Book Arts Program

Established in 1985, The Book Arts Program at The University of Alabama fosters the development of original scholarship and creative practice. Our students acquire advanced skills in book arts, become cognizant of the historical background in which these various crafts evolved, and develop knowledge about the professional environments in which our graduates will work. Courses explore the reconciliation of modern sensibilities with historic craft.

Book Arts

Making Art Books By Hand

To this day, there are only a handful of programs in the country dedicated to bookmaking craft and art books – and we are the first and oldest.

Check out our feature in Monograph by the Center for Public Television.

About the MFA

The MFA Book Arts Program is a 60-credit hour course of study in the fine art and traditional practices of making books by hand. Individual artistic expression is cultivated through the development of craft skills based in historical principles, practice, and technique. Courses in letterpress printing and publishing, typography, hand bookbinding, hand papermaking, artist books, and the history of the book provide training and context for the role of the book as a medium for expression in art and society. Our emphasis is on the book as an integrated unit which combines materials, processes, and format with visual and textual voice, although there are opportunities for students who wish to pursue specific interests in one or more of these areas after the initial year of general study.

Our program affirms the following goals and objectives:

To provide students with an education that inculcates craft skills required for proficiency in the book arts and develop a sound foundation for the aesthetics and methodology of these arts by:

  1. Providing each student with fundamental technical skills in each of the crafts comprised by the book arts.
  2. Providing advanced technical skills in each student’s area of professional specialization and instilling in each student a desire to acquire and upgrade skills beyond the formal program.
  3. Instilling students with the ability to think, write, and speak critically about their work and its place within contemporary art, book arts and book craft.
  4. Encouraging familiarity with critical texts and information resources in areas connected to the book arts and contemporary practices.
  5. Preparing students to document and disseminate their work through artist statements, curriculum vitae, photo documentation, website development, social media, and participation in and presentations at conferences, workshops, and national book arts events.
  6. Preparing students to apply their creative skills and techniques in the marketplace.
  7. Providing and reinforcing an appreciation for the aesthetics of the crafts of letterpress printing, bookbinding, and hand papermaking.

To enhance the professional status of artisans engaged in the book arts by:

  1. Promoting knowledge of the heritage, responsibilities, trends and standards of the book arts profession, including an understanding of the interrelationship of all aspects of the book arts and the importance of collaboration to the field.
  2. Enlisting faculty to support and advance the book arts fields by advocating for the profession, helping to establish disciplinary standards, advancing professional organizations, offering continuing educational opportunities, and serving as consultants and lecturers.
  3. Promoting a scholarly and creative research culture through faculty that conduct research, publish, and exhibit original work in regional, national, and international venues.
  4. Encouraging faculty to disseminate findings and provide professional resources to practitioners and teachers within and outside the book arts community.

Students enrolled in the MFA Book Arts Program are highly motivated and come from various undergraduate backgrounds and work experiences. We seek students with diverse educational, cultural, and experiential backgrounds.

Gorgas Library

Our students come to UA for three years to learn how to make books by hand. They study intensely in the areas of bookbinding, papermaking and letterpress. I know I speak for my colleagues when I say that we are always happy to answer any questions about the Book Arts program or direct you to resources in your own neighborhoods.

Sarah Bryant, Assistant Professor

MFA Curriculum

Candidates for the MFA Book Arts degree must earn a minimum of 60 semester hours of credit, including at least 6 hours in the history of the book, 3 hours in a historical/theoretical course appropriate to the goals of the individual student, at least 36 hours in the book arts studio, 6 hours of Graduate Seminar, 9 hours of thesis credit, and a minimum of 12 hours of electives within or outside the Book Arts Program. All coursework must be completed with a grade average of “B” or better. All students must spend at least four semesters in residence.

The culminating experience of the MFA Book Arts Program is the creative project, thesis, and exhibition. Working with a faculty advisor, candidates develop a thesis project that demonstrates a deep understanding of the craft and the aesthetic, historic, and critical contexts of the book.

Areas of Emphasis (12 hours in an area of emphasis):

  • Printing and Publishing
  • Bookbinding
  • Whole Book
Chemical engineering student Elizabeth Bury uses book arts to create printed electrodes.

Printing Electrodes through the Art of Intaglio

Instructor Kyle Holland has taught many students how to create their first hand-printed book, but when he met chemical engineering doctoral student Elizabeth Bury, he found a new way to use the art of intaglio printmaking.

Book Arts has a range of skill sets that allow us to collaborate with colleagues like engineering. In this case, we figured out ways to adapt old printing processes to their needs. I went into this project with ideas of how it could work, but I learned a lot from Elizabeth and her research team.

Kyle Holland, Instructor and studio manager

MFA Admission Requirements

A maximum of eight new students are accepted each year into the MFA Book Arts Program. To be admitted into the program, applicants must submit for consideration:

  1. Letter of applcation

  2. Resume/CV

  3. Portfolio

  4. Three reference letters

About the Book Arts Certificate

We offer a 15 credit-hour Book Arts Certificate designed for scholars and professionals in other disciplines. Coursework offers an overview of the book arts as a basis for integrating material book studies into outside research or creative specializations. As a complement to a primary field of study or professional practice, the certificate provides the expertise necessary to produce and critically examine creative book work within a historical context and contemporary framework.

The overarching goal of the Book Arts Certificate is to prepare students to integrate history, materials and technologies of the book arts into their research and/or professional programmatic objectives. Students completing the certificate will have obtained a historical, conceptual, and functional understanding of professional practices of the three major studio areas that make up the book arts (papermaking, letterpress printing, and bookbinding) and an understanding of the historic relevance of book arts within the broader context of art and craft.

Certificate Curriculum

Candidates for the Book Arts Certificate must earn a minimum of 15 semester hours of credit, including at least 6 hours of studio courses and 9 hours of electives within the Book Arts Program. All coursework must be completed with a grade average of “B” or better.

Certificate students are required to build a portfolio of coursework as a capstone project they will submit in their final semester of enrollment. Examples of this coursework will be accompanied by a summation statement by the student about the portfolio and its relevance to their professional, academic, and/or creative goals. The portfolio will be reviewed and assessed by the book arts faculty in a one-on-one session with the student and will be presented in a public showcase of student work. A passing vote will be required by the book arts faculty for the certificate to be conferred.

Certificate Admission Requirements

  1. Statement of Purpose

  2. Transcript

Book Arts Facilities

Our facilities are located primarily within the School of Library and Information Studies on the seventh floor of the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library at the University’s main library located on the historic UA Quad.

Book arts facilities include a type lab, a bookbindery, the Lost Arch Papermill, and an art gallery.


Graduate assistantships, Windgate Fellowships, and smaller scholarship opportunities are available annually. For detailed information about the application process, visit the Graduate School.

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