When Scott Bickmore visited an eleventh-grade English class at Germantown Friends School recently, the room looked more like an art studio than an English class: Scraps of colored-paper peppered the wood floors, the scent of spray-glue permeated the air, and the tables were covered with scissors, glue, thread, rulers, India ink and paper. A lot of paper –“pages,” to be exact.
The English Department invited Bickmore, a local artist who creates sketchbooks out of materials that most of us would toss in a recycling bin, to teach the students how to make their own books – just as William Blake did in 1789. Blake wrote, illustrated and printed the small book “Innocence and Experience,” which the students emulated. English teacher Anne Gerbner referred to Blake’s self-published illuminated books of poems as “sort of the first graphic novels.”
Bickmore provided the students with old record sleeves to fashion into book covers. “I experiment with a lot of different materials, but record covers work well,” he explained. Plus, he likes the idea of using record cases to cover books that are used to “record things.” The students designed their own covers, glued in pages and bound the books with thread. Next they will fill the pages with their own poetry and art.
The project was part of a study of the romantic poets – Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley and, of course, Blake. In addition to creating Blake-style books, the students learned a Blake poem written in 1804 called “Jerusalem,” which was set to music in 1916 and became the official GFS school song – and is still sung today.