In Memoriam: Music & Poetry in a Clamshell Box

While the Preservation Lab serves Iowa State University Library, and our primary responsibility is to care for the Library’s collections, we also occasionally have the opportunity to interact with donors, the general public, and other departments on campus.  For example, we regularly provide free preservation consultations to members of the local community.  This morning’s visitor, Jean, brought in a box filled with hundreds of letters her father had written to his family during WWI, and we advised her on how best to preserve these family documents. During the aftermath of the August 2010 flood, we spent many, many hours salvaging and treating architectural plans for the Facilities, Planning & Management Department.

Our latest interaction beyond the walls of the Library is a sad, sweet tale of artistic creation and personal tragedy.  Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Prater of the Music Department contacted me with a request for a binding and presentation box similar to one I had made for University Museums last fall.  Professor Prater regularly visits Russia to give lectures on the history of American music, and is preparing to head over to Moscow for just this purpose over spring break.  The connection to Russia immediately piqued my interest, since I was a Russian scholar and teacher before becoming a conservator.

In 2005, one of Professor Prater’s longtime colleagues and friends in Moscow was devastated by the loss of her son, Andrey, to a swift and fatal illness while he was still a young man in his twenties.  Vera is a Professor of English, and her son, who also held a Masters degree in English, was an accomplished poet and musician.  Andrey left behind a collection of over forty poems in English, and had always intended to set some of these works to music.  In memory of Andrey, Professor Prater composed three pieces for tenor/high baritone and piano based on three of Andrey’s poems.

Professor Prater and I consulted on how best to present this memorial gift to his friend Vera, and he picked out the colors for the binding and box.  After printing the compositions on 100% cotton paper, I bound the sheets as a double-fan adhesive binding with a hard case covered in bluish-gray Canapetta book cloth.  I then constructed a clamshell box with trays covered in a deep magenta Canapetta, and a case in the same blue-gray Canapetta of the binding.  Beneath the binding, a CD with a live performance of the musical compositions and Andrey’s poem-lyrics was inset into a piece of black Volara foam.  Professor Prater’s card was affixed to the inner face of the outer tray, in lieu of a bookplate.

I was touched by the confluence of creative forces that came together to create this memorial, and was grateful to be a part of it.


    1. Thanks, Peter. I agree that it’s enjoyable to take part in a collaboration like this. I love the thought that this box and its contents will be on their way to Russia this weekend…

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