with interest in things that you can touch and things you can make by hand as more of our lives are on computers,” Hyland added.

Matt Brown, the director of the Center for the Book, said now is an exciting time for book arts, calling it a “renaissance period” in which much of the public has a new appreciation for books.

He said the program, which is locate in North Hall, will need more space if it is to expand, but for now, the small size is appropriate.

The new M.F.A. program is essentially an expansion of the certificate program and will not cost the UI extra money to implement.

All of the classes offered in the certificate program, such as lettermaking and bookbinding, will also be offered in the M.F.A. curriculum, but some will be further expanded.

The M.F.A. program already has a claim to fame in Tim Barrett, a 2009 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a national award that gives $500,000 to individuals who show originality and imagination in their fields.

Barrett said the book-arts program is beneficial because it adds to the visibility to the Graduate College.

“Book arts are photogenic,” he said.

Those involved said the Center for the Book is unlike the other programs around the country because it integrates the art of printing and the cultural aspects of books, such history, English, and library information science.

“No other program has brought both together like we have,” Barrett said.

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