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February 10, 2014

CIA's Traveling Sketchbooks to be displayed at Cleveland Public Library from Feb. 10 through March 8

Exhibition features “absolutely true diaries” of first-year art students.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Ann McGuire
Director of Communications

CLEVELAND (Ohio) – Visitors to the Cleveland Public Library’s Special Collections Reading Room will be able to vicariously experience the life of a student in the first month of art school when they flip through a collection of Cleveland Institute of Art student sketchbooks that will be on display there from Feb. 10 through March 8.

The Special Collections Reading Room is on the third floor of the main Cleveland Public Library building at 325 Superior Ave., and is open Monday through Saturday from 10am until 6pm. Pam Eyerdam, the library’s fine arts and special collections manager, said she is looking forward to displaying the sketchbooks. “I think this is a great opportunity for students to be able to feature their own artistic work at our library.”

The CIA Traveling Sketchbook Project opened in the CIA Library in October as part of the college’s participation in Octavofest, an annual, multi-site celebration of the book and paper arts ( The collection of 65 graphic memoirs has since traveled to the Beth K. Stocker Art Gallery at Lorain County Community College and the Rocky River Public Library.

Loosely patterned after The Sketchbook Project at the Brooklyn Art Library in New York City, this project started when CIA’s incoming first-year students were provided with identical sketchbooks this summer, and instructed to complete them during their first month at college.

The CIA Traveling Sketchbook Project was designed to support the summer reading at CIA, in which the entire college community was invited this year to join the new students in reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a novel by Sherman Alexie, with illustrations by graphic novelist, Ellen Forney.

The tie-in with the book was particularly attractive to Eyerdam, who noted that Alexie was a featured speaker in the library’s Writers & Readers Series in 2007.

Closely paralleling the author’s own childhood, it tells the story of 14-year-old Arnold Spirit, Jr., who decides to leave the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white school in a distant town. “The book overflows with memories of life on the ‘rez,’ and is a portrait of harsh circumstances, among them poverty, racism, alcoholism, loss, and bullying. Through these experiences, Arnold begins to get a sense of who he is and where he belongs, and he uses journaling, drawing and laconic wit as his means to create his own understanding of his life,” said Barbara Chira, an instructor in the freshmen Foundation program and academic director of CIA’s Cores + Connections initiative.

Just as the semi-autobiographical novel is formatted as Arnold Spirit, Jr.'s “absolutely true diary” of his thoughts and drawings about his experiences, these CIA students have been given an opportunity to complete their own “absolutely true diaries” in response to the social and cultural themes presented in the novel, and as a first-semester art student. Their sketchbooks are filled with images and ideas in response to the novel and documenting their first month away from home in art school.

First instituted in the summer of 2012, CIA’s Summer Reading Program helps unite the incoming class through a common experience that begins even before their arrival at CIA. An additional goal was to select a book that might help students, in the context of going to an art school, to begin to examine themselves in relationship to the local and global communities they inhabit.

Alexie’s novel was chosen as one which might well support CIA’s Cores + Connections vision, including its growing commitment to community engagement practices in the arts and design. Students further explored the book’s themes of racism and social justice for Native Americans when Robert Roche presented a lunchtime lecture at CIA in mid-September. Roche is director of the American Indian Education Center in Cleveland.

CIA and the library have collaborated on several projects. For many years, the library’s Special Collections Department annually displayed the innovative chess sets designed by students of CIA Professor Barbara Stanczak, who retired in 2011. “I think both institutions want to outreach with each other,” Eyerdam said.

After the exhibition’s run at the Cleveland Public Library, the collection travels to MOCA Cleveland from March 15 through April 30.

Public inquiries may be emailed to For more information about the Cleveland Public Library’s Special Collections Department, call 216.623.2818 or email

About CIA

Founded in 1882, the Cleveland Institute of Art is an accredited, independent college of art and design offering 15 majors in studio art, digital art, craft disciplines, and design. CIA extends its programming to the public through gallery exhibitions; lectures; a robust continuing education program; and the Cinematheque, a year-round art and independent film program. CIA’s public programming is supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. For more information visit

About the Special Collections Department

The Special Collections Department at the Cleveland Public Library attributes its legacy to John G. White, eminent Cleveland citizen and president of the Cleveland Public Library Board of Trustees 1884-1886 and 1913-1928. He was a vital force in shaping the research aspects of the Cleveland Public Library.
Through his efforts the Library acquired rare books and unique editions that could not be purchased with public funds. He donated significant collections from his personal library. A prime mover in planning and designing the Main Library Building, John G. White underwrote the construction of the Fine Arts and Special Collections reading room and the Exhibit Corridor. A trust fund he established continues to purchase special volumes.


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