Integrative arts student brings lost arts to modern times

University Park, Pa. — Bookbinding, marbling and frakturing are not typically found in art exhibits at Penn State, but integrative arts student Monica Mixer is working to bring these "lost arts" to the forefront. Her work is featured in a mixed art exhibit, "Lost Art Meets Modern Art," in Borland Gallery, Borland Building on the University Park campus through Dec. 4. The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

A Hopewell native, Mixer spent her childhood investigating art forms beyond painting and drawing. "I would stay up late as a child drawing intricate designs on a block of colored paper received as a Christmas gift," Mixer recalled. "I would never grow bored of creating colorful designs."

Mixer became enamored with "lost arts" after taking an American Studies course in early Pennsylvania decorative art and furniture, taught by retired professor Richard Pencek. "During Dick's course, I was introduced to historic pieces of furniture that were painted in fraktur," said Mixer. "The incredibly intricate detailing of letter and image together captured and enhanced the beauty of the furniture."

A fraktur is a decorated manuscript, part calligraphy, part drawn symbol, that was a popular art form among Pennsylvania Germans between 1750 and 1850. Fraktur designs originated in central Europe in the 16th century and are now often seen on hex signs in Amish communities.

Mixer's exhibition also includes examples of marbling, the thousand-year-old Turkish art of printing multi-colored swirled or stone-like patterns on paper or fabric. In the 1600s, marbling became an essential part of bookbinding, where the decorative papers were used on the inside covers of fine books to hide the folds, strings and glue marks of the bindings. They also provided an aesthetic transition from the cover to the printed pages of text, a use that continues today. "People can use my marbled paper in a multitude of ways," offered Mixer. "My paper can be a decoration hung on the wall, stationery or bookbinding."

Three examples of bookbinding are included in her exhibit: accordion-style book; Japanese-style book; and a clamshell box. Bookbinding is one of the most ancient arts, dating back to leaden tablets inscribed with hieroglyphics and fastened together with rings. "With the industrial printing and binding of books and the advent of electronic reading, people often pay little attention to the crafting of a book," said Mixer. "But if you hold a finely-bound book in your hands, you can truly appreciate the effort and art it takes to bring that exquisite book to life."

After graduation in spring 2010, Mixer plans to continue her study of calligraphy, bookbinding, frakturs and marbling while working on pieces for clients and participating in solo and group exhibitions of her work. "I feel honored to study and learn from those who have left their talents behind for us to continue in their footsteps," said Mixer. "Hopefully, these arts will never truly be lost."

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Last Updated November 18, 2010