To the Letter Episode 15: The End

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Well this is it! The big finale. After enlisting in 1941, Joe has made it all the way to 1946…and is still writing to Agnes. ❤

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland.

The final letter featured in Episode 15 is available below:

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We have really enjoyed getting to share Joe and Agnes’ story with you through this podcast. Are you interested in learning more about the Veteran’s History Project? Visit https://www.loc.gov/vets/. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode or the podcast in general? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Want to see the Olexa Letters in person? Visit GVSU Special Collections & University Archives at Seidman House, Allendale, MI.

Thank you so much for listening!

-Leigh & Jackie

To The Letter Episode 14: Concentration Camps

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Although Joe may not have been directly involved in the liberation of any concentration camps, he certainly knew what was going on and talked with survivors. This episode we’re talking about the Holocaust.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 14 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 4, 1945

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 31, 1945

There is a lot more to be said on this topic than we had time for – if you’re interested, we highly recommend checking out the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The BBC History article mentioned in the episode is also worth reading. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 13: Hurt Again at Hürtgen

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In this episode we investigate exactly what conflicts Joe’s been a part of and how he ended up wounded and in hospital once again.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 13 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 8, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 21, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 27, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 29, 1945

Joe’s been through quite a lot! Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 12: Wounded in Action

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Previously, Joe was wounded during the invasion of Normandy. Wounded again, we dive into what Joe’s medical experience might have been like.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 12 are available below:

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V-Mail from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Feb. 9, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Feb. 11, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Feb. 14, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Feb. 22, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, March 8, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 9, 1945

We learned so much researching for this episode! Tune in next time to learn more about what Joe’s been doing in the military. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 11: Peace on Earth

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It may still be summertime around here, but in Episode 11 we are all about the holiday season!

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 11 are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Dec. 16, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Dec. 28, 1944

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 18, 1945

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 24, 1945

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 30, 1945

What do you think of Christmas traditions from WWII? Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 10: Remembering the Bad Times

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Episode 10 dives into souvenir-taking and how soldiers wished to remember (or forget!)  the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 10 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 13, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 22, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Oct. 23, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Oct. 24, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 28, 1944

Does your family have any souvenirs from wartime service? Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

 

To The Letter Episode 9: We Will Always Have Paris

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In Episode 9 we focus on what’s going on in Paris during the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 9 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 31, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 7, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 11, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 20, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, August 27, 1944

To hear the clip of the Liberation and related speeches, check out https://www.history.com/speeches/liberation-of-paris. 

It was so interesting to learn more about Paris’ role in WWII (and had Leigh, at least, thinking of Casablanca…). Questions? Comments? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 8: Wounds Received in Action

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Joe and Agnes’ story continues in Episode 8, where we delve into injuries sustained  and awards given to soldiers during combat.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was voiced by Tracy Cook. Special thanks to Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at GVSU, for co-hosting with us!

Letters featured in this episode are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 12, 1944

This letter from Agnes features her trademark vibrant lipstick!

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, June 27, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, July 4, 1944

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V-Mail from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 4, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 6, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 13, 1944

If you are a veteran or a veteran’s family member and are interested in learning more about replacing medals, awards, and decorations, check out this resource list courtesy of the National Archives.

Additional information on military resources can be found at: https://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/veterans-related.html Happy listening!

 

To The Letter Episode 7: Going to the Chapel (And They Are Gonna Get Married!)

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HE PROPOSED!

It isn’t the world’s most romantic proposal, perhaps, but Jackie and I are thrilled to pieces that Joe took the plunge! In Episode 7, we jump into what weddings and honeymoons were like during the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland.

Please note: We did jump around a bit in the timeline between Episodes 6 & 7 for purposes of clarity in our research. We wanted to group letters having to do with the movies and the engagement separately. Apologies for any confusion.

Letters featured in Episode 7 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 14, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 16, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 7, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, June 14, 1944

Are you as excited as we are that Joe’s proposed? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 6: Going to the Movies

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In Episode 6 we’re going to dive into one past time that’s been popular for years – going to the movies! Some truly notable films came out of this period, and many revolved around current events.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa is voiced by Kevin McCasland.

Letters featured in Episode 6 are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 22, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 23, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 27, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 29, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 30, 1944

We were fascinated to learn more about how going to the movies worked during WWII and what films were on Joe’s radar overseas. What 1940s films are your favorites? Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 5: Raising Morale

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After a long hiatus, we’re back! We appreciate everyone’s patience as we worked through some technical and staffing issues, but now we’re ready to get back to it! It’s been a while, so feel free to refresh your memory on Joe and Agnes’ story in Episodes 1-4.

This week we’re picking up with the topic of raising morale. USO shows were just one way troops sought entertainment and escape from the war.  Celebrities such as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, The Andrews Sisters, Abbot and Costello, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Mickey Rooney, Danny Kaye, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Laurel and Hardy, Cab Calloway, Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Donna Reed, Errol Flynn, Debbie Reynolds, and John Wayne.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Florence was voiced by Cara Cadena, Ollie Olexa by Noah Campbell, and Joe Olexa by Kevin McCasland. The audio clip of “You’ll Never Know” performed by Vera Lynn, music by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Mack Gordon.

Letters featured in Episode 5 are available below:

 

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Letter from Ollie Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent Oct. 10, 1944

 

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Letter from Florence Fournier to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent Feb. 15, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 6, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 9, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 11, 1944

Questions about the USO? Have any favorite USO entertainers? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

The Pink House

In 1962, as construction was getting underway at Grand Valley State College, the administrators vacated their downtown Grand Rapids office and moved into several small houses near the new campus in Allendale. While a small gray farm house was selected as the site of administrative offices, a pink ranch house with a two-car garage was chosen to house the college’s budding library collection.

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The Pink House

To prepare for the college’s opening in 1963 Library Director Stephen Ford and his staff of seven worked out of this small house, collecting and cataloging over 10,000 books.

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Among the stacks of the Pink House Library

When the college finally opened, space was set aside for the library collection in Lake Michigan Hall, the only building that had been completed on campus at the time. Director Ford and his staff packed up the Pink House and moved the library collection to its temporary site.

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Library director and staff moving books for the opening day collection

What became of the Pink House is uncertain, but once the college had opened its doors students made good use of the temporary Lake Michigan Hall Library. Still, students and faculty alike eagerly awaited the construction of Zumberge Library to be complete.

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Temporary Lake Michigan Hall library

 

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Zumberge Library construction

Zumberge Library finally opened in the spring of 1969 and served as the campus’ intellectual center until it was replaced by the Mary Idema Pew Library in 2013. GVSU now has five total library locations on its Allendale and Grand Rapids campuses, and holds over 1.6 million titles in its print and electronic collections.

Spring Fever

Here at Special Collections and University Archives, spring fever has sprung! This is the first warm week in Michigan this season (averaging over 60 degrees F) and considering that very recently there was accumulation of almost an inch of ice, this weather feels marvelous. So we felt inspired to look through our collections to see what interesting spring-related books we could discover.

The Tales of Beatrix Potter

This lovely collection from the Folio Society includes several of Beatrix Potter’s tales, including the well-known The Tale of Peter Rabbit. They all feature Potter’s original drawings. These tales are timeless and the adorable drawings make them perfect reading material for a sunny spring day.

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Potter, Beatrix. The Tales of Beatrix Potter. London, Frederick Warne, 2007, 12 vols.

The Fables of Aesop

Also published by the Folio Society, this book piqued my interest personally because as a Classics major, almost everything relating to Ancient Greece and Rome is exciting, especially if it still influences the modern world. These fables are accredited to Aesop, a slave from Ancient Greece, and are mostly short stories that end with a moral. Spring is considered a time for renewal and birth so this is a perfect time to read these. Some of our modern proverbs and popular tales derive from these fables including: “birds of a feather flock together”, the “boy who cried wolf”, and The Tortoise and the Hare.

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Aesop used the story The Pomegranate, Apple-Tree, and Bramble as a clever allusion to both spring and the Judgement of Paris.

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Aesop.The Fables of Aesop. London, Folio Society, 1998.

Pomegranates are associated with Persephone, the goddess of spring growth. During a trip to the Underworld, she ate a handful of pomegranate seeds, which meant she had to spend at least part of the year there (the winter months). Her return to Earth in springtime is marked with warmer weather, flowers and trees, including apple trees, blossoming, as well as grain beginning to grow. Bramble fruit, however, is harvested at the end of summer, early fall — when Persephone returns to the Underworld. The “apple-tree” refers to the Judgement of Paris when he was given a golden apple and had to decide whether Athena, Aphrodite, or Hera was the fairest.

The Garden & Other Poems

If poetry is more your style, this would be a perfect read. The Garden was one of the most famous English poems from the 17th century and is a romantic poem that utilizes nature as a way to express emotions. This collection of poems, also published by the Folio Society, is about the size of my hand so if a quick yet enjoyable read is what you desire, this is a wonderful option.  With woodblock illustrations adding to the beautiful poems, whoever reads this will feel the joy of spring.
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Marvell, Andrew. The Garden & Other Poems. London, Folio Society, 1993.

The Secret Garden

Continuing with the idea of gardens, this is also a fitting book for spring. Another Folio Society publication, this book is filled with beautiful drawings that enhance the reading experience. Also, with the theme being rejuvenation, this book shows that when something is neglected it withers, but when it is cared for it blooms. This is demonstrated in the characters Mary and Colin. (If you are curious as to why, you will have to read the book!)

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Burnett, Frances H. The Secret Garden. London, Folio Society, 1986.

The Englishman’s Flora

This is the next great nature example which goes through all of plants in England, specifically the British Isle, while providing the names, botanical names, locations, as well as ancient lore and uses for each and 44 illustrations. We are featuring three illustrations below:

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The first plant is the Rowan tree / Mountain Ash, Sorbus aucuparia which is a prime tree for protection; the berries are even red, which is one of the best colors for warding off evil. Plant some Rowan trees around your house for protection against the supernatural. On May Day when fairies and witches are abroad, the Irish would nail pieces of Rowan over their doors and tied around their milk churns to prevent their butter and milk from being stolen. In Ireland, rowan was also thought to keep the dead from rising so it was planted in graveyards as well as sometimes being built into coffins. A fun fact about the Rowan tree is that it was also held sacred to Ukko, the Finnish god of the sky, weather, harvest, and thunder.

 

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The next plant is the Elecampane, Inula helenium, which is part of the sunflower family. Elecampane is good against coughs, asthma, stomach problems, protection against the Plague, and to heal the bites from poisonous animals. This plant was present in Anglo-Saxon recipes, half medical and half magical, to prevent elf-sickness.

 

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Grigson, Geoffrey. The Englishman’s Flora. London, Folio Society, 1987.

 

 

 

The third plant is Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum multiflorum, named after Josephus’ Solomon, a conjurer, enchanter, and philosopher, because Solomon set his praise upon its roots. This plant is used for gluing back together broken bones and could also be used to help bruises heal quicker, particularly black eyes.

 

 

 

The Victorian Wood-block Illustrators

Another example of a nature filled book, this features many woodblock illustrations completed by various artists as well as providing a lot of wonderful information about each artist. Nature — with a focus on plants and animals — seems to be a popular subject of woodblock illustrations making this another great example of a spring book.

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Book Art: The Beauty of Marbled Paper

Paper marbling can be summed up as the “method for producing colored designs on paper or on the edges of books in which liquid colors are first suspended upon a liquid surface” (Wolfe, 2[i]). The liquid bath is typically thickened with Tragacanth, a natural gum, before ink or paint is dropped into it. To create the patterns, one may use a variety of instruments such as brushes, styluses, or combs to manipulate the paint or ink. The paint is then transferred by absorption onto the paper by placing the desired portion into the liquid bath.

If you would like to view an example of paper marbling by The Folio Society, click here.

Paper marbling was mainly used in book binding and calligraphy in Europe after the 17th century, with its peak popularity for book binding and wallpaper falling in the 18th century. Today, paper marbling is still used for book binding, among various other things, but are printed more often than created. Paper marbling was not just used for looks though, it also ensured authenticity because creating an exact duplicate is basically impossible. Creating the patterns is extremely difficult and mistakes cannot be undone.

With a steady hand, various sized brushes, styluses, and combs, and numerous colors of paint or ink, a variety of patterns can be created. Since there are so many patterns of paper marbling, we are going to focus on some of our favorites that are held here in the Special Collections and University Archives.

Turkish (Stone)

This is possibly the oldest known paper marbling pattern, dating back as early as the 15th century. This is one of the basic patterns created when multiple colors are dropped onto the surface using a marbling brush. The colors will continue to constrict as more colors are added leading to the beginning colors appearing as veins and the later colors appearing as “stones”, or large spots. This pattern can be utilized as a base for other patterns.

 

 

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 1. Investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Vol. 10-12, United States. Congress. House. Select Committee on Assassinations. Washington : U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978-1979, 12 vols.
2.  Byron, George G, Baron. Works of Lord Byron. Vol. 3, London, Murray, 1833, 9 vols.
3. Carlyle, Thomas. Thomas Carlyle’s Collected works. Library ed., vol. 13, London, Chapman, 1871, 34 vols.

Gold Vein

This pattern follows the same process as Turkish, except bronze must be the first color dropped in to create the effect of the gold veins running between the stones, which gives this pattern its name.

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Addison, Joseph. The works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison. Vol.
1, London, Vernor and Hood, 1804, 6 vols.

Serpentine

Argued to have been created in the mid-19th century, this style begins with a Turkish base before a brush or stylus is drawn twice vertically through the bath with the second pass halving the first. Repeat this step horizontally. Then, draw vertically in wavy lines that emulate the way a snake moves.

Burlesque Homer 14 cover Burlesque Homer 14

Bridges, Thomas. A burlesque translation of Homer. 4th ed., vol. 1, London, G.G. and J. Robinson, 1797, 2 vols.

Nonpareil

One of the other basic marbling patterns, named for the French word meaning “matchless” or “unrivaled”. The desired colors are dropped in regulated sizes before a comb is drawn through the bath horizontally twice. Then, a smaller comb is drawn across vertically, although it can also be done horizontally. Multiple, contrasting colors can be used to make this pattern really pop. This pattern can also be utilized as a base for other patterns.

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Byron, George G, Baron. Works of Lord  Byron. Vol. 3, London, Murray, 1833, 9 vols.
36 Sexagenarian
Beloe, William. The sexagenarian. Vol. 1,  London, F.C. and J. Rivington, 1917, 2 vols.

Double Comb

After creating a nonpareil pattern, a wider comb is drawn once more through the bath which causes the arched lines to become separated into arched columns. The new columns can either be straight or manipulated further into waves.

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Phillips, Richard. Addisoniana. Vol. 2, 1803, 2 vols.

French Curl

This pattern can be created using any base, but bases with multiple colors will work the best. Once the base is completed, a stylus or brush is dipped into the bath and swirled, creating the curls that this pattern is named for.

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Auvigny, M. d’. L’Histoire de France. Paris, Chez Theodore Le Gras, 1749.

[i] Wolfe, Richard J. Marbled Paper : Its History, Techniques, and Patterns: With Special Reference to the Relationship of Marbling to Bookbinding in Europe and the Western World. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. A Publication of the A.S.W. Rosenbach Fellowship in Bibliography. EBSCOhost.

Michigan Picture Postcards

Postcard. Why Don't You Come to Holland, circa 1910
Holland, Michigan. Why don’t you come to Holland, Mich. and runabout the town with me, circa 1910

Among the many instruments that people have devised to communicate with one another, the postcard fills many roles. If you need a simple way to send a quick note, to let someone know you’re thinking of them, to save or send a souvenir of your travels, or merely to document your own surroundings – postcards can meet all of these needs and more.

The American postcard was first developed in the 1870s, and the first souvenir postcard in the 1890s. They quickly became immensely popular, with their “Golden Era” spanning from around 1907 to 1915.

During that period, the U.S. Postal Service introduced the “divided back” postcard, which included a line on the blank side to separate the address area from the message area. Also during this period, Kodak produced a specialized “postcard camera” which enabled the quick production of “real photo” postcards.

The postcards highlighted in this exhibit come from our American Picture Postcard Collection (RHC-103).  Their photographs and illustrations depict the locales and sights of Michigan, and show us how things used to be.