BookArtsLA celebrates the popular resurgence of book-and-paper artistry

By Christina Campodonico

Make a statement with wooden type at BookArtsLA
Photo by Christina Campodonico

Visiting BookArtsLA can feel a bit like stepping into the past. Here, in what was once a rubber stamp store, you can sow the spine of a book by hand à la the Copts of ancient Egypt, craft toy books like the Victorians, or make a greeting card on a century-old printer.

“You can start back in the 3rd century and come forward to the 20th or 21st century and see the changes,” says Marcia Moore, a co-founding board member of BookArtsLA, as she shows me around the workshop dedicated to the practice of bookmaking. “It’s just a testament to our ingenuity as a species.”

On Saturday, visitors can appreciate this ancient and resurging art form up close and personal during the studio’s annual Holiday Sale and Festival, which features handcrafted books, journals and greeting cards made by local artisans, as well as jewelry and other unique handmade items.

“We want to bring people into the space,” says Moore, “so they know that we’re here.”

Founded almost five years with seed funding from an angel donor, the not-for-profit art studio on Washington Place holds workshops in bookbinding, papermaking, letterpress printing and paper decoration. It also hosts special events, including occasional “Typeslams” that introduce beginners to letterpress printing (relief printing done with wooden or leaden moveable type) over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The hope is that participants will “get bitten by the type bug” and come back,” says Moore.

BookArtsLA also teaches people how to marble their own paper, create nesting boxes, craft novelty books (among them a Victorian-style tunnel book) and create unique personal journals. More advanced students can subscribe monthly to open studio hours.

“Between the papermaking and printing you can create the content for your book,” says Moore.

While most people who take classes at BookArtsLA are in some way affiliated with the bibliophilic world of librarians, conservators and collectors, Moore notes that the practice of making your own book can be extremely fulfilling for those of us glued to our computer screens most days.

“I personally very deeply believe in the power of making your own books,” says Moore, who also directs the visual arts program at New Roads School. “I think it’s really satisfying to make something of beauty that’s also utilitarian.”

If the resurgence of letterpress printing during the turn of this century is any indication — Wired Magazine traces the rise of thousands of tiny letterpress shops to a homespun aesthetic popularized by Martha Stewart in the 1990s — book arts, more broadly, are also headed for a renaissance.

“We take for granted that not everybody could have books,” says Moore, noting how centuries ago books were only available to the rich or the clergy for religious purposes. “They were sacred objects. They were devotional objects. … People again are buying books as an object. So the idea of printing your own books and taking care of it as an object … we’re coming full circle.”

BookArtsLA’s Holiday Sale happens from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 1) at 11720 Washington Place, Mar Vista. Visit bookartsla.org for more info.

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