Anyone can be an artist. Anyone with the interest and passion, that is. And luckily for everyone with a creative spark, there is a valuable resource right here in Minneapolis – the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.
But what are “book arts” exactly? It’s actually an interdisciplinary term, combining skills such as papermaking, paper marbling, printmaking, letterpress printing, bookbinding, and other disciplines that create one-of-a-kind handmade books and pieces of art. Minnesota Center for Book Arts is where visual art and storytelling meet.
“Much like film, books are time-based experiences,” executive director Elysa Voshell told me. “As readers we are guided by the artist, who controls pacing, recognition, associations, and comprehension through a multitude of methods.” Think of book arts as a union between form and function – combining a story with the exact right presentation to truly bring it alive. “In all cases, this intimate relationship between the artist and the reader amplifies the communicative power of this unique art form as the narrative unfolds over time.”
Books have inspired artists throughout the ages and continue to do so even in our digital age. According to Elysa, “Especially at this time of social distancing and endless Zoom calls, book arts create an embodied connection between the maker and the viewer that has a palpable power to communicate across space and time.” No matter how much time we spend online, we still crave the intimacy felt with handmade objects.
Books continue to inspire because they speak to our very human desire to tell stories. “At MCBA, we think of the book as a contained narrative,” said Elysa. “The container, which holds the content, may be two covers connected by a spine on a traditional codex, a wrapper around a deck of cards, a box holding loose elements, a digital device, or even the walls of a room.” When it comes to book arts, the only limits to subject and form are our own imaginations.
Located in the Open Book building in downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts is a unique, state-of-the-art facility – the most comprehensive center of its kind in the world. It features an impressive 12,000 sq ft studio, workshop and gallery space. While the building is currently closed to the public during the pandemic, you can still take advantage of the center. “With Covid-19 continuing to affect our daily lives, we are currently engaging with both the larger Minneapolis community and those further afield through virtual exhibitions, artists’ talks, and educational programming – including new virtual field trip programs for K-12 schools and virtual workshops for adults,” said Elysa.
Virtual classes are taught by local and nationally known artists, and range in topics from bookbinding to screenprinting to decorative paper. And yes, the majority of workshops are appropriate for beginners. People interested in learning particular techniques that are difficult to try at home, such as letterpress and papermaking, can also schedule one-on-one lessons. Dedicated students can go on to pursue a core certificate and an advanced certificate from the institution as documentation of their knowledge and skills.
I asked Elysa, “What are the three most important skills required to create book arts?”
“Curiosity,” she answered. “A willingness to explore and be surprised by where you end up. Attention to detail.” Does that sound like you? What book are you already dreaming of making?
“Book arts are for everyone,” Elysa told me. “This is an art form that is inclusive and accessible, particularly for those who might be intimidated by other artistic approaches or not think of themselves as artists. We believe that creative expression through the book arts should be open to all.” No one else can make something exactly like you. Should you need help telling your own unique story, you now know where to turn.
Visit mnbookarts.org for the latest information on upcoming classes and lectures.
By Liz Walker