Library staff delight others with artist books

When Lara Unger was a young girl, her grandmother gave her a small porcelain doll that she dressed in knitted clothes and a blanket.

Unger was gracious in receiving him, but noted that there was nothing to sleep on.

Right away, her grandmother made a cradle made from an empty toothpaste box with fabric and lace sewn onto it and even wooden feet that her grandfather had cut from scrap wood. .

“All I could think of is that she’s magical,” Unger said. “This magic is something that we have shared.”

Unger tries to capture this magic in the many artist books she makes, and the dozens of recipients of these works of art would undoubtedly say that she was successful.

Lara Unger, Digital Conversion Supervisor at UM Library, sits in the Buhr building where she works and maintains “Ebook,” an artist’s book she created for a longtime leader in IT support services. who retired. (Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Unger, Digital Conversion Supervisor at UM Library, has produced over 50 books over the years. The first was a miniature hollow book for his grandmother, who Unger said was a driving force behind his creativity.

“She taught me a lot of different jobs. She loved miniatures, so I wanted to make her a miniature book, ”Unger said. “I made the book, cut out the center, and put little things in it, like a shell and a little bottle. She was always happy with everything I did to her.

Unger’s books range from miniature size – less than 3 inches by 3 inches – to his tallest 9 by 12 inches, but many measure around 4 1/2 inches by 5 inches. She said the big books can take a month to make – much of that time, Unger admits, is her bickering over content and appearance rather than the actual sewing process. She uses exposed stitching on her books, so the backs of many of them have an embroidered look.

One of the most complicated and visually stunning books she has created is Ebook, which has two computer motherboards as a cover, comes equipped with a working USB drive, and contains many related computer parts and media, including a floppy disk, hard drive and memory.

“I liked the Ebook because it was an interesting concept and I loved the idea,” she said. “I really like putting a USB key in there. You can actually plug the book into a computer. I just have fun with stuff. This is one of the big things to remember for me, it’s to have fun having fun with it.

She made the Ebook for a longtime IT support services leader who was retiring.

“There is really a personal element in each of the books that I do or there is something difficult about them,” she said. “I love this challenge of being able to put something visceral in my books. (When people get a book) I feel really good. My heart is expanding a little.

She also made a book that looked like a video camera, with a working crank that allows the recipient to scroll through messages on a roll of paper. She used heavy paper boards to build the exterior of the moving picture book and various pieces of hardware for the crank and lens.

“It was a challenge in a different way because I had to figure out how to make it work and make it work to my satisfaction,” she said. “And that’s one of those times I’ve had this artist mentality of being very particular about how something looks at the end.”

Unger actually sees herself more as a craftswoman than an artist with many different creative outlets besides bookbinding. She embraces the freedom of expression that is allowed with her designs, often inspired by materials she has worked on during her career. She has worked at the library for 22 years, managing the day-to-day operations of the library’s book digitization lab.

“If you’re a restaurateur you have all of these rules to follow, and I just didn’t want to do that (with artist books),” she said. “I wanted to do my own thing at my own pace and in my own way.”

With each book, she likes to include elements that would make it difficult to digitize by her digital conversion unit or online representation, preferring rather that the creation be experienced first-hand. This includes textures, pop-ups, moving parts, and 3D objects.

When she first wanted to try her hand at making books, she approached a conservator at the time who taught Unger his methods of sewing and bookmaking. The curator, who retired a few years ago, had come from Germany to the United States and had given Unger some advice.

“She told me when I started sewing things to make sure I took pictures of everything I did,” said Unger, who donates all the books she does. “She didn’t, so when she applied for a bookbinding job here in the US, she didn’t have any kind of portfolio to show the work she had done. On her next visit to Germany, she threw a party and invited everyone she had given books to and had them bring their books so that she could have their picture taken.

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Unger takes photos of her designs and has even started making duplicates of books, keeping one for herself and donating the other. One of them was a book she made after a trip she took to New Orleans with a friend. Inside, along with travel souvenirs from New Orleans, she used an empty Altoids box to replicate a small voodoo shrine.

She gave a retired restaurateur a book that contained a box that opens to reveal several miniature books, calling it Crazy Kit & Caboodle. Another retired restaurateur received Tom’s Treasure Chest, a treasure chest with little books inside that recognized their mutual love for pirates.

She plans to finish a book she started about five years ago after traveling to France, keeping this one to herself.

“Artist books can be anything from something very simple and can look like a traditional book to anything sculptural that looks nothing like a book but is still considered a book,” she declared. “It’s hard to explain the huge variety of things you can get from an artist’s book. “

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