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Even though she doesn’t have opposable thumbs, I wonder if my cat, Torti, is a secret bookbinder. She spends most of her time by my workbench and even though she is sleeping, it seems she knows how long projects take and what materials are needed to complete them. She validates my artistic and design choices when she lies on the paper I have selected for a project. It is as if she knows the process of making a book. And since I have been working on my business plan, she has taken to assisting in that process, too.

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When I took my first class in book binding it felt like I had done it before.  Awakened was a muscle memory of sewing paper, folding signatures, gluing, and pressing. The more I learn, the more it feels like buried memories awaken. There are many skills to perfect to have a well-crafted product it might take this life and more to become exceptionally proficient.   

This rest of this week, bench time is dedicated to completing a limp paper case binding for a commission of an edition of eight books. The project has personal connections and a great deal of time invested, and it is entering the home stretch. Two columns of stitched books are standing on my bench, ready for their lining, end bands, and covers. 

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I designed the book, worked with the author (my father) to edit the text, created images, beat the fiber, pulled the sheets, and printed from polymer plates on a Vandercook letterpress.  Through this process I have not only become a better artist, but have come to understand and have respect for one of my father’s loves – farming and the tractors he used to farm.

The paper smells like wheat from the inclusion in the abaca pulp and smelling it awakens my memory of growing up on a farm in Minnesota, close to the Canadian and North Dakota borders. Even though I did not drive any of the tractors or have any interest in being a farmer, as I look back the experience was the beginning of my lifelong obsession with weather and landscape. This project helped me realize it also was the beginning of my passion for making things and a love of the artistic process.   

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During the project the trusty beater in the studio I was using broke and I had to use another less familiar one to beat the fiber. Materials had to be increased from original projections and the entire project took so much longer than I anticipated. My experience was déjà vu, emulating the text in the book –  the part where my father wrote about never ending tractor repair and the challenges of machinery and time.

When we were young my uncle put a “No Vacancy” sign above the shop door because my siblings and I were always underfoot watching them repair, build, or modify for the equipment. In the house, we watched my mother sew, quilt, paint, wallpaper, or bake. Everyone was making things and there was a strong creative energy everywhere. 

Finding paper, books, and letterpress was, for me, like finding home. This project for my father, has allowed me to see my upbringing in a new way and understand how similar it is to my present livelihood. I am grateful for his role in the “making,” which I had believed came primarily from my mother. It seems my destiny would be that I would make things. It took me a little while to figure it out, but now I am coming full circle to begin again and to build new authentic work. Just like the love my father had for his craft.

 

 

 

 

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