Bookmaking workshop lets community members write their own history

Lynda Duncan prepares to scan family photos for her book. Photo by Claire Smith (C’22).

By Claire Smith
Executive Editor

In one of many projects hosted at the University Art Gallery through the Highlander Libraries collaborative project, professor of art Greg Pond hosted a bookmaking workshop on Sunday, February 23. This workshop was created to complement the efforts of community members and the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation to preserve Sewanee’s Black History. This event helps Black community members digitize their personal and family memorabilia and create books that they can both keep for personal use and submit to Sewanee’s archives. These books will begin to fill in the gaps the University’s historical records have left by underrepresenting the black community.

The Highlander Libraries project puts a heavy emphasis on memory, documentation, and representation of communities and their struggles through art and the printed word. The project features a large bookshelf full of books on topics like race, sexuality, gender, civil disobedience, and social theory, recreating the effect of the Highlander Folk School that once operated in Monteagle and trained people for various civil rights fights over decades. Lined up on the top of the shelf is a series of printed booklets by a University of Tennessee Chattanooga student, Kayla Green, who creates stylized, artistic books that visually demonstrate the experience of being a young black woman in the South through collages of photos and words.

This work seemed to serve as an inspiration for the hand-stitched books that Pond and others working at the Bookmaking Workshop wanted to help members of the community create. By giving people the tools to create a planned, artistic book that incorporates their family histories and personal stories, the project both archives a crucial piece of Sewanee while creating visually compelling pieces for community members to engage with. 

Pond explained, “This is a community that is largely underrepresented in the archives, and so the idea with this project is to take what they have, scan it, and then work with them to actually format it into a way that they want to write their history, and then we put it in the archives.” This socially-engaged form of artwork is meant to engage with the Sewanee community and give people a chance to present their own stories in their own way.

Several people connected to the black community of Sewanee attended the event, bringing folders full of family photos and documents, pointing out interesting ones and explaining their backstories to members of the project as they scanned them into the computers in the Library. Shirley Taylor, who has lived in Sewanee her entire life and worked at the University for 48 years, brought a folder of family photos, many of family members who have lived in Sewanee.

She brought more recent photos of her family, choosing to represent more of a snapshot of her life and family as it is today. Taylor added that she would gladly share this book with the archives, saying “This can go into the memorial, and that way we’ll know that this is part of my family.”

A group of three siblings from Tullahoma sat next to Shirley, sifting through piles of photographs, occasionally stopping to point out a picture of importance or to elaborate on a family member of interest. The three siblings, Jackie Duncan, Better Duncan Cooley, and Lynda Duncan, grew up in and currently live in Tullahoma, but their parents met and courted in Sewanee. Jackie pointed out a photo of a first cousin from Sewanee, Michael Colyar, who won the talent competition Star Search and donated $50,000 of his winnings to help the homeless. Lynda stopped on a beautiful photo of a woman in prayer, explaining that she was another relative who moved to Chicago, became a bishop, and founded her own church.

Whether documenting national celebrities or a favorite relative, community members documenting and preserving their family stories provides the Sewanee community a better glimpse into the reality of the town’s history, and gives people a chance to highlight the vast array of individuals who have been shaped by and contributed to the unique experience of life in Sewanee.