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Terry Tempest Williams' new book 'Oracle Bones' is a work of art

Flipping through the pages of Oracle Bones. The page is translucent with an abstract purple woodblock print
Colleen Meidt
Utah Public Radio
Flipping through the pages of Oracle Bones and an abstract purple colored woodblock print.

University of Utah's Red Butte Press celebrated the release of the fine press artists' book "Oracle Bones" with a reading by Terry Tempest Williams, as well as a panel discussion.

The Red Butte Press fine arts book titled "Oracle Bones" is the culmination of 10 years of work.

It started when author Terry Tempest Williams and artist Gaylord Schanilec took a trip to Southern Utah in the fall of 2015 which inspired Wiliams’ poems and woodblock prints of desert elements by Schanilec.

“In many ways, this book is about shadows, darkness and light, how we see ... it's a living being … and they are our ancestors, the ancestors of mountain lion, the ancestors of ravens," Williams said. "They are oracles … Oracle Bones of both life and death. What we consume, how we consume one another, in the most beautiful of ways and also in destructive ways.”

Williams is currently a writer in residence at the Harvard Divinity School. She described the collaborative process working with an artist such as Gaylord and the Red Butte Press creative team.

“Working with Gaylord was so powerful because he does touch the essence of things and he sees things and the details, the colors," Williams said. "The fact that he saw the Red Rock Desert as purple.”

Schanilec stated he was happy the creative team was in charge of putting the book together with his prints because they took a unique approach that made the book so special. Lead binder and paper maker Emily Tipps said the materials they used in the process were significant.

“We wanted to include plant material that's native to the environment where the objects were collected .... The inclusions that we used were yucca, and sage ... quite difficult to work with except that the paper we got is amazing, and very, very tough and resilient, which I think that resiliency is poignant as well in the context of the book,” Tipps stated.

They used common paper making fibers such as cotton and abaca, but wanted to include native desert species as well.

“One was the ephedra plant, also sometimes known as Mormon tea, can create a dye. And so we took the dye from that to tint the spine piece, as well as the fruit of the prickly pear cactus," Tipps said.

Master printer Marnie Powers-Torrey and the designer, Amy Thompson, remember making the decision to print the imagery on a translucent Japanese paper called Goyu and the text on a heavier machine made paper called Pasha.

“I also recall that we talked about 'Oracle Bones,' as a tradition is Ancestral Voices. I think that the translucent pages kind of provided a veil, or an unveiling of the text," Powers-Torrey said. "So they exist on different planes and I think a really cool thing, a haptic experience for the book is, when you press down on the Goyu then you can read the text through the page.”

Powers-Torrey explained how all of the Red Butte Press contributors honor the traditions of fine press printing, producing limited edition books and the importance of keeping this art form alive.

“It truly is a labor of love …. We just hope that these words and images get out into the community, we really want people to enjoy them … and that can be challenging getting art like this out into the world so that’s our hope, “ Powers-Torrey said.

Each book is uniquely handmade, signed by both the writer and artist.

“There's a presence to what has been created here, through community, the choices of type, of paper, of binding, of design. And to me, that's really what this 'Oracle Bones' if we can create community out of that presence, and love then we'll know the next step to take,” Williams explained.

For more information about "Oracle Bones," visit

Emily Calhoun is a biology PhD student studying mosquito population genetics in Utah. She has a radio show called Panmixia where she shares her love of music. She is so excited to practice her science communication skills here at UPR.