Handmade and Bound at Watkins: Artober's Already Looking Good

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One of the mobile letter press dohickeys
  • One of the mobile letter press doohickeys
Let me just say that, when Pith gives you a pick of the day, Pith is not kidding!

I went over to Handmade and Bound at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film and it was amazing. Seriously, amazing seems like too small a word. I'll admit, I was expecting something kind of dorky and cheesy and ill-attended, but no! There were food trucks and performers and nice-sized crowds. I didn't get to any of the demonstrations, because I got caught up talking to the different people who were selling stuff.

There were a ton of 'zines, some self-published books, lots of handmade paper, these beautiful tiny books made into earrings and necklace charms, some fabulous examples of hand-bound books by local artisans, and a whole long section devoted to Austin Peay.

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The Austin Peay portion was, to me, the biggest surprise. I had no idea they were up to such cool stuff there at their Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, but holy shit! They had two small, mobile letter-presses set up to do demonstrations on paper bags. They also had a whole wall of the poetry of Clarksvillians that the students then transform into beautiful letterpress posters. They spoke very highly of Hatch Show Print and said the folks at Hatch had given them a lot of generous help over the years which made me proud of the cool stuff and people in our city.

They had a table of books that students had made on the letterpress equipment. One book was made of green canvas and had handmade chain-mail on the back side of each page. It was, as you might guess, about the military. And there was this huge fold-up accordion-type book like probably two feet tall and six, maybe eight feet wide, if flat, that was Hansel and Gretel with these striking woodcut images. I think the gal who was watching the table was afraid I was going to lick it or run off with it or something, because she made a point of telling me that this copy was for Austin Peay's permanent collection.

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Then, next to that table, they had a table filled with poetry books that they publish, which were really stunning, just beautiful. Plus, not only did they have those books, obviously mass-produced on an off-set press, they had a stack of smaller chapbooks bound in handmade paper available for sale. I know that, if you're not a poet, this probably doesn't mean anything to you, but basically, it means that the press throws its support behind pretty labor-intensive means of production. That they also distribute small chapbooks that must be handled with care just shows their dedication to the poets they publish.

I asked them if they were going to be back for the Southern Festival of Books, because it seems like a no-brainer that, if Austin Peay is up to all this awesome book-making, they should be at the state's most awesome book festival, but they said they weren't. I vowed to find a way to make that happen for next year, but the truth is I'm not honestly sure how to arrange that. I wonder if I could somehow set the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts up on a blind date with The Southern Festival of Books.

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In conjunction with Handmade and Bound, Watkins is also hosting the Encoded Structures: Interpreting the Story exhibit in the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Gallery. This part runs through the end of the month, and I highly, highly recommend getting over to Watkins to see it. The books as art pieces are stunning. Most of the photos in this post are of books from that exhibit.

All in all, it was really cool and a great compliment to Southern Festival of Books and an excellent component of Mayor Dean's Artober initiative.

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