Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bookbinding on a Green Mountain

Above the storefronts of the Vermont town rose the tree-covered crest of a mountain.

On a lunch break from our bookbinding workshop this past weekend, a handful of us ate our sandwiches and drank from cold bottles of root beer. Seated at a table next to the glass front of the sandwich shop, we looked down a quiet Main Street at this once busy factory town.

The nearby arts center was one of a number of ventures reflecting the community’s determination to become a place more people wanted to visit. The bookbinding workshop was not the only arts program offered that weekend, and the inn where a number of us were staying allowed us to swap impressions – invariably positive ones – of the instructors brought in for the classes at the center.

Unassuming and simply dressed, the man offering the bookbinding workshop owns and operates his own press in upstate New York. We got to handle samples of his work, each volume marked by a careful attention to color and texture and dimension. The simplest of his projects was exquisite. I was encouraged by the confidence he had that we could acquire the skills needed to get ourselves well started in this work. His dedication to the artistry possible in bookbinding was inspiring, and I found myself at times in the weekend hoping to go further in the crafting of books, perhaps even under his tutelage.

Those of us staying in the inn also got to share brief stories about our lives and our interests. Each of us seemed to have a tale about someone in our workshop with more experience or talent than we could yet claim for ourselves. What was sometimes harder for us to share was the motivation that had led us to take this time off from our normal lives. Which of us was ready to explain how the world of the artist – or of the artisan – promised something for which we had not yet given ourselves enough time in those normal lives we had constructed over the years?

No one enrolled in the bookbinding workshop was under the impression that the kinds of small books we would be creating were rare or unavailable in paper and stationery stores closer to home. The internal invitation we were each answering was about daring to become different kinds of people – people who were growing in the belief that their lives could sometimes be about creating things that were important because they were our personal handiwork.

Probably none of us felt quite so odd or quirky for having the urge to create something with our hands once we found ourselves in this weekend community of artists and artisans. Watching someone else sewing together the pages that she had cut and folded herself and then catching her eye when a book of her design lay compact and finished in her hand was a delightful collusion – to draw on the Latin roots, a playing together at something at once diverting and transformative. There was a kind of conversation available to two such people that would not be possible with many others. In this way, the experience of the weekend workshop at times reminded me of the experience of retreat. The benefit of the time away was not only to take time to practice certain skills or postures or perspectives but to pursue a goal in the company of other individuals who were responding to a similar urging in their own lives.

I would like to return one day to that Main Street and that tree-covered crest of a mountain.

Photo of Bellows Falls, VT uploaded on Flickr by LinnMarr


Kimberly said...


It seems, too, that there would be something to the feeling of the act of "binding" itself...containing, making bonds, creating a fixed place, a fixed home, for words, reflections, ideas...that will variously take off in flight and return again to roost.

If people do that all together, perhaps you are also helping stitch a binding of a looser sort among those participating. Something that holds the group together while also letting the individuals gather their own pages and set off on a new chapter.

I can easily imagine you hunched over a folio with needle and thread...it makes a pleasing picture, actually! I am happy for you, friend.

John said...

I happen to think you would have been tickled to be in our number there at the workshop. I like the image of YOU hunched over a folio with needle and thread as well.

Thanks for your words, unfailingly encouraging, unfailingly supportive.