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Ellen Dorn Levitt Collection

 Collection
Identifier: mss-956

Scope and Content Note

The Ellen Dorn Levitt collection spans the years 1999-2013 when Ellen developed and taught book arts classes to high school students at Lyndon Institute and to adult students in summer graduate education courses sponsored by Saint Michael's College (Colchester, VT) and held at Lyndon Institute. The collection is comprised of handmade books, broadsides and related teaching materials from these book arts classes. Lyndon Institute literary publications designed by Ellen are also included.

The collection fills 13 document boxes and one flat storage box. It is organized under the broad themes of General (personal records and records from the workshop and exhibition held in Ellen's memory at UVM Special Collections in October 2014); Bookmaking Residencies (projects created with visiting bookbinder Linda Lembke); Letterpress Residencies (projects created with visiting printer Andrew Miller-Brown); Cross-Curricular Projects (books created with teachers in other disciplines); Art 1 and Design Class and Book Arts Class Projects (books created in Ellen's art classes); Lyndon Institute Publications (art and literary journals designed by Ellen); and Graduate Education (projects from Saint Michael's College summer courses co-taught with Linda Lembke and held at Lyndon Institute). Projects within these broad themes are further organized by title and date.

Dates

  • 1999-2013

Creator

Language of Materials

English

Access

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

Ellen Dorn Levitt was born in Lakewood, New Jersey, June 1, 1947, to Moe and Charlotte Dorn. She was the youngest of three children (brother Bill born 1939, sister Zena born 1945). She attended public schools in Lakewood and was drawn to art at an early age. She began her studies at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore in 1965, intending to major in fashion design, but changed her major to fine arts after studying drawing with Peter Milton in her foundation year. Her course work in the following years included drawing, painting, photography, clay and jewelry design.

In 1968 Ellen married Mark Levitt and left MICA in 1969, one semester before graduating, to move to Longview, Washington. In 1973 Ellen and Mark moved to Lyndonville, Vermont, where they built a house and raised a family. Daughter Lena was born in 1971 (and died of cancer in 1977), son Ben was born in 1976, and son Daniel in 1978.

Ellen's early work experiences involved art making in many forms – hand-printed silk scarves, traditional ash baskets, jewelry from found objects, and stationery. For many years she concentrated on surface design, taking classes at Parsons School of Design and Penland and Haystack Mountain Schools of Crafts; working with Jason Pollen, professor of Fiber Arts at Kansas City Art Institute; exhibiting her work; designing fabric for Garnet Hill; and teaching workshops nationally in surface design processes.

In 1982 she became the middle school art teacher at Riverside Day School In Lyndonville, where she taught until 1988. In 1989 she and friend Meryl Keegan opened The Art Room in Lyndonville where they sold art supplies and gave art lessons to children. In 1994 she was hired as a part-time art teacher at Lyndon Institute, an independent boarding school in Lyndon Center that also serves as a public school for students in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Hired for her broad art and teaching experiences, she was also required to complete her B.A., which she did through Johnson State College. Ellen taught Art I and Design in her first two years; Printmaking was added in her third year when she became a full-time teacher. Ellen continued teaching at Lyndon Institute until her retirement in 2013. She also worked as an adjunct instructor at Lyndon State College, Johnson State College, and Saint Michael's College during these years, teaching art and graphic design courses.

Ellen's interest in the book arts began in the mid-1990s. Having experimented with sketchbooks for artist friends using her own fabrics and with papermaking and paper decorating, she decided to add a book arts unit to her Design classes around 1997 and began inviting visiting book artists to her classroom, often funded through the Burklyn Arts Council, to introduce her students to those who worked in the field and to further develop her own skills. Printmaker Mary Simpson of Lyndonville was a frequent visitor to her printmaking classes. Former student and fine printer/publisher Andrew Miller-Brown of Lyndonville taught letterpress printing, and bookbinder Linda Lembke of Guilford, Vermont, became an annual visitor in her design and book arts classes. In addition to working closely with these artists to plan residencies that were meaningful to the students, Ellen often invited former and advanced art students to join the presentations and take part in collaborative projects. Several book projects completed in these residencies are included in the collection.

A strong fine arts department, a developing graphic arts program, and a new art building all contributed to Ellen's growing book arts program at Lyndon Institute. As part of an independent school program, Ellen had the benefit of small art classes (never larger than 15 students) and a budget large enough to purchase the supplies, equipment, and reference materials important to her teaching. She was also supported by her department chair, Barbara Follett, who encouraged excellence and welcomed collaboration and whose own art classes (including Painting, Photography, Sculpture, and Advanced Placement Art) complemented Ellen's classes and gave the students a wide range of offerings.

In 1999 Ellen began working with Cathie Tavares, instructor of business computing and desktop publishing, to create a digital design course at Lyndon Institute. This course eventually led to a dedicated graphic arts program with Ellen teaching classes in Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, along with her art classes. Ellen also worked with Cathie to expand the Janus, the school literary magazine, from a small pamphlet of student poetry to an award-winning, 90-page publication of student and faculty poetry and artwork. Ellen continued as designer of the Janus each year until her retirement in 2013. For several years, she also designed and bound the award books for the Kingdom Awards, a writing competition for Vermont high school students.

In 2002 Lyndon Institute began converting two older buildings on campus to create a new art center. Ellen and colleague Barbara Follett worked with the architects to design the classrooms for their respective courses. The John L. Norris Art Center opened in the fall of 2003. Ellen's classrooms included a printmaking studio, an art room for Art 1 and Design classes, a print shop for letterpress printing, and a small bindery for paper storage and preparation.

In 2004 Ellen proposed the expansion of the book arts unit in her Design class to a semester-long (and later a year-long) Book Arts class. The class began running the following year and continued until Ellen's retirement in 2013. Designed to be open to all students (with no art prerequisites), it drew students with a range of curricular interests as well as many international students who found that Ellen's hands-on instruction allowed them to excel even as their use of the English language was developing. Eight of the ten students in Ellen's final 2013 book arts class were from China, inspiring the theme of Chinese book history for the annual book arts residency and the Chinese zodiac as the subject of their collaborative book project Fate. Both projects are represented in the collection, along with the book Recipe for Wellness, made by this class as a gift to Ellen after she was diagnosed with cancer and had to leave before the end of the year to begin treatment.

The print shop in the new art center was named The Center Press. Ellen soon had it equipped with a Vandercook SP15 proof press and a variety of metal type, along with all the necessary supplies for letterpress printing. The bindery was equipped with a board shear loaned by Claire Van Vliet, a guillotine and paper cutter purchased with school funds, and a variety of good papers for bookmaking and printing, many of them donated to the school by the Stinehour Press in nearby Lunenberg. Activities in the print shop became part of the course work in all of Ellen's art classes -- from computer graphics students learning to set metal type before working with type on the computer to printmaking students using the Vandercook to create broadsides of favorite quotations.

Ellen also inspired teachers in other disciplines at Lyndon Institute to collaborate on projects at The Center Press. At faculty meetings at the beginning of each year, she presented a range of book projects from her work with students, encouraging colleagues to bring their students to the art building to make use of the print shop and art rooms. Several teachers took her up on this invitation, and The Center Press became a hive of activity, not only for her own art students, but also for students in English, ESL, dance and other classes. The collection includes several interdisciplinary projects from these collaborations: Things Natural with art teacher Barbara Follett, Auguries of Innocence with English teacher David Stahler, Whan That Aprille with English teacher Ben Doyle, A Vermont Bestiary with English teacher Jerry Stork, and Company ABC's with dance teacher Rebecca McGregor.

In these later years, Ellen became acquainted with book workers at the Stinehour Press in Lunenburg, graphic arts instructors at Lyndon State College, and bookbinders and conservators in private practice in the Northeast Kingdom. As part of this community, The Center Press was part of an open studio tour in 2010 that included Claire Van Vliet's Janus Press and the press at Bread & Puppet. Many visitors attended and expressed appreciation for the work done by the students at The Center Press and for Ellen's book arts program, which was unique in Vermont, and perhaps in the country.

Ellen often remembered a plea from one fine printer she met at an annual Northeast Typographic Congress organized by the Stinehour Press: "Education in the book arts should begin at the high school level." Many of Ellen's students at Lyndon Institute went on to study art in college and several continued their interest in book arts by taking work-study jobs in the libraries or conservation labs at their colleges. Some have become art teachers, and one, Andrew Miller-Brown, is now a respected fine printer and small press publisher. His books are part of the UVM Book Arts Collection.

Also important to Ellen's growth in the book arts was a close friendship and working relationship that began in 2000 with printer/publisher Claire Van Vliet. Claire, who has lived and worked in nearby Newark, Vermont, since 1966 gave Ellen intimate glimpses of her ongoing work at the Janus Press, from books that were in the planning stages to those that were ready to send out to patrons around the world. From Claire, Ellen learned lessons in book structures and materials, conservation, book history, and the working practices of a small press publisher. In addition, she received guidance on the purchase and running of equipment for The Center Press and donations of equipment and materials to use with her students. As Claire continued to publish in these years of friendship, she often turned to Ellen for her art and computer skills and hired her to work as a collaborator on several Janus Press publications. All of these are part of the UVM Book Arts Collection: the books Woven and Interlocking Book Structures, Rise, Aunt Sallie's Lament (Altered), The Gospel of Mary, Papermaking at Hayle Mill 1808-1987, TATATA, Eclipses, and It Was Like That; and the broadsides A Scribe of Kloster Eibingen and US Constitution.

In her years at Lyndon Institute, Ellen continued studying the subjects she was teaching and became accomplished in many new practices. She learned from the working artists she invited into her classroom and took books arts, printmaking, and digital arts classes in the summers through several New England art programs (including color management at Cone Editions in East Topsam, VT; non-toxic printmaking at Zea Mays in Florence, MA; many bookbinding and book history workshops at the Garage Annex School in Easthampton, MA; and graduate education courses in bookmaking at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, VT). She continued to build a reference library that served as a resource for herself and her students, and she practiced, practiced, practiced. Her art rooms became her studio on weekends and school vacations, and she was always at work on her own projects.

Ellen's high standards of excellence contributed to her strengths as an art teacher. As a well-trained and serious artist herself, she brought a tremendous amount of professional experience to teaching. She also had a broad knowledge of art history and of the elements and principles of art, both incorporated in her art lessons. Her classrooms were extremely well organized and maintained, and she sought out art supplies and equipment of high quality, teaching her students to use them with skill and respect. Her art lessons were designed with great care and with high expectations of all of her students. She made wise use of each moment in her classroom, often working along with students to demonstrate good art practices and to contribute to collaborative projects. She was also generous about letting students work after hours or sign out materials for use at home.

A central key to Ellen's teaching was setting limitations for each art assignment, with her often-repeated belief that "within limitations are unlimited possibilities." Her teaching in the book arts began with the construction of book models and related processes and then moved outward to the possibilities inherent in the book. Her teaching was graduated in order to build her students' skills and confidence, before encouraging them to explore independently. Ellen also understood that books held the possibility of unifying the wide range of academic interests of her students and also of the art curriculum itself. From the simple activity of making a sketchbook in Art 1 class to the creation of collaborative books in residencies and Book Arts classes, students experienced a wide range of art experiences.

Before her death from cancer in July 2014, Ellen gathered the books and related teaching materials from her books arts program at Lyndon Institute with the understanding that friend and colleague Linda Lembke would assemble and organize them as the Ellen Dorn Levitt Collection for the Special Collections Library at the University of Vermont (a smaller collection of many second copies of Ellen's book projects has since been accepted by and sent to the Special Collections at the Maryland Institute of Art). Ellen felt that this book arts collection from her work with secondary school students would be valuable to university students studying art education, printmaking, and the history of the book as well as to the wider community of art educators and book workers in Vermont.

By Linda Lembke, February 10, 2016 (From interviews with Ellen in May/June 2014 and later notes from husband Mark Levitt and friend Claire Van Vliet)

Extent

6 Linear Feet (13 document boxes and 1 flat box)

Overview

The Ellen Dorn Levitt collection is comprised of book arts projects and related teaching materials created in her art classrooms at Lyndon Institute, Lyndon Center, Vermont.

Physical Location

Library Research Annex; contact uvmsc@uvm.edu for access.
Title
Guide to the Ellen Dorn Levitt Collection
Status
Completed
Author
Linda Lembke
Date
2016-02-10

Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)