Book Arts Collaborating with the Community
By: Lane Carey
What does community involvement look like? On Thursday September 6th community involvement looked like paper airplanes being launched around the room by Muncie community members in the Book Arts Collaborative work room. Handprinted designs on paper being folded up and tossed around the room; that’s how we welcomed Muncie residents who dared venture out on that rainy evening. I met two lovely women on First Thursday. One of them taught for 20 years, and the other told me she used to set type for newspapers. I showed them around the building, and told them about what we do. We made paper airplanes for the grandchildren of one of the ladies. I walked them past all of our presses, and the presses next door at Tribune Showprint Posters Inc., our community partners and the longest continuously operating letterpress business in the nation. The women were impressed by all the presses. They shared stories about their experiences with letterpress, and they loved seeing all the different posters made at Tribune. We work next door to Tribune, binding books, and making greeting cards on old presses, similar to but smaller than Tribune’s presses.
The atmosphere that evening was warm. There was raucous laughter, jokes, and dogs running underfoot. Students involved in Book Arts Collaborative were mostly sewing books, and some were giving tours. First Thursday is a way for us to integrate into downtown Muncie, and to show community members what we’re doing in Madjax. Usually we invite visitors to print something on our one-hundred-year-old presses; this allows our visitors to take home something to remember us by.
First Thursday is also a way to advertise the workshops we teach on Wednesdays and weekends throughout the year. We teach bookbinding and printing. First Thursday allows people to learn about these opportunities, but it also allows them to explore the area before they sign up for a workshop. Once you’ve been somewhere it becomes familiar territory, which is a lot more inviting. You might even see a familiar face. It’s so fun being able to interact with the community, but it’s also a chance to show the community what we can do. We hand make our books, and set the type to print the greeting cards and coasters that we sell at Tribune and other retailers.
Recently I learned how to use the smallest press in the shop. I set the type while an instructor helped guide me through the process, and I started my first greeting card. On the outside it reads “Happy Birthday,” and on the inside it reads, “Go Hog Wild.” I was surprised when my instructor gave me the go ahead to make these cards. They tickled me pink. I was so excited to make something that I had never seen before. We have workshops for using the letterpress to make holiday cards. These workshops give attendees the ability to make cards unique to them. I have to say the opportunity is worth it. The process of making these cards is fun, and it was so satisfying to see the finished product.
The next first Thursday is on October 4th and I am absolutely thrilled to find out what we’ll be making next. Whether it’s something clever or simple, the best part of First Thursday will be meeting all the community members who enter our workshop.
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.