Look, I made a book!
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Granted: it’s a blank book, a book of empty pages. More like a journal than an actual book, this particular book is waiting for its lines to be drawn. Or written. “TBD” as they say. Seventy two blank pages, to be filled at an indeterminate later date. Perhaps.
With childlike wonder, I delight that I made this book from scratch, starting with paper and simple tools. A brick and a “bone folder.” Imagine that.
I’m not a crafty person. Never inclined to make scrapbooks or holiday cards. I don’t even care for wrapping packages. I detest anything to do with glue, needles, thread and stitches. But somehow this is different.
Making this book was a binding and bonding experience with an object of desire.
Behold, a book made by hand.
So tangible and tactile, a book, even a blank book, possesses a certain power of suggestion. There’s the seduction to pick it up, to note its measure and heft in the hand, open and turn its pages, read its lines and imagine where those lines may lead. I’m not a writer of books. I don’t believe there’s a book in me, screaming to escape. And yet writing has always called me to my desk, kept me at a keyboard, quietly tap, tap-tapping as I am now.
In making this book, there was good company, a cordial invitation to dinner and some wine involved throughout an evening at a letterpress workshop and gallery called Salt & Cedar.
If the name of the gallery sounds like a restaurant, that may be the intention of its owners, Megan O’Connell and Leon Johnson, who host Paris-style “Salon” evenings among other creative activities in their studio. These are dinner parties they call Book and Bread, whereby they provide “a light meal prepared with fresh market ingredients and instruction in producing hand-sewn, soft cover journals.”
By “market ingredients” we’re not talking generic market fresh -- we mean Detroit’s Eastern Market, specifically where the gallery is located and where Megan and Leon have chosen to live with their two sons. Their story has everything to do with the charm and the marketing potential of their gallery which officially opens for business this coming weekend (June 3) on Riopelle Street, just off the “beaten past” of the city’s most traveled historic district.
"Come, make a book with us in the market tonight."
Such a serendipitous invitation - and so unexpected as we just happened to wander into their gallery with our cameras in hand. How could we resist?
“Be one of our first to sup with us. Join us for our inaugural Salon Book and Bread Evening”
"What fun," we said. And indeed it was.
The Detroit Market District on a Sunday night, has its own magic in its desertion, as the the last of the street vendors roll up their wares and lock up their carts.
In contrast, on any given Saturday, the market is a circus of food, local color and flavors. With the distinction of being the largest and oldest public market district in the nation, the Eastern Market sprawls across 43 acres of land downtown, just a mile north of the RenCenter of the city.
The area is still plenty scruffy along its edges, but with recent renovations and entrepreneurial investments in the public spaces within its 6-block center, the Market has become one the city’s hottest destinations, a magnet for purveyors of Michigan produce, buyers and sellers of flowers, pickles, nuts and spices, coffee, fish, poultry and meats, Amish baked goods and the requisite tee shirts. More recently, the market has become a forum for food activism - the place to see and be seen among the city’s new crop of urban gardeners restaurateurs, artists and artisans, musicians and street buskers, photographers, tourists, families and, oh yes, regular grocery shoppers.
Food, wine, books. . .
Brings to mind the -- what is it? That famous quatrain in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, (best known in translation by Edward FitzGerald)
"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread
--and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"
To conclude: well plied with food, wine, paper and tools, we hand-built our books, step-by-step, with Leon putting us through the paces and pulling us through the pages, all the while entertaining us in his discussion of art, history, philosophy, literature and books. (I note that Leon is Chair of the Fine Arts department at the College for Creative Studies - an engaging academician and performance artist in his own right.) At midnight, only slightly bleary-eyed, we emerged from Salt&Cedar with books in hand, somewhat versed in the ancient art and history of monastery-style book binding.
Will my stitches hold? I believe so. I have faith.
In the conclusion of his expert tutorial, Leon suggested that we reflect upon our book. “Write down what you love about it. And what you hate about it. Make your list, he urged
Granted. It’s a short list. But here goes.
- I love that it’s a blank book waiting for a story. (I could say you just read it, and leave it at that)
- I love that it’s cut, stitched, glued, all imperfectly by hand
- I love that its pages are pale green - like a vintage ledger book.
- I love that its pages are deckled like a first edition, yet somewhat crumpled like grade-school homework.
- I don’t love, but can’t quite hate that I pricked my finger while stitching its spine, and flecked it first page with a spot of blood.
- I love that my husband discovered the gallery and beckoned me to follow
- I laugh that Megan and I ever-so-carefully glued a string fastener onto to the cover flap of the book -- miscalculating its placement so that it effectively doesn’t work. Must have been the wine talking, after all.
- Ohwell. We’ll always have Paris. And the photos.
"If books had been invented after the computer, they would have been considered a big breakthrough. Books have several hundred simultaneous paper-thin, flexible displays. They boot instantly. They run on very low power at a very low cost." Prof. Joseph M. Jacobson, MIT Media Lab, quoted in the N. Y. Times, Apr 8, 1988
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Photos: VHenoch and MHenoch