Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Idaho Center for the Book

Stephanie Bacon fills some big shoes


When Boise State art professor Tom Trusky passed away unexpectedly last November, many wondered what would become of his longtime passion, the Idaho Center for the Book.

The Idaho Center for the Book is an affiliate of the Library of Congress that Trusky founded in Idaho in 1993 to help promote literacy and books in Idaho.

"Center for the Book is interested in artists' books, which is kind of an open genre of books made by artists or individuals who create the form and appearance of the book to reflect the content of the book," according to Stephanie Bacon, the current director of ICB.

ICB's goals are clearly visible at its offices in the Hemingway Center at Boise State, a building it shares with the Visual Arts Center and the Anthropology Department. While the center is housed at the university, it is not a Boise State program. It is funded by grants and the Library of Congress and is open to the public. Inside, visitors can see displays of past ICB projects as well as a range of different kinds of books that are as much art as they are literature. The walls leading to their offices are covered with photos and paintings of book art and past projects from ICB's biennial traveling book art exhibition, the "Booker's Dozen."

Boise artist Earle Swope was a student and a friend of Trusky's, and took Trusky's Introduction to Book Arts course, in which he helped unearth Swope's inner artist.

"I was introduced to the institution of Tom Trusky who then introduced me to the artist that resided within me. If you knew him, you know he did this on a regular basis," Swope said.

Swope later created two books for Trusky's classes that toured the state as part of the "Booker's Dozen." Trusky's instruction paid off: Swope was recently an artist in residence for the City of Boise.

Along with being ICB's director, Bacon also teaches art at Boise State, including a course on historical book-making, paper-making and letter-press printing. She says that art books, or the "book as an art object," is a trend that has been growing in the last century, but started its rise especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Many, many artists became interested in the book as a form unto itself and were interested in it as a way to get people to sort of complicate their relationships with books and reading," Bacon said. "If they think in terms of making their own books or if they think about books not behaving in the way they expect books to behave, it enriches their entire relationship with reading and literacy."

Trusky believed that as well and worked hard to pass that lesson along to his students.

"He was an amazing poet and artist. He taught poetry for many years at Boise State before founding Center for the Book and getting more involved in book arts, and then he also taught book arts classes where English and arts students were actually introduced to making objects in book forms--traditional book forms, historic book forms and all kinds of interpretive forms," Bacon said.

Though Trusky tapped Bacon to succeed him as the center's director before he died, his name was synonymous with ICB. It won't be easy for Bacon to fill his shoes, but she has some ideas of her own to continue furthering ICB's work.

She helped ICB obtain a grant from the Idaho State Historical Museum to purchase a large amount of historical printing equipment. Most of this equipment is from the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.

"They're like old sewing machines, you know, they're mechanical and they're made out of cast iron and they never break. Beautifully unique objects," she said.

While most of the equipment is in storage now, they hope to soon have a space to be able to teach workshops on paper-making and printing.

According to Swope, Bacon is carrying on Trusky's vision.

"The ICB, via Tom Trusky, literally introduced thousands of Idahoans to the book arts. Up to this point, ICB and Trusky were synonyms. I'm excited to see what direction Stephanie Bacon will take. Tom was an English professor and literary genius teaching the most poignant art class at BSU. Stephanie is a graphic design professor and artistic genius who is now running the Idaho Center for the Book. How cool is that?" Swope said.

The "Booker's Dozen" is a juried exhibit that features 14 eccentric books and, from the beginning, has welcomed books of all shapes and sizes. According to the catalog of the first "Booker's Dozen" exhibit catalog, "Books may be nontraditional codex-format works, such as accordion fold, rivet, spiral or ring-bound, loose-leaf/boxed, sculptural or die cut books. They many be traditionally bound codices with 'eccentric' features, such as pop-ups, folded pages, inserts, pull-tabs, or volvelles. Or they may be conventionally bound books made with or containing unconventional materials or artifacts." Submissions for the "Booker's Dozen" 2011 are open to anyone and the deadline to submit is Sept. 10.

The exhibit is an integral part of the center's mission to incorporate art with literature while promoting both.

"I think ICB is a perfect model for every humanities discipline to emulate," Swope said. "[Humanities programs] should all be supporting each other and actively engaging in collaborative ventures and seeking to discover those interstitial junctures between the disciplines."