Handmade Community Book “Belonging at Oxy” Now Online

Allie Gordon

Participants in the “Belonging at Oxy” project received an invitation by mail: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

This letterpress-printed Arthur Ashe quote was included in page-making kits sent out to more than 300 students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff who signed up to participate in “Belonging at Oxy.” The community book-making project, led by Book Arts Professor Jocelyn Pedersen and supported by Occidental’s Special Collections department, set out to bring together Oxy stories from the pandemic and create a lasting artifact for the Special Collections archive. 

Last fall, when Pedersen read the news that students would not be returning for in person learning in the spring, an idea struck her.

“I wanted to give participants an opportunity to play creatively and to reflect on their personal experiences of the pandemic. I hoped that by watching their individual contributions be literally bound together into a collective finished artifact, they might feel a sense of connection to each other, and a feeling of belonging within the entire Oxy Community.”

Participants received a 12” x 18” sheet of paper to make their page and attended a live Zoom workshop with Pedersen, who demonstrated a range of creative mark-making techniques using pen and ink, paints, drawings and household materials. More than 115 pages were returned by the end of April and the complete accordion fold book measures 40 yards long when entirely expanded. 

“Each page is a surprise,” says Pedersen. “It’s been so fun to find everything from incredible collages to beautiful watercolors, clever pop-ups and innovative mixed media drawings with carefully chosen quotes or moving essays. What has surprised and delighted me most is the level of effort displayed across the pages.”   Story continues below

In addition to receiving pages in the mail, Pedersen received many notes, emails and postcards from the alumni, students, parents, faculty and staff who participated in the project. They expressed gratitude, joy and delight at how working on their page made them feel. 

“This project was a much needed reason to express myself creatively and connect with Oxy as an alumni,” says Jessica Jew ’06. “I loved learning about frottage and collecting leaves, flowers and other materials to experiment with the various techniques shared by video and Zoom.” 

Junior Ashley Muranaka-Toolsie was excited to participate in the project. 

“I love art and creating but have not been able to take a studio arts course at Oxy,” she says. “Learning and staying connected with the Oxy community during the pandemic in a memorable and hands-on way was appealing, and crafting my book page ended up being a fun break from Zoom.” 

For first-year Ben Wilson, participating in the project was a way for him to feel connected to a place he has never seen. 

“Being a first-year student was especially difficult this year because we were remote. When I saw the opportunity to participate in this project, I viewed it as a chance to have that interaction—regardless of how small. It also challenged me to reflect on the past year and how I’ve grown in spite of the unfortunate circumstance.” 

“Belonging at Oxy” was an opportunity for some alumni to reconnect with a place they hold close. “I was intrigued by the ‘Belonging at Oxy’ project and wanted to take part! I went there so long ago,” says Anne Marie Novinger ’57, known as Murtz to her Oxy friends. “I still feel a great affinity for my classmates and professors, and gained a deep appreciation for Oxy.”

Pedersen was surprised by how moving the activity of binding all of the pages together would be for her.

“I feel how connected we all are to each other. Connected across generations, across affiliations, across great distances. It’s an extraordinary thing.”

Occidental Library’s Special Collections has documented every submission and they can be viewed online here. The book will be on display in the Library during Orientation this August.

This project was presented in collaboration with Occidental Library’s Special Collections with the support of the Lawrence Clark Powell ’28 and Fay Shoemaker Powell ’32 Endowment for the Book Arts.

Book Page Submissions Gallery

View all the submissions on Flickr.