October 31, 2013
The art of book-making
by Claire Kelley
Mary Carol Koester of Azalea Bindry is an artist in Asheville, North Carolina who creates beautiful handmade books. Her process begins with a piece of book board which is covered in silk, linen, or leather, and she adds decorative endpapers and stitches the pages together. A member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild and active in the vibrant Ashelville arts scene, Koester is working in the ancient tradition of book binding:
The craft of custom book binding originated in India. It was the early Coptic Christians of Egypt, however, who discovered that by folding sheets of vellum or parchment in half and sewing them through the fold, book binders could produce a book that could be written on both sides. Binders used wooden boards to hold the book together and the whole handmade book was slipped into a goatskin leather bag to be protected and carried.
On a trip to Asheville, I visited Azalea Bindery’s studio and talked to Koester about her craft and how she learned to make books.
How did you get into book binding?
I retired early from a career in natural resources and was looking for art classes. My friend suggested a book arts class. Always nurturing a love of paper and fabric, sketching and journaling, this was a natural for me.
How did you learn the art?
I took every class that was offered in my area and then helped design and create a local learning center called BookWorks which continues to be an amazing classroom and studio for book binders, print artists, and paper makers.
Where has your work been displayed?
My work was first displayed in 2008 at Merrimon Galleries in Asheville. Since then, my work has shown at the Southern Highland Craft Guild, UNC Asheville Blowers Gallery at Ramsey Library, Transylvania Community Arts Council , Handmade In America, and, most recently, Blue Spiral 1 Gallery.
What is most satisfying to you about the process of creating books?
The most satisfying aspect of book arts to me is the marriage of design and function. A handmade book not only has to be artfully crafted, the whole structure must function with moveable parts.
With the increase of attention on digital books, how do you feel to be working with physical books as art objects?
I think I feel the same as many others in the digital age. I like to feel things with my hands, I like to write or draw. Whether I make the book or share a handmade book with another, there’s an experience of a sort of ‘time out’. I also love to read and accessing digital media of all kinds is necessary and can be the highlight of my day.
What are your favorite projects to work on?
For some reason, I love making enclosures such as clam shell boxes, slip cases; art objects that hold special things such as a book, a letter from someone I love, a blue heron feather found by the river, a talisman that reminds me of a person long out of my life. I guess it’s a way to be with the past as I move quickly into the future.
Azalea Bindery’s books are created with coptic stitch book binding and library book binding.
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.