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Book bound: Students create commemorative book for Johnston’s 50th

Visiting artist Maureen Forys ’93 (front) and Johnston Center Assistant Director MG Maloney ’03 (left) gather with students of The Book class, Taylor Selbach ’19 (second left), Amanda Schmalzried ’21 (second right), and Emily Mains ’18. (Photo by Daniel Kiefer)

In the Bekins Hall basement one balmy May afternoon, book designer Maureen Forys ’93 was giving a group of students from the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies a quiz. They were playing matchmaker, but with fonts instead of people, to see which ones would end up happily ever after. It was an entertaining experience, sure, but the May Term directed study had a serious goal: They were designing a commemorative art book for Johnston’s 50th anniversary.

Forys, a visiting artist, was partnering with MG Maloney ’03, assistant director of Johnston Center, to instruct the group. The four students—Shayla Dennon ’22, Emily Mains ’18, Amanda Schmalzried ’21, and Taylor Selbach ’19—whose May Term experience also included individual projects, had named the session “The Book.” 

Mains has enjoyed learning about design and bookmaking as an art form. “But [my other favorite] part was exploring Johnston's history, the history of a place that I love so much,” Mains says. “Being able to [delve into] what this place is, and communicating that through book design, is amazing.”

The Johnston Center for Integrative Studies was conceived in 1969, when a group of University of Redlands faculty, students, and staff co-created a living and learning community where students would be responsible for their own education. They design their own academic concentrations, write contracts for their courses, and receive narrative evaluations in lieu of traditional grades.

As a result of this alternative education, Johnston students become passionate not just about their studies, but about Johnston itself. This may explain why there are already two books about the history of Johnston at the University of Redlands. (As long as you're havin' a good time: A history of Johnston College, 1969-1979 by Bill McDonald and Kevin O'Neill and Hard Travelin' and Still Havin' a Good Time: Innovative learning and living at the Johnston Center, 1979-2004 edited by Bill McDonald and Kathy Ogren.)

So why another book on Johnston? “We want to document what we've done and honor it with a beautiful book full of artistic archives and creative stories,” says Maloney, a Johnston alumna and trained librarian, who, as the de facto Johnston archivist, is spearheading the creation of the commemorative book. 

A Johnston College shirt is part of the center’s archival collection. (Photo by Taylor Matousek '18)

With the support of Johnston Director Julie Townsend, three sessions have been held at Johnston Center so that students, in adherence to its experiential learning philosophy, could help create the commemorative book. 

Maloney taught a 2017 seminar, Archiving the Experiment: Johnston Stories and Artifacts, where students studied feminist and queer archives. They also studied the practice of making oral histories and learned how to curate their own collections in the Johnston archive.

Simultaneously, Creative Writing Professor Leslie Brody wrote a call for creative nonfiction short essay submissions to Johnston alumni. The volume of entries inspired a seminar called Content Development taught by Creative Writing Professor Alisa Slaughter. “We received high quality writing from many alumni who are professional writers, so the manuscript is really great,” Maloney says. Forys visited each of these classes to lend her book-making advice and expertise as well.

To prepare for May Term, students read the manuscript and took part in workshops on drawing and painting to stimulate the creative process. With Forys, they then analyzed the content, looked at the digital archives, identified themes, and then wrote the creative brief—the aesthetic guidelines used to design the book. “We talked about using the ’70s supergraphics fonts—they’re coming up a lot in our archive,” Forys says, “but ultimately we chose fonts that let the images stand on their own.”

Forys says the book, and the collaboration with the students, show how connected students and alumni are to Johnston: “I'm getting this amazing understanding of not just how community and learning works here on campus, but also throughout the Johnston diaspora around the world. It has been stunning.” 

Two editions of the commemorative book are in the works: a deluxe, clothbound edition with a foil stamp and a jacket, and a more affordable paperback edition. Currently untitled, the work will be published by an independent publisher based in Oakland, California, and available for purchase at Johnston’s 50th anniversary event, February 15-17, 2019.