USU students curate exhibit of venerable books


On November 20, art history students at Utah State University opened an exhibit of age-old books in the Hatch Room at Utah State’s Special Collection and Archives center. The exhibit was fully curated by students in Professor Alexa Sand’s manuscript studies class. The exhibit will remain open until Jan. 20.  

The exhibit, entitled “Books Lives”, showcases religious devotional texts along with books of health, diet, and gardening dating back as far as the 13th century. According to Sand, the texts have been gifted by generous donors or purchased by Utah State for the university’s collection.

Elisabeth Cropper, a student in Sand’s class, said the students spent 12 weeks doing research on the texts. Sand said her students researched the historical context as well as the text’s physical aspects. Sand said the overall theme of the research and the exhibit was to present the “interesting lives” of the books.

Cropper, who researched a religious text referred to as a book of hours, said similar texts would occasionally have religious scenes painted in them. Several workers would use inks made from gemstones, ink from gallnuts and goldleaf gilding to complete the paintings. Cropper said some owners would commission paintings with their own image appended into reverent scenes.

While Sand doesn’t like to focus on the current monetary value of the books in the collection, she said they were quite expensive during their period of prominence allowing only the wealthy to own one.

“A fully illuminated book of hours would be the price of a horse,” Sand said.

According to Sand, some of the texts in the collection are second or third editions while other texts are damaged or missing content. However, Sand said the books are excellent artifacts for the students to study.