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Emory Library opening a can of words

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Holly Crenshaw

Emory University's Robert W. Woodruff Library will host an unusual book art event in early March — the opening of a shrimp can that contains a miniature illustrated excerpt of John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row."  

An unusual and interactive piece of literary art, the book-in-a-can is one of only 100 copies created by book artists Peter and Donna Thomas. The Thomases will open the can at the event on Sunday, March 3, at 5 p.m. The canned book is part of Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), which holds several hundred thousand volumes of rare books, including contemporary artists' and fine press books. 

"Often a piece like this is left unopened to preserve it," says Julie Newton, a collections conservator at the Emory Libraries. "However, we decided to open the can so the book can be viewed, in keeping with the idea of making all resources available and easily accessible to researchers."  

The tin can container, a reference to the iron canneries mentioned in the text, measures 3 1/4 by 2 inches and was made using antique equipment salvaged from Cannery Row. The metal was treated to ensure that the book within the can would not be altered or affected. The circular book housed in the container has a diameter of 2 7/8 inches.  

Its text contains the opening paragraph of "Cannery Row," accompanied by eight different watercolor pictures of Cannery Row painted by Donna Thomas and reproduced on handmade paper.  

"I returned to the first paragraph often when I [read Cannery Row]," says Peter Thomas."It is a literary art work, and that is what led to our trying to conceive of a book artwork that draws the viewer back again and again, and that, like poetry, would have the potential to reveal more with each viewing."  

The 16-page, accordion-style excerpt is bound between two galvanized iron covers. Peter and Donna Thomas will open the can using a special can opener to ensure there are no jagged edges that could injure viewers.  

The Thomases also will display their "Gypsy Wagon Artist's Bookmobile" outside the library, which attendees to the event can visit. The product of much labor and love, the brightly colored gypsy wagon was constructed on a 16-foot flatbed for mobility. The "wagon" is outfitted with a propane heater, sink, cook stove, bed and retractable workspace.  

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Jones Room on level 3 of the Woodruff Library. Light refreshments will be served. The opening will follow a sold-out book arts workshop led by the Thomases.  

The Robert W. Woodruff Library is located at 540 Asbury Circle, Atlanta, 30322. Parking is available in the Fishburne deck. For more information, email Julie Newton.

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