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Published May 11, 2021
Alexandra “Alex” Box, a University of Wyoming student from Fairhope, Ala., is the recipient of the American Heritage Center’s (AHC) Undergraduate Research Award.
Box, a student of UW Department of Visual Arts Professor Mark Ritchie, will display her exhibition in the AHC’s Toppan Rare Book Library. Her exhibition, titled “Ex Libris Fitzhugh,” deciphers meaning and symbolism of bookplates, including heraldic coloring, animal choice, symbolism, mottoes and style. It also focuses on the printing process used -- allowing for the examination of provenance as it pertains to the importance of history in rare books. She received a $500 award from the AHC.
“The Fitzhugh Collection in the Toppan Library has a wide variety of bookplates, sometimes known as an ‘ex libris’ -- meaning ‘from the library of’ -- that denote personal ownership and claim to a book by an individual or library,” Box says. “The bookplates are made in many printmaking-based processes including relief (woodcut), intaglio (engraving and etching) and lithography.”
Each spring semester, the AHC awards a cash prize to the best undergraduate research paper or project based on the center’s collection materials, such as manuscripts, archives, rare books, photos, maps, audio, film and video.
To encourage a diverse group of applicants, the AHC accepts projects in any form, such as research papers; creative writing; individual or group exhibits; websites; and art. The only stipulations are that the projects be created for academic credit, have a faculty sponsor and be based substantially on research done with AHC collections, says AHC Director Paul Flesher.
In her award application, Box says she became fascinated by the personal heraldic imagery of shields, mottoes and crests identifying the owners. Heraldic imagery can be animals and elements symbolizing personal strength, integrity, hospitality and other positive indicators of the individual. She researched the symbolism of the heraldic animals and elements of the bookplates, and learned about the components of heraldic shields and colors.
During her six-week internship at the AHC, she documented bookplate characteristics from more than 50 books in the Fitzhugh Collection. She narrowed her exhibition to 14 representative examples showing what she felt were the most engaging. Her exhibition includes mostly intaglio prints dating between the late 18th-19th centuries in the armorial (1800-1900) and wreath and ribbon (1770-1810) styles.
“The bookplates Alex studied had been attached to books from the 19th century and came from the rising middle class in Great Britain,” Flesher says. “They showed the middle class’s newfound ability to purchase books and, by featuring heraldic imagery, showed that they were trying to be like the English gentry. Her excellent work in choosing, selecting and arranging the images made this small exhibit quite effective.”
The AHC currently is closed to the public; however, “Ex Libris Fitzhugh” is available virtually on the AHC’s Virmuze page at www.virmuze.com/m/uwyo-american-heritage-center/, featuring the same content as Box’s physical exhibition.
All UW department faculty members are eligible to submit, on behalf of their students, two projects each semester to be considered for the AHC’s Undergraduate Research Award. Each student also is eligible to initiate his or her application with a letter from a faculty member that accompanies the submission. Toppan rare book Cataloger Elizabeth Kuntz supervises the internship.
For more information, visit the AHC website at www.uwyo.edu/ahc/grants/undergrad-award.html.