21 May, 2024

Last week I made books in this barn at a very special place located in the rolling hills of middle Tennessee called Gray Bear. I’ve been there quite a few times for yoga retreats to study with my longtime teacher, but this is the first time I went to make art.

They offer only one art workshop a year, it’s held every May and and it’s always book arts related. Even though I draw in a sketchbook most days, I’ve never actually been that interested in making my own books. I walked in with no expectations but left with having been profoundly changed by the experience.

The lineage of teaching was powerful. Both instructors, Kathy Steinsberger and Diann Fuller, studied with the great book artist Paulus Berensohn at Penland School of Craft. Paulus says that making a book “is like building a nest. I think we learn how to make books from birds.”  

Many of the students return to the barn every May, so there was a lot of show and tell of the books they’d made on their own throughout the year.  Me being the newbie, they all helped me out along the way.  

The workshop was called A Book, a Box, a Space.  I ended up making two books, one with Coptic binding and one with Belgian binding, and also a box.  

The colors I chose for the paste paper, the painted paper for the covers that we did on the first day, ended up being the colors of my breakfast nook.  I laughed when I saw them lying on the table as I walked through the house.

Here are few moments from the weekend, starting with Kathy, one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. There are so many steps in making these objects, but she slowly explained each with a lot of humor and a deep love for the process. 

Diann taught the class alongside Kathy, although her role was less a technical instructor and more that of a storyteller and centering force, as well as Kathy’s reliable comedic sidekick. We laughed so much! Diann is also the co-founder of Gray Bear with her husband Adam. Having gotten to know her over the years, she’s become someone I’ve grown to admire. I’ve never met anyone like Diann. She has a lust for life and a deep connection to nature that is so uniquely her own. She’s in the purple shirt on the bottom to the right in the group photo.

I’m looking forward to filling up my books and my box and return again next year to make more.

This is a video of Paulus Berensohn at Penland describing the process. Both Kathy and Diann are making books alongside their mentor here. Someday I hope to go to Penland to learn more about what my hand can do. The medium doesn’t matter as much as the benefits of continued experimentation.