Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Photo of Diane Ray

Visitors to the UI Special Collections & Archives reading room can view a new exhibit, Art to Eat By: Cookbooks as Record and Expression. The exhibit features items from UI Special Collections with a focus on food. Many of the items on display come from the Szathmary Culinary collection, donated by Chef Louis Szathmary. The exhibit was co-curated by SLIS student Diane Ray and curator Eric Ensley. Diane is in her third year of the  Book Studies and Library and Information Science Studies program (BLIS). She recently spoke with SLIS staff about her experience working on the project. Read on to learn more about Diane's work, and be sure to stop by Special Collections on the third floor of the UI Main Library to see the exhibit.

How did you get involved with this project?

I got involved in this project mostly by chance — I was just finishing improving the Szathmary Culinary Manuscript collection catalog, when Rare Books and Maps curator Eric Ensley was asked to do an exhibit to fill in a free time slot in the Reading Room exhibit space. I believe the Szathmary collection was suggested as an area to focus on, and that I might be a good fit to help out since I had been working with the collection.  We ended up expanding the focus of the exhibit away from the manuscript collection in particular, but some wonderful examples from that collection still fit well into the exhibit.

Diane Ray and Eric Ensley outside UI Special Collections
Diane Ray and Eric Ensley outside the UI Special Collections and Archives Reading Room

What is your favorite object in the exhibit?

Its hard to pick just one! Le Quadragesimal Spirituel is a fascinating one-the woodblock on the poster came from there. Printed in Paris around 1521, the description from the seller sums this book up as “an illustrated work of cookery, mnemonics and mysticism for women.” It goes over different food, along with that food’s spiritual meaning to guide meditation during lent. It also discusses expectations for pilgrims, with instructions about buying different religious prints from street venders.

The woodblock prints are also quite unusual, including the one on the poster showing the Devil offering meat to seated nobles. But probably most intriguing about this book is that it was printed by a woman under her own name. A printers widow, Jeanne Trepperel was only active under her own name for nine months– 29 September 1520 to early June 1521. While female printers were not unheard of, they were rarely named on the text.

Some more of my favorites are featured in a top 10 blog. And of course, there are many more if you come in person-including two menus shaped like cows, and some beautiful 1920/30’s menus and cocktail book!

Are you interested in working in exhibit curation and design after graduation?

I hope to continue working in archives and special collections, so having a chance to learn about putting together an exhibit to showcase materials has been wonderful opportunity.

What advice do you have for other SLIS students who might be interested in curating an exhibit on campus?

My best advice would probably be to just get involved somewhere that has exhibits! There are many libraries, museums, and archives on and around campus where students can get hands on experience, whether paid positions, volunteers, or practicums. If exhibits are something that a student is particularly interested in, it might be worth asking around ahead of applying to see how likely it is that would be part of the work. I have found that people working at these places have been very welcoming, and happy to answer questions and share advice about how to get involved.