Beyond the Tangible
By: Erin Davenport
When I visited Book Arts Collaborative for the first time, I did so while pushing through fear. After putting off trying to get into the class the semester before – waffling through excuses about not enough time, not having easy access to my car to drive off-campus, not knowing anything about bookbinding or letterpress – I knew it was now or never. I had one semester left at Ball State, and one semester left to make grand leaps out of my comfort zone. I met one of the four dogs that dominate the Book Arts – Tribune Showprint space, and he was enough to convince me I could do this. I could learn something new while petting a friendly dog.
This semester has been one full of similar internal pushes, of reminding myself that I am capable. I expected Book Arts to be a dive into the unfamiliar and a chance to channel my creativity into something tangible. I’ve learned how to sew multiple types of books and how to use a printing press without slicing off any fingers, but what I’ll take with me after this immersive experience ends is much more than hand-sewn books or colorful cards littered with puns.
Every day at Book Arts Collaborative is an opportunity. We don’t have a set schedule of what we are doing on any given day; someone could blurt out an idea and suddenly have a collaborative force behind them ready to execute it. That enables us to have creative freedom and guidance to go beyond the most basic of class objectives, but it also inspires conversation. We don’t sit in a classroom and listen to Rai talk for fifty minutes straight; more often than not, she blends in as just another one of us bustling around striving to make the magic happen. We get to be a group of partners with inside jokes, exchanging looks across a long, wooden table and knowing what the others are thinking because we’ve spent hundreds of hours deciphering each other this year. The nature of the class also allows for more compliments and less competition. We don’t write papers meant for the professor’s eyes only; all of the work that we do goes out for the public, so that means we all get to cheer on each other’s creations. We don’t treat someone that is advancing with bitterness. We embrace their successes while they invite us to learn from them.
While pushing me out of my comfort zone, Book Arts also allowed me to be a leader. I took my Shop Manager title and let it expand into a way to boost morale and get to know my peers as more than names on a spreadsheet. I’ve made connections with people across all fields, from graphic design majors with an eye for color to librarians that gave me networking skills and full-on belly laughs. The person I was just four years ago wouldn’t have been able to speak to a classmate or instructor without internal anguish. Holding a position in Book Arts encouraged me to leave behind my scared habits and embrace the new possibilities that happened when I opened myself up to them.
I’ll leave college with a plethora of memories, many of which will fade with time. I won’t be able to recite the curriculum for the majority of my courses, or even remember the bulk of the major projects. With a class like Book Arts Collaborative, forgetting isn’t possible. The unique design of the course sets it apart. For one semester, I did more than write papers. I had experiences instead.
This piece was written by a Ball State University student and member of the Book Arts Collaborative in Muncie, Indiana. The Book Arts Collaborative is dedicated to preserving and promoting the apprentice-taught skills of letterpress printing and book binding through community interaction. It's not just what we make that matters, but how we learn from one another to make it happen.