Sweet Briar College students Sarah Strapp and Laura Dietrich were recognized recently as winners of the College’s annual Nicole Basbanes Student Book Collecting Contest.
Strapp, a junior studio art and art history major from Goshen, Ky., won first place for a collection that includes art survey texts, historical first editions, and bibles and religious texts.
She has a particular liking for books of hours, and has several facsimile editions of these texts. These were personal volumes kept by Catholics to “mark time throughout the day and the prayers that should accompany those hours,” she wrote in an annotated bibliography submitted under the contest guidelines.
What many of her volumes have in common are colorful illuminated illustrations.
“The books I collect are things of beauty that while pleasing to the eye are also endearing to my heart,” she said. “I have books saved from Hitler’s fires and books that have traveled around the world.”
Strapp grew up in a house full of books on all subjects, but it was a childhood trip to a museum that sparked her intense interest in manuscripts and likely led to the honors project she is working on today. She is using period techniques, and to the extent possible, paints, brushes and other materials to re-create pages out of centuries-old illuminated manuscripts.
Staring at 500-year-old texts in that museum as a middle schooler, she said, “I fell in love with the bright glowing colors and the way that the inks and paints danced under the glass.”
Her book collection is not of one subject, but she says they are all books that need protecting. Strapp sees herself as their custodian, not their owner.
Dietrich’s love affair with gardening books began in the night, on a restless search among her aunt’s shelves for something to read that would lull her to sleep.
She selected “The Indoor Gardener’s Companion,” and within 10 minutes her 8- or 9-year-old self was deciding what plants would thrive in her house.
“I was hooked,” she wrote in the essay required as part of the contest guidelines, which is sprinkled with botany-inspired references.
Books “literally and figuratively opened the door to a whole new kingdom,” wrote Dietrich, who is in her first year at Sweet Briar.
As she began to acquire books on plants, she didn’t focus on any one specialty until orchids captured her attention. ” … before I knew what was happening, I had joined two orchid societies, one of them being the American Orchid Society, and surrounded myself with a plethora of orchid books,” she wrote.
Dietrich has come to think of her collection as a garden, always growing, but also to regard a garden as a library. Starting with that first book, she has used what she learned from reading the texts to grow houseplants and orchids.
Someday, she wrote in her essay, “I want to use my books to help others who share my interest in plants.”
The Nicole Basbanes Student Book Collecting Contest award is sponsored by Sweet Briar College Friends of the Library and Nicholas Basbanes, author of “A Splendor of Letters” and “A Gentle Madness,” among others. Basbanes’ daughter, the competition’s namesake, graduated from Sweet Briar in 2004.
Winners received a cash prize up to $300. A ceremony to present the awards was held at the Friends of the Library spring meeting on March 27. For placing first in the Sweet Briar contest, Strapp will be entered in the Fine Books & Collections Magazine Collegiate Book-Collecting Championship, a national competition with a $2,500 first prize.