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Students at East High School have challenged the adage about never judging books by their covers by reimagining the book jackets for fifty classic works. Now through the end of the month, their designs are on display on the seventh floor of the Denver Central Library, proving that great literature can look every bit as good as it reads.
The exhibit got its start at East, where students in various art classes created over 200 covers, which were then whittled down to 120 that were showcased in a display at the school. Representatives from the Tattered Cover then selected fifty to feature at their Colfax location as well as the Central Library.
The project is part of a much larger national effort aimed at recovering – and hopefully rediscovering – classic works of literature. In 2013, Recovering the Classics, a crowdfunded organization, asked designers worldwide to re-create covers for beloved books in the public domain.
Eventually, those efforts were formalized with a list of fifty books (it's since grown to fifty-plus), and Recovering the Classics partnered with the New York Public Library, the Digital Public Library of America and the White House to bring those covers to libraries and schools around the country, via special-edition ebooks.
“They’re giving themselves until the summer of 2017 to get an exhibit in every state,” explains Jody Chapel, an art teacher at East who learned about the project on Facebook and brought it to Colorado, where she eagerly engaged her digital-media and multimedia students to redesign a few covers of their own.
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Before long, another art teacher was on board, bringing in students from drawing and painting classes. Nearly 200 students ultimately participated; most were asked to draw their subjects from a hat, and wound up doing two covers. "They all wanted Dracula, but some got War and Peace instead," Chapel says. East High librarians were just as excited about the project, and helped track down some of the classic works that weren’t in the school's collection.
This particular project was definitely in Chapel’s wheelhouse: Before becoming a teacher, she worked as a graphic designer. “My specialty was book design,” she says. In fact, she designed covers for many local publishers in the '80s and '90s.
Students in Chapel’s digital classes used computers to create their new covers, and were charged with drafting mood boards, or research boards. In the process, they couldn’t help but learn about their assigned stories and characters, and some were so engaged that they “went the extra mile and actually read the books,” Chapel says.
“I was blown away by how professional some of these covers are,” she adds. “You can hardly tell they’re done by beginning design students.”
Tattered Cover sponsored the show at East, giving prizes to students in various categories and narrowing down the submissions for the traveling exhibition. In March, the fifty book covers move to the Ross-Cherry Creek Branch Library, 305 Milwaukee Street, where they’ll be on display throughout the month. For more information, visit East High School’s 50x50 website.