Loving books is an implied prerequisite for English majors, but many of us take the process of bookmaking for granted. Books, like everything else, are mass-produced, but the Minnesota Center for Book Arts takes things at a slower pace, and we should love them for it. As part of the Literary Magazine Practicum, the editors of the Summit Avenue Review took a field trip to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in downtown Minneapolis. We were able to see various printing presses and learned about the intricacies of typesetting.
When studying literary magazines and journals in class, we focus on the intention behind design decisions. Seeing the materials and processes first hand helped us to understand the importance of making purposeful decisions. You are forced to think carefully when hand setting type because every space, letter, and punctuation mark is placed individually.
The editors were able to participate in MCBA’s work by printing our own book art on a roller press. We watched the process of inking the press and learned how to line up the paper for an even print. I waited until it was my turn and then approached the machine. I pressed my foot on the pedal to place the fresh sheet of paper at the preset mark. We had been warned that it was sometimes tricky to get the feel of how fast to turn the handle. As I turned it, the cylinder gained steady momentum as my free hand followed in order to hold the paper in place. I removed my paper, now imprinted with reddish brown ink. Rolling the press back into place required more force than I had anticipated. After we all printed it was time to fold our booklets. We used bone folders to crease the paper and X-acto knives to make slits for folding, creating a small eight-page booklet.
We were also able to see different types of hand bound books that are held together with various stitching, adhesives, or a combination of the two. Artists choose the medium that best supports the message they are trying to convey. For example, a poem may be printed on a broadside with large margins or in a small booklet depending on the preference of the artist. We saw examples of each of these, and more, during our tour. We were also shown the product of a collaboration between MCBA employees and local artists: the 2015 Winter Book: “From the Center: On Community and the Practice of Making,” which explores the connection between community and book arts.
The MCBA also has facilities for making paper, and offers classes for children, adults, and has an artist in residence program. The center displays artwork made there as well, featuring many different local artists. Much of the art is solely to be viewed, but many cards, notebooks and other pieces are available for purchase in MCBA’s store.
Morgan Alexander is a senior double majoring in English with a Writing Emphasis and Business Management. She is the President of Sigma Tau Delta Literary Club, a marketing intern at UST Executive Education, and one of the editors for the Summit Avenue Review. She is a self-proclaimed fontaholic who enjoys reading, traveling, and is constantly searching for her next coffee fix.