New endpapers exhibit looks under covers
MIDDLEBURY — Daylight Savings Time is only a little more than a week away — get ready to spring forward. Spring… ha! It sure doesn’t feel like springtime yet. In fact, many of us may still be hunkering down under our covers during these chilly nights.
While you’re under there, consider a new exhibit at the Middlebury College library called “Under the Covers: The Hidden Art of Endpapers.” This new, visual treat in the atrium and lower level of the Davis Family Library, showcases the sheets of paper that were pasted onto a book’s inside covers. The exhibit will be on view through May.
Endpapers were first employed in the 15th century to serve practical purposes — they protected a book’s first and last pages from harm and formed a hinge, easing the strain of opening and closing the covers.
“Over the centuries, endpaper materials have included everything from waste paper (quite literally, whatever a bookbinder had lying around), to scraps of parchment or animal skin, to more lavish marbled and gold-printed papers,” reads a synopsis of the exhibit. “By the 20th century, endpapers were decorated with intricate patterns, illustrations, maps and landscapes. Hidden in plain sight, these occasionally unassuming but often spectacular endpapers envelop our texts, yet so often escape our notice.”
Kaitlin Buerge, a 2013 graduate of Middlebury College, worked with Rebekah Irwin, the director and curator of special collections and archives at Middlebury, to curate the exhibit.
“We shopped our stacks to find examples,” Buerge said, explaining that “the stacks” are a collection of more than 50,000 books kept behind a locked glass door in a climate controlled room. “I’d look for old, ornate book covers and that often suggested there would be intricate endpapers… Other times the book would look really beat up and there would be this amazing surprise inside the cover.”
Buerge and Irwin found most of the books exhibited were within the college’s current collection; however, there were a few books that were purchased for their unique endpapers or history. The books on display show examples of wastepaper, pastepapers, marbling, printed paper, illustrations and photography.
Some of the books with marbled endpapers also show off marbled fore-edges (the surface of the pages together when the book is closed).
“That was icing on the cake,” said Buerge.
Even with all their extravagance and beauty, endpapers have largely been forgotten.
“When we think about a book, we think about the author, the title, the story,” Irwin said. “But how often do we think about books as artifacts with stories to tell? Endpapers are the perfect example.”
In a library that sees half a million visits a year by students cramming to learn as much as they can, Irwin said that it’s a challenge to get them to turn their attention to something as simple as the endpapers.
“The exhibit requires very little of us,” Irwin said.
That’s true, you don’t have to read a single word of any of these books to appreciate the artistic techniques of the endpapers.
“In this exhibit we’re hoping to capture people’s attention, spark a curiosity and hope that it inspires people to take another look under the covers,” Irwin said, adding that everyone — from the diehards who want to know all the history, to the folks who simply want to see some cool art — can appreciate the work.
“Our goal, as people who care passionately about the life of books, is to put books back in readers’ hands,” Irwin said, encouraging us all to return to our books and pull back the covers.