Summer Camp Spotlight: Making Handmade Books

Summer Camp Spotlight: Making Handmade Books

Making Handmade Books

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been a bookworm. I still love getting a new book, resting its unbroken spine in the palm of my hand, and hearing the crinkle of the crisp page turning. As a kid, I combined my love of reading with my artistic side by making my own books. With paper, felt, scissors, cardboard, and glue, I would sit for hours upon hours constructing a Lord of the Rings history textbook or a “Potions” book inspired by the wizarding world of Harry Potter. My tendency to get lost in the worlds within books determined my decision to be an English major in college.

As you might imagine, I jumped at the chance to relive my childhood by helping out with a brand new summer camp here at the Michener: Bookmaking. Instructor Stef Thomas, who has a background in printmaking and a passion for handmade paper, hoped the concept would be really exciting for the campers: “It’s out of the realm of what kids normally do,” she explains. The projects for this novel class (pun intended) included everything from traditionally bound cloth books to exploding book-boxes, origami books, and mini matchbox book sculptures. With such a diverse set of activities, everyone was bound to have a good time (no more puns, I promise).


This camp is really about exploring the creative potential of the book as a physical, aesthetic object—rather than the writing inside. Centuries ago, bookmaking used to be considered an art form; just think of the illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages or the rare book collections found in museums. Once a costly, specialized trade, bookmaking has since been revolutionized by industrialization and mass production. Nowadays, the digital age is changing our concept of “the book” even more radically. Kindles and Nooks are increasing in prevalence, and you can print your own book with the click of a mouse.

No wonder the campers weren’t quite sure what to expect on their first day of camp. But after a week of folding, cutting, gluing, weaving, sculpting, and sewing, all of us viewed books in a new way. On the last day of camp, each and every camper was enthusiastic about the class and eager to enroll again next year. Grinning ear to ear, one kid said, “Bookmaking was really fun! We didn’t just make normal books. All the projects we did were so cool!” Her favorite project was the mini matchbox books. “They were so cute!” she gushed. Everyone left with unique works of art, ready to fill up their blank pages with stories and sketches.

What do you think? Can books be art? Do you have any memories of making books as a child? Share them with us in the comments section below, and let us know what you think!

If you’re a grownup interested in bookmaking, check out the Michener’s upcoming adult programs Visualizing Words and Worlds: Writing, Literature and Art (Monday, July 21 through Friday, July 25, 2014) and Ladies Night Out: Handmade Books (Friday, May 8, 2015).

-Mary Naydan, Michener Art Museum Intern

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