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Special Collections

50 Features of Special Collections: The Blind Men and the Elephant

March 17th, 2017 by Christine Cheng


What comes to mind when you think of a book? What are the typical parts of a book? How about the purpose of a book? The parts that go into forming a book usually consist of the covers, pages, text, binding, and its spine. When you consider elements of art, you may think of color, line, shape, form, space, and texture.

Artists’ books are works of art that use elements of the traditional book form in combination with elements of art. Together these different elements encourage readers and the audience to reflect on relationships between image, form, and text; they also prompt the re-imagining of the reception of text. If the work is the physical object represented by the book, which is tangible and can be held in your hands or occupy a space on a shelf, then the text is what is experienced and interpreted through the activity of reading. The text is fluid and shaped by the reader’s knowledge, personal experiences and opinions. What happens to interpretation when in an artist’s book everything from the materials used to the presentation of text (its design and placement on a page), along with the shape and format of the book, are all meant to help convey the meaning of the artist’s book? Reading the text alone isn’t enough to grasp the full meaning of the artist’s book – not without also reflecting on its shape, format, and the artwork. These elements help to complement and augment each other.

The artist’s book we’ll focus on comes from our Fine Press and Book Arts Collection, The Blind Men and the Elephant: the Indian Legend as a Poem. It is based on an Indian parable that was introduced to the west as a poem by American poet, John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887). In the story, blind men are led to an elephant to describe what it feels like. Each blind man gets to feel a single, different part of the elephant:



After comparing their thoughts on the touch and feel of the elephant, the blind men realize that they are at odds with each other. For example, if touching the elephant’s tail, which might feel like a rope with hair on one end, how can the elephant also feel solid, smooth, and pointy like the tusk? If touching one of the elephant’s legs, it will certainly feel different than touching its belly. Who is telling the absolute truth in this situation? While an individual’s experience can be true, we should make sure that we’re not limited by our own experiences and consider the experiences of others.

There are two pieces to this artist’s book. The first piece is a codex of Saxe’s poem and the second is a maze book with an illustration of an elephant. Both pieces are held together by a wraparound tie that looks like an elephant’s tail while the covers are made of crumple-textured paper dyed to resemble elephant hide:

To see all the parts come together to complete the full elephant, visit Special Collections in Shields Library.

Work referenced:

Saxe, John Godfrey, 1816-1887. Trujillo, Rae. The Blind Men and the Elephant: the Indian Legend as a Poem. Pleasant Hill, Calif.: Rae’s of Sun, 2009.

50 Features of Special Collections: Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection

March 12th, 2017 by Christine Cheng


The Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection in Special Collections is comprised of over 3,000 rare books and serials (any publication issued in successive parts), as well as pamphlets. This collection originally came from a donation of gay and lesbian books, serials, and pamphlets in the mid-1990s.

The materials in this collection help document the birth of the gay rights movement and the development of the LGBT community in California and the rest of the U.S. Highlights from the collection include the first issue of the first lesbian serial published in the U.S. (Vice Versa, 1947), as well as openly gay and lesbian novels from the late 1920s and 1930s. It also has publications of earlier gay organizations from the 1960s, such as the Society for Individual Rights (1964-1976), the Association for Responsible Citizens (1965-1967), and the Janus Society (1964-1969). In addition to publications from gay communities, there are also publications from the 1970s from lesbian and feminist organizations, including The Amazon Quarterly, The Furies, Lesbian Tide, and Womanspirit.

One serial from the collection that caught our attention is the San Francisco publication Black Lesbian Newsletter (BLN), especially since the newsletter was published before novelist and poet Alice Walker defined black feminism as “womanism” in 1983. For submissions, the BLN welcomed “any and all written and graphic work by local black lesbians.” The format of the newsletter included “news, reviews, personal perspectives, political commentaries, interviews, poetry, letters, ads, announcements, humor, and journal entries.”

Throughout the newsletters, contributors to the BLN not only addressed issues of gender inequality but also of racism – notably how out of place black lesbians felt among white feminists in “The Need for a Black Lesbian Front”:

When the [feminist] movement first started, there seemed to be total denial that there were any Black women active in this struggle for equal rights, which perpetuated this “savior syndrome” on the parts of white women. The resistance to working equally and intelligently with Black women intensified when our white sisters found out that Black women didn’t need to be “saved.” There seemed to have been this stereotypic mentality that Black women needed saving…The reality is that the Feminist movement, as it stands now, is just another racist and oppressive mechanism of this racist society…We as Black lesbians need to take control of our lives by creating a strong political front that directly addresses our needs as Black lesbians…We must change the face of the Feminist movement. By using our knowledge and strength, the movement can be a strong force again.

Another contributor expressed frustration with the lack of workshops on racism in feminist studies at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, “Few workshops addressed the issue of race or racism in feminist education, and few women of color participated in panels or events that did not have a racial/ethnic focus.” The author pointed out that women of color “discovered…that race was the only thing they were asked to talk about, even if they felt quite competent in other areas as well.”

Covers of the BLN:


For more information about the BLN, visit Special Collections in Shields Library. You can also search for pamphlets and serials through the library catalog at:


Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection


Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection

Works cited:

Gaines, Eileen. “The Need for a Black Lesbian Front.” Black Lesbian Newsletter (August 1982): 3.

Stewart, Helen. “Going…Going…Gone??” Black Lesbian Newsletter vol. 1, no. 3 (September 1982): 3-4.

Pop-up Exhibit: Spring Blooms – Botanical Watercolors by Margaret Stones

March 10th, 2017 by Sara Gunasekara

Special Collections is pleased to present this pop-up exhibit which can be viewed in our Reading Room during the hours of Monday-Friday from 10am-5pm.


Spring Blooms: Botanical Watercolors by Margaret Stones

Special Collections Reading Room, Shields Library

March 10 – June 16, 2017


Margaret Stones (1920- ), botanical artist, served for twenty-five years as the principal illustrator for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine and worked under commission for the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England.


Special Collections holds six original watercolors of Northern California plants, painted by Stones in March-April 1987, while she was visiting California. We are presenting this small exhibit on the thirtieth anniversary of that visit.


For further information, contact:

Iris macrosiphon by Margaret Stones, Occidental, California, April 7, 1987.

Iris macrosiphon by Margaret Stones,
Occidental, California, April 7, 1987.


50 Features of Special Collections: The Gary Snyder Papers

March 3rd, 2017 by Jenny Hodge



Professor Gary S. Snyder (1930-   ) renowned poet, essayist, translator, Zen Buddhist, environmentalist continues to make an indelible mark on late-twentieth and twenty-first century thought. He is considered one of the most significant environmental writers and a central figure in environmental activism.

The Gary Snyder Papers, (D-050) document the personal and professional activities of Gary Snyder.  He has written more than twenty books of poetry and prose including his forty-year work, Mountains and Rivers Without End and Turtle Island for which he won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The collection spans the years 1910-2009 (1945-2002 bulk) and continues to grow. Drafts as well as final versions of poems and prose pieces are found in the collection along with correspondence, recordings of poetry readings and interviews, subject files, manuscripts and publications by other authors, serials, ephemera, and memorabilia.  The collection draws the most national and international visitors to Special Collections.  It has led to hundreds of queries for information, research and publication use.  Faculty, students, and other researchers find an extensive collection of over 274.8 linear feet to explore in Gary Snyder’s personal journals, writings, correspondence, essays, and publications, and ephemera.

Penciled note on the back by Gary Snyder reads, “My last of the original ‘Smokey the Bear’ run. 18.III.95, better protect it!”

The Gary Snyder Papers was cataloged and a  finding aid created with the support from a  2002/03  U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant administered by the California State Librarian.

Further information about the collection may be found on the Online Archive of California, including a detailed inventory of the collection.

Gary Snyder became a faculty member in the Department of English at the University of California, Davis in 1986. He was instrumental in founding the “Nature and Culture” program (1993), an undergraduate academic major for students of society and the environment. He was also active in establishing “The Art of the Wild” (1992), an annual conference on wilderness and creative writing. The Academic Senate selected Snyder as the 2000 Faculty Research Lecturer, the University of California, Davis’ highest faculty peer honor. He retired in 2002. Recognition of Snyder’s achievements includes the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book Turtle Island, his appointment to the California Arts Council (1975-1979), and his induction into both the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1987) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1993). After his long poem cycle and forty-year work, Mountains and Rivers Without End, was published, he was presented with the 1997 Bollingen Prize for Poetry.

PS 3569. N88 M62

PS 3569. N88

In conferring the award, the judges observed,

Gary Snyder through a long and distinguished career has been doing what he refers to in one poem as ‘the real work.’ ‘The real work’ refers to writing poetry, an unprecedented kind of poetry, in which the most adventurous technique is put at the service of the great themes of nature and love. He has brought together the physical life and the inward life of the spirit to write poetry as solid and yet as constantly changing as the mountains and rivers of his American — and — universal landscape.

Snyder received the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Grant in 1998. Also in 1998, he was honored with the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Propagation of Buddhism) award for his outstanding contributions in linking Zen thought and respect for the natural world across a lifelong body of poetry and prose. In 2001, he was awarded the California State Library Gold Medal for Excellence in the Humanities and Science.

A detailed biography of Gary Snyder can be found on the Online Archive of California.

A research project written by John Sherlock entitled Gary Snyder; a bibliography of works by and about Gary Snyder may be found at:

For further information on the collection contact Special Collections.