Books, Color, Chance

_mur0006The next time you see a telephone book, look beyond the phone numbers, advertisements, thin pages, and wobbly covers. Philadelphia artist Katie Murken did exactly that when she created Continua, a work that combines recycled phone books, color dye, math, elements of chance, and sculpture.

Gathering scores of old and surplus phone books, Katie stripped off their covers and dipped the 3 outer edges into dye. In total, she dyed approximately 1,560,000 sheets of paper with 24 different colors.

dye_readybooks_dryingThen she stacked the altered books into columns. However, the colors she used were determined by a customized color wheel and a pair of dice. A dice roll determined how she would stack the books.

murken_continua_2The result was 24 tall columns of vibrantly colored, gently wavy books pages, arranged completely by chance. And the color! The color! Katie used non-toxic dyes from a small company in California.

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Walking among the stacked pages was incredibly calming, yet energizing. It was also validating. To me, it felt like confirmation of what the knowledge inside books really looks like.

_mur0019If you’d like to see more images of Continua, or read interviews about Katie and her fascinating process, you will find numerous links on Katie Murken’s site.


Photographs courtesy of Katie Murken

Bookscape

ian walks the dogQ: In the background of your story time photos, I always see amazing stuff like a cross section of a house, a big wall of book, and a giant tree??? What is that? Can you give us a tour?

Sure! That fantastical landscape you’re seeing behind Ian and his box dog is Bookscape, the Cotsen Children’s Library’s public gallery. You might be surprised to learn that while Cotsen is technically a library, the “library” part of it contains our rare books and special collections. We don’t, for example, have circulating copies of books like public libraries. We do, however, have reading copies of books available in the Bookscape gallery. And like our programming, Bookscape is open to the public and free of charge. Ready for a tour?

bookscape-entrywayThe Cotsen Library opened its doors in 1997. Back then, its public gallery looked a little different. But in 2002, architect James Bradberry, artist Judson Beaumont, and Cotsen staff collaborated to create the now-iconic Bookscape.You enter Bookscape through a topiary garden. In the below image, you can see that garden from another angle. The giant glass wall of books you see rising in the background is a 3-story rare books vault. And that’s only about 1/5 of our collection!

topirary-gardenI love the inlay on the floor of the garden. Not only is it beautiful, it also made a great fire pit for a camping story time (you can just see it underneath all the construction paper fire and cotton ball marshmallows).

roasting marshmallowsPast the garden, you find yourself in a little house. Stretched across one side of the house is a fireplace.

fireplaceSee the black railing on the top of the house? That marks the perimeter of a little hidden room. You climb the bookshelf stairs on the left and unlock a trap door to gain access to the room. We currently use it for office storage. But sometimes, I climb up there to launch UFO or two.


Above the house’s fireplace is a clock. A closer look reveals that it tells Princeton, Cinderella,13 Clock, and Connecticut Yankee time.

mantle-clockThe bookshelves that flank the fireplace are stocked with wooden books. Many of them have tongue-in-cheek titles, courtesy of the Cotsen staff.

wooden-booksHere are just a few titles:

The Feline in the Fedora
Fly Through Your O.W.L.S by H. Granger
Just So-So Stories
Step-Mommy Dearest
Dare to Be Different by U. Duckling
Richard’s Scariest Word Book Ever
From the Mixed Up Files of Enron
Ramona Quimby, Age Eighty
Effective Communication by Amelia Bedelia
Goldilocks: My Story
Never-Never Land on Pennies a Day
Strega No-No
The Very Hungry Multinational Conglomerate

To the left of the fireplace is a cozy study booth. Often, this is where I’ll find Princeton University students reading, writing, and working on their laptops.

wooden-boothOpposite the fireplace is the “study.” Here you’ll find bookshelves and big, squashy leather coaches. This is also the chapter book section of the gallery.

living-roomOver the years, I’ve used the bookshelves for hiding things during scavenger hunts, or for holding items like this orange mailbox during a mailman story time.

orange mailbox

Not too far from the house is our wooden puppet theater. I can’t tell you how much use this gets! The theater has a puppet storage bin built into the back (I buy animal and insect puppets from Folkmanis), and an extra-deep stage so puppeteers can comfortably rest their elbows during performances. The velvet curtains slide back and forth on a rod. Best of all, our puppets are multilingual! I’ve heard performances in English, French, German, Japanese, Hebrew, Italian…

puppet-theaterOutside the house, in the back of the gallery, is our bridge, wishing well, and bonsai tree.

bookscape-tourThe bridge is prime toddler territory. They love to test out their walking skills on its gentle slope.

gallery-bridgeBut the bridge also comes in handy when you need a train tunnel during story time!

tunnel-stop-croppedThe wishing well is next to the bridge…

wishing-wellThere’s an entrance to the well on the right – it’s shaped like a jagged crack. Look closely in the above photo and you’ll see the water “escaping” from the right side of well and flowing under the bridge. It ends in this cute little koi pond.

koi-pondWe’ve certainly done a lot of fishing and splashing in the pond at story time. It’s also a popular location for Vikings and Pirates to search for coins!

coin claimIn the back right-hand corner of the gallery is our giant bonsai tree.

bookscape-treeThe tree has two floors. The ground floor can comfortably fit a family or a group of kids. There are 3 alcoves for picture book storage, and big puffy floor pillows.

ground-floor-of-treeWhen our To Be Continued chapter book program is in session, I bring out even more floor pillows and we spread out!

to be continued in cotsenCurling along the back of the tree is a staircase that leads to a small upstairs room and another pair of comfortable pillows.

second-floor-of-treeBoth tree rooms have graffiti carved into the walls by literary characters. Here’s my favorite:

tree-graffitiThe back left-hand corner of Bookscape isn’t the most glamorous area of our gallery, but it’s certainly the place closet to my heart. It’s our program area.

program-areaThis is where the magic and the mess happens.

tiger talesThere are lots of other little touches and surprises in our gallery, but I won’t reveal them all. You’ve got to come and discover them for yourself! Ten years ago, when I was interviewing for my job at Cotsen, I walked into the gallery and was overwhelmed with emotion. Yes, I had seen pictures of Bookscape online, but they didn’t prepare me for what it felt like to be fully immersed in the gallery. I silently swore that if I got the job, I would do my best to create programs that would match the love, care, and consideration that went into designing this amazing space for kids.

gardenIf you’d like to see a little video the University made about our space, and meet some of the students who work here, you’ll find it here!

All in the Golden Afternoon

alice reads at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016

This year marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and no one knows how to throw a party like the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress (and yes, that’s our very own Miss Joani depicting Alice)!

If you haven’t heard of the Young Readers Center, it opened with great fanfare in 2009. Located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, the Center is a series of rooms that house collections, exhibits, program spaces, and comfy places for adults and children to settle in and read. This spring, in conjunction with a number of Alice-related events, the Young Readers Center hosted a story time program that featured performances, activities, and exhibits.

additional exhibits at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016Interestingly, there is a connection between the original Alice manuscript and the Library of Congress. In 1864, Charles Dodgson (better know as Lewis Carroll) presented Alice Liddell, his child friend, with Alice’s Adventures Underground, a fantastical story he wrote and illustrated just for her. Later, the manuscript would be re-worked, illustrated by John Tenniel, and published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When she was 73 years-old, Alice Liddell (now Alice Hargreaves) decided to sell Alice’s Adventures Underground. The manuscript was originally purchased by an American, Dr. ASW Rosenbach from Philadelphia. Later, Eldridge R. Johnson (also from Philadelphia) would own the book. But after WWII, a consortium of benefactors, led by Luther Evans, the tenth Librarian of Congress, worked together to purchase the manuscript. It was then gifted back to England, in reparation for the terrible toll the war had taken on the country. Evans personally delivered the manuscript to the British government.

In order to put together exhibits for their Alice events, Young Readers Center staff journeyed into the Library of Congress’ vaults. There they found rare editions, pop-up books, foreign language editions, and versions featuring a variety of illustrators. Additionally, the Young Readers Center reached out to the Arlington County Public Library, which brought a huge assortment of teacups, decor, stuffed animals, and dolls.

exhibit at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016After a reading by Joani (who also performed a song from the time period – you can listen to an earlier performance of it here at our Victorian Tea), everyone headed to the corridors for a “Caucus Race.”

caucus race at the LoC photo by shawn miller 2016Many got into the spirit of things by wearing their own costumes!

white rabbit at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016In addition to the Alice story time program, the Young Readers Center partnered with the DC-based nonprofit Everybody Wins! DC. Fifth grade students from the J.O. Wilson Elementary School heard members of the International Lewis Carroll Society read from the book. Then, they chatted about what it means to be a professional hobbyists and book collectors. Each child was presented with a copy of the book to take home too.

fifth grade students and members of the lewis carroll society photo by shawn miller 2016The following day, the Center for the Book presented scholar and historian Leonard Marcus as their “Books and Beyond” speaker. His talk, which was titled “Lewis Carroll in the Mirror of Surrealism,” discussed the famous author and his place in surrealism art.

leonard marus at books and beyond lecture photo by shawn miller 2016Before we leave these adventures in wonderland, a quick word about Joani’s fantastic dress. It was custom-made by Princeton University  junior Julia Peiperl. Julia based her designs on Tenniel’s original illustrations, complete with the petticoats and pantaloons. She also made a smaller version of the dress, which was included in a Young Reader’s Center exhibit. Callooh! Callay!

alice costume by julia peiperl photo by shawn miller 2016


Photos courtesy of the Young Readers Center, Library of Congress. Photography by Shawn Miller.