Hitting the Books

Students work on the University’s Vandercook press to print pages for "Unclose the door," a collection of poems by Laura Madeline Wiseman.

By Frank Radosevich II
March 26, 2013

A new collection of poems about the life of an Illinois-born suffragist carries the handiwork of Bradley students.

The book “Unclose the door” features 12 poems by author Laura Madeline Wiseman and was designed and handcrafted in part by six students. The 36-page hardback was also published in 2012 by the Gold Quoin Press housed on campus.

“The students designed it, printed it and bound it,” said Bradley graphic design professor Robert Rowe. “It was largely a class project.”

Wiseman’s poems are based around the life and career of Matilda Fletcher, a 19th-century suffragist and distant ancestor of the author. Fletcher, a writer and lecturer who lived in the Midwest, traveled the country advocating for the women’s rights movement and shared the stage with noted feminists such as Susan B. Anthony.

Rowe approached Wiseman about publishing her work and turned the concept into an experiential learning project last semester for the students of his letterpress and book binding class. After agreeing on the overall style and feel of the book, each student took two poems and designed the layout on a page.

“It was a little overwhelming at first,” said Jordan Carpenter, a senior in graphic design from Westmont, Ill. The students studied the decorative letters and drawings used in illuminated manuscripts before collaborating to create their own vision for the 12 poems.

“As a class we brainstormed many different ideas about what to use where on the pages,” she said. “It was a rewarding process.”

Before the project, the students spent the semester in the studio of the Heuser Art Center learning printing and binding techniques needed to publish their goal of 100 copies.

The students printed the pages on the University’s Vandercook press and assembled, stitched and glued the books and book covers with help from members of the community. Wiseman recently came to campus to read her poems from the finished book.

The book’s title comes from a lecture given by Fletcher to the Iowa state congress. Anthony had given a speech before the assembly titled “Open the door,” and Fletcher named her talk “Unclose the door.”