Monday, February 2, 2015

Brown Dog Bindery at New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art

Hi y'all! It's Nollie! I've commandeered the blog because Jennifer has been SLACK in keeping up with it. So here's the bindery news: 2015 has proven to be an awesome year for the bindery so far. To catch you up, at the end of 2014 we decided to run the bindery full-time and local antiquarian bookstores have rallied behind us as well as the local book arts community and for that we are eternally grateful. Brown Dog made a special connection with a local fabricator and gallery preparator, Brian Larimer. He has been participating in a teach trade with Brown Dog artist Jennifer Knowles swapping woodworking and carving teaches for basic bookbinding teaches. As a result, the two artists have collaborated on a few pieces for the New Harmony show that include this beautiful book bench along with several of Jennifer's shrines:

The two continue to work on other sculptural works that will travel to various states for exhibition. Join our email list for updates or check in at to see NEWS & EVENTS.

We'd also like to thank Nashville Arts Magazine for featuring Jennifer and Brown Dog Bindery in their January 2015 edition. You can view that edition here: Jennifer Knowles: The Ties That Bind

On a personal note: I have good and bad news. The good news: I received lots of new chew toys this year for the holidays and my 10th birthday is in probably more chew toys then! The bad news: Jennifer gave me a bath and, as if that weren't bad enough all on it's own, a haircut too. I look ridiculous and I'm just too mortified. She should probably stick to bookbinding.

Hope you're all having a wonderful start to the new year!

~Nollie Brown Dog
Bindery Manager

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lovely February at The Gilded Leaf

I finally made it out to the Gilded Leaf to meet with Bob and finish up my first medieval book. It has been a strange month since my last visit. I've been practicing paring leather and I have to admit...I'm terrible at it. I'm a little nervous about all the paring that Bob has planned for the weekend. Off to Maryville I go!

I made it to Maryville in the late afternoon and started working right away at paring leather. Guess what? I'm not so bad at it after all! It helps when you have a Sharf Fix machine! It still took me the rest of the day to pare the leather for my spine, round out the back and cut off and extra material that might show through the leather. The leather is pared so finely that any little bit of dust or stray thread will come across glaringly! So I cleaned my book block as best I could and applied the leather to the spine. It was so exciting, like baking a souffle for the first time, or at least that is how I would imagine souffle baking would feel as I have never been much of a genius in the kitchen. Once I applied the leather to the spine, we moved on to measuring and cutting jigs for our corner pieces. Then back to the paring machine and to bevel the leather edges with my home made paring knives. I'm getting pretty good at this! {but still pretty slow}. While I pared away, Bob took a break and played his musical compositions for me and they were incredibly beautiful. What a talented fella. Here are some pics from the leather application process...

{click on any image on this page to enlarge it}

In the above photos you can see Bob demoing the corner application and also tying down the leather spine with twine so that it could rest for the night and form beautifully against the raised cords that I had sewn on last month.

After a great nights sleep I headed back to Bob's early in the morning to finish the book! We had lots to do beginning with paring a label which is actually pared thinner than other leather. It is, in fact, pared so thin that you can see daylight through it. As you may imagine it took me a few tries to get it that thin without tearing through it. We turned on the hot plate to warm up the tools for leather tooling. While the tools warmed up, Bob introduced me to the gold stamping machine and we stamped my initials onto the label. The rest of the day was spent blind tooling and gold leafing the spine and leather corners.

and as the daylight faded and the stars came out, I finally had a completed book...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Getting Down To Business

I just returned from a wonderful visit with Bob in Maryville. We spent the weekend rounding and backing the spine of the book blocks that I brought with me, we also ploughed and attached endsheets as well as sewing a headband and adding edge decoration. I have learned so much about historical practices and I have also learned better studio practice for myself. I'm so excited to share some photos from my weekend although they are sparse because Bob had me working steadily day and night.

The first thing we did on Friday was make some tools. In the first photo Bob is cutting the old blade off of my paring knife. He then sent me out to the shop to grind a new, shallower blade. He also gave me a piece of hack saw blade to grind into two smaller paring knives. He cut a few strips of leather for me to pare with a Shar-fix and then I applied wheat paste and wrapped them around the handles of my newly sharpened knives. {the large piece of leather you see in the center frame is an entire goat skin}

We started working on my book block on Saturday. I rounded and backed the spine and then we moved the block into the plough to smooth out the head of the book. This was a slow task as you can only move the blade on the plough a fraction of a millimeter at a time.

After ploughing we lightly sanded the head and applied an edge decoration. It was then time to sew on the headband. Bob talked about making sure that the edge decoration, the endsheets, and the headband color and design all adhere to the historical period of the book. I thickened the book board and shaped the inside spine edges to fit into the curve of the shoulders that I had smoothed out with a hammer and bonefolder earlier in the day. I also beveled the interior of the cover so that it would come up to meet the block. I then punched the holes for the cords, laced them and pounded them in place. Using a large paring knife, I cut the cords and extra cover material off and glued it all down.

There's plenty left to do. We ended the weekend with a quick paring demo of which I felt completely inept but I hold out hope that the motion and pressure will click with me as I practice more in my home studio over the coming month. Stay tuned for some wood carving tests and lots more books!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Working at Brown Dog Bindery

I thought I would add some photos of my own Brown Dog Bindery in Smyrna, Tennessee.

The studio with overflowing in boxes...

Today I am cutting paper for three book blocks that I will bind on to cords in preparation for my first weekend with Bob at The Gilded Leaf.

Taking a break: Lunch in the Bindery

I also have a few commissions to work on today; designing & burning covers...

Some quick shots of the shop. It's very cold out there so not a lot happening right now but you can see my mess from warmer days:

pile of milled wood from the peach tree that I cut down over the summer, boxes of pre-cut book covers hanging out over the table saw, my drill press with a scary looking bit hanging there like a snaggle-tooth, and my propane torch which comes in handy when you want to scorch something.


Monday, January 9, 2012

A Visit to The Gilded Leaf: December 15, 2011

My husband and I took a day and drove to Maryville to meet Bob Roberts and his family and to tour The Gilded Leaf Bindery. Bob & I have a special challenge as we are a master/apprentice duo that live 4 hours away from one another and have incredibly busy schedules both in our respective binderies and teaching in our localities.  It's a challenge that we can work through, I know I'm looking forward to the trip to Maryville each month.

Bob's bindery is incredible, chocked full of ancient books, presses, ploughs, rolls of leather, and nearly every tool you can imagine a fine bookbinder's all here. When we arrived Bob's assistant was in the process of rebinding a pre-Civil War book. Bob quickly showed us around the bindery, talking shop with my husband about all the new tools he can look forward to building me in the coming months. Bob's wife Caroline was incredibly sweet and treated us to cake and pie {of which I have a great love}. After several oohs and ahhs, lots of note taking, and pic snapping, we said our goodbyes and made plans for January. It started to drizzle as Chris & I headed back to Smyrna but we were both so excited about everything we had seen that we didn't stop talking about The Gilded Leaf until we were nearly home.

Here are a few pics of our day, mostly of equipment and odds and ends. I threw in one of Chris at the Smoky Mountain Brewery which is near the hotel where I'll be staying. They have plenty of great locally brewed beer for taste testing! Look for lots more images of my studio practice here at Brown Dog Bindery and, of course, my next meeting with Bob in January!

That's All!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tennessee Master Artist Apprentice Program

The Tennessee Master Artist Apprentice Program is a cooperative partnership created to encourage and invest in the continuation, advancement and creation of Tennessee craft by recognizing the role of the master craft artist/apprentice relationship as a way to preserve the state's cultural heritage. The program will contract master craft artists to offer a period of concentrated learning to apprentices who demonstrate a commitment to further develop their abilities as specialized craft practitioners.~from MAAP website

I have recently applied for and received the MAAP grant for 2012 along with my soon to be master artisan, Bob Roberts of the Gilded Leaf Bindery in Maryville, Tennessee. {TheGildedLeaf} This blog will serve as one way that I document this experience. First, a little about me. I am a bookbinder from Middle Tennessee. I have been involved in Book Arts for about 10 years now. As an avid book lover and collector, I am completely seduced by the tactile quality of books. When I started making books, I was driven by a desire to creatively contain my own writings. I saw the book as a form that could be manipulated in such a way as to add meaning to its content. Since that time I have focused my work on sculptural and found object books. 

In 2009, I assisted book artist Daniel Essig in a wooden book workshop at Shakerag Workshops in Sewanee, Tennessee. I grew to love the aesthetic of wooden books. I began reading books on carving and, in 2010, I took a workshop on wood burning and power carving with Myra Orton at Appalachian Center for Craft. I applied these new techniques to my practice as a bookbinder and began studying the decorative elements of medieval books and bookbinding. I’ve had a long standing romance with illuminated manuscripts and have often used gold leaf in my own work. My current and future work envisions contemporary sculptural books that reference medieval books.

I am active in the art community in Nashville through membership in the Nashville Book Arts Group, the Tennessee Book Arts Guild, and the College Book Arts Association. In 2011, I joined Lisa Williams and Annie Herlocker in establishing Nashville's first Book Art & Zine Festival which we called Handmade & Bound. It was during the planning stages of this festival that I took a day off to visit the TACA fall craft fair where I ran into paper maker, Claudia Lee and her apprentice Jess Jones. Claudia handed me a card about the Master Apprentice Program sponsored by TACA and the Tennessee Arts Commission. I immediately thought of Bob Roberts, a restoration and rebinding artist that I had been hearing about for a couple of years but never had the good fortune of meeting. I took the card home and talked to my family about it, I stared at the card for a few days, I kept working and thinking and wondering if I had the courage to call up a total stranger and ask him to devote 7 months to teaching me what he knows. One morning I received a vendor request from Bob for Handmade & Bound and I made up my mind that I would meet him at the festival and ask him in person to participate.

I was definitely nervous the day of the festival as my table was set up right next to Bob's {I wonder how that happened?}. I struck up a conversation with him and found him to be totally approachable and kind. After seeing his books in person, my mind was made up. I HAD to learn something from him...ANYTHING! So I asked and, after taking some time to think about it, he accepted my proposal that we apply for the TACA/TAC grant together. We had approximately one week to do it! We were able to pull everything together quickly and sent it all off. I promised myself that I wouldn't obsess over it and I didn't until I went to a Nashville Book Art Group meeting and heard that other applicants had already received letters and emails letting them know if they had made it to the interview segment. I started getting nervous and called Bob who had also not heard anything. As fate would have it, Hannah at TACA was also wondering why she hadn't heard from us! The email inviting us to the interview segment had been sent to a misspelled email address in my case and had just gone straight to Bob's spam folder. Fortunately, Hannah saved the day by contacting me directly by phone and we gleefully accepted the last interview spot.

Tune in next week for the riveting tale of our interview and to see photos and videos of our 7 month endeavor.

That's All!