‘50 x 50 Missouri’ Gives Classic Books a New Look

One of Alice Wang’s favorite books when she was growing up was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so when she had the chance to redesign the cover of a classic book, she knew what title she would choose.

'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' book cover by Alice Wang

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ book cover by Alice Wang

“I always loved magical, whimsical things, and so growing up it was my favorite kind of story,” said Wang, a communication design major at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

Wang’s artwork is part of “50 x 50 Missouri,” a pop-up exhibit that will be on view at Olin Library from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. The opening of the exhibit takes place from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Sept. 30. “50 x 50 Missouri” is an offshoot of the White House initiative “Recovering the Classics,” a crowd-sourced collection of cover artwork of famous books that promotes interest in classic literature to a new generation. The project has national support from many organizations, including the Digital Public Library of America, the literary studio Plympton, and the New York Public Library.

With the pop-up exhibits and the national initiative, illustrators and designers have the chance to showcase their work by creating new covers for some of the greatest works in the public domain. Twenty local artists, including Washington University students and faculty, are included in the Olin Library exhibit. The other 30 covers were selected from the national database of “Recovering the Classics.”

Bill Feng, an economics and strategy major at the Olin Business School, organized the local exhibit with Cheryl Holland, education and library science librarian, and Erin Sutherland, curator of exhibitions, at Washington University Libraries. Feng contacted different campus organizations and fellow students to garner interest in the project.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth' book cover by Professor Ron Fondow

Journey to the Center of the Earth cover by Professor Ron Fondaw

Holland and Sutherland presented the idea of “50 x 50 Missouri” to the University Librarians Council. Its members agreed that the libraries should sponsor the project, which fit their mission of collaboration with students and the community.

“The aim of (‘Recovering the Classics’) is to get a pop-up exhibit to appear in every state in the country,” Feng said. “The major states where it has been put together are California, Colorado, and Massachusetts — states where there are big urban populations. I thought it would be great for Missouri to be one of earlier states to have a pop-up exhibit.”

With the pop-ups, each state can customize its own exhibit, Holland said. Two WU artists created covers for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Missourian Mark Twain.

'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' book cover by Noah Jodice

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn book cover by WU student Noah Jodice

After the exhibit at Olin Library, Holland and Feng will make the artwork available to other local organizations and institutions, especially schools. “We want these covers to excite students, especially young readers, about classics in literature,” Holland said.

Wang hopes that viewers will consider the craft of book design. “I think book covers are really great, and a lot of times we look at them but don’t think about what goes into them, or that people create them and also the variety and concepts behind them,” she said. “I also want people to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It’s really short, but it’s really special.”

See all of the covers below:

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