A small exhibit in the Special Collections Reading Room featuring the collages of John Digby will be on display during the Fall 2015 semester. The exhibit complements an assignment for ART206: Form and Communication I, taught by Professor Martha Carothers. The Visual Communications (VC) program encourages creative problem solving skills; a sense of process; and the ability to evaluate, analyze, and synthesize information to conceptualize it visually.
Prof. Carothers collaborates with librarians in Special Collections to locate resources that evoke sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. The Sight Project makes use of the John Digby papers. Students are tasked with finding images of line engravings and creating black-and-white collages with meaningful color elements. During an instruction session with Special Collections, I teach students about Digby’s archival approach to collage—in technique and philosophy. Digby carefully cuts photocopied (students understand they are not to harm any books!) found images reinforced by deacidified mulberry bark backing paper, yielding clean, strong cuts. This process contrasts with Digby’s quest for fore- and background images: he does not maintain image files, counting instead on the spontaneity inherent in collage-making. Found images and deliberate preservation methods make Digby’s collages a part of the restoration and retrieval of print culture and history. Similarly, his subjects—often animals intertwined in man-made or natural landscapes—challenge our dissociation of animals from their environments. The images themselves are not layered as in traditional collage but rather interlocked: “[I]n my collages I have deliberately internalized natural habitants so that we can sense nature, not as an external place, but as the internal reality, the muscles and fibers of the animal’s intuitive self” (from Digby’s Archival Collage: A Personal Example, 1998).
The second part of the project involves color and an understanding of CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK) used in printing—the ways in which these colors mix to create new colors (e.g., Cyan + Magenta = Violet), as well as the ways color can be used to evoke movement and add additional meaning to a design. For inspiration, Carothers introduces her students to another artist/graphic designer, Bradbury Thompson (1911-1995). Thompson’s bold experimentation with typography, photographic reproduction, and color in magazines, postage stamps, and limited edition books made him an icon of twentieth-century modern graphic design. The students examine Special Collections’ issues of Westvaco Inspiration for Printers, for which Thompson worked for twenty-four years.
Collaboration with faculty offers an invaluable opportunity to integrate Special Collections material into the classroom and encourages inquiry-based learning. Resources in Special Collections contextualize and historically situate design trends and philosophies for the students in Form & Comm I (and other VC courses like Typography and Book Arts). Our holdings inform, inspire, and challenge students, and their creative output in these design courses is a unique use of special collections.