Paper and Ink at the Old Washington Street Festival


By: Simeon Stults

Do you know the feeling of opening a new book? The crisp, white pages at your fingertips, the rough texture of the cover in your hands, and the faint smell of paper and ink lazily drifting around you? That’s how I felt when I first opened the door to Book Arts Collaborative. A casual atmosphere suffused the shop as students smiled at each other and every guest that walked in, genuinely happy to see them there, with the sounds of bookbinding and letterpresses running in the background. Stress I didn’t even know I had was instantly washed away by the scent of paper and ink drifting on the air. I was home. And that tour was only the first page.


When I went to the Old Washington Street festival last Saturday I had hoped that I could bring a small part of that welcoming atmosphere with me. And to that end I brought an unfinished coptic book with me so that people could see it in progress and ask questions about the process of binding it, or anything else they were curious about. After all, it isn’t often that we think about how books are made. I sat there sewing together the pages of my coptic with red thread while talking to people who had just printed their own coaster. People took fliers that could be folded into paper airplanes (plenty of people laughed when I called them flying fliers), asked questions, and laughed at some of the buttons we were giving out that had an image of Gutenberg (one of the inventors of movable type) wearing sunglasses.


What drew the most attention, however, were the handmade journals laid out on the table, each unique and beautiful in its own right, and full of blank pages ready to be written upon. I must admit, though, I was slightly partial to the one I was working on, with its gold outlined fish on two red covers and its stitches visible against the white paper in its open spine, just because I was having so much fun making it. Many of the festival goers stopped by for a minute or two to admire all the finished journals, and a few even loved them so much that they took one home with them. 

The most enthusiastic person we met that day was a young girl who first walked up with her father and, quite excitedly, asked about our journals and what we do in Book Arts Collaborative. After admiring our assortment of handmade items for a while, they looked around at some other booths, but returned later to decide which journal she wanted. The second time they walked up the book she decided on was an unfinished and exquisite coptic journal with an open spine that revealed the stitches that bound it together. The coptic had a wonderful blue and grey cover, and was being made by one of the other students manning the booth.


Deciding that was the one she wanted, she promised she would return to buy it as soon as it was done. She giddily walked back over with her father the moment the last stitch was completed, bouncing up and down as she bought it. Meanwhile, I was silently laughing at myself for running out of thread for the journal I was making, which was sitting in a box behind us where no one could see my shame. But nevertheless, seeing how happy she was to have that journal was worth it.

And that’s the point. For at least one person there we brought the same joy that we have when making these books, even when we mismeasure a thread or two. Enough, even, that the girl stayed and talked with us until we had to pack up and leave. I love Book Arts Collaborative, and the Old Washington Street festival helped show me that there are people out there who do and will love it as much as we do.

I look forward to the coming months, since there’ll be more opportunities for people to come and learn about printing, bookbinding, and everything else we love doing here at Book Arts Collaborative (you can check out those events here). I’m especially excited about the First Thursday Arts Walk on October 4 where anyone will be able to take a no-obligations tour of the shop and Tribune Showprint. I hope I’ll see you there, you won’t regret it.

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.