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Lisa Beth Robinson, East Carolina University book arts instructor, teaches the centuries-old craft in the printmaking room at the Jenkins Fine Arts Center. (Photos by Erica Plouffe Lazure)

Book Arts Program Trains in Time-Honored Craft

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

In the age of automation, the idea of crafting a hand-stitched, personally bound book might seem like a mere footpath on the information superhighway.

But in the printmaking room at East Carolina University, about a dozen students, under the guidance of instructor Lisa Beth Robinson, have begun to understand the beauty of that footpath as they learn the centuries-old craft of book arts.

“Books will never go away. The paperless library is a myth,” Robinson said. “Books are intimate objects. Even though we carry around iPods, you can’t curl up in bed with a computer.”

So far, students in Book Arts I and II have learned kettle stitches, Coptic and tortoise binding, and have begun to appreciate the time and patience required to make books that meld the craftsman’s desire for precision with the artist’s eye for beauty.

Now entering its second semester, the Book Arts courses are the seed of what many in the School of Art and Design hope will develop into an interdisciplinary program that would attract artists, librarians and writers. With help from colleagues Michael Ehlbeck and Craig Malmrose and others, Robinson hopes to turn a few courses into an interdisciplinary program. Several ECU arts faculty offered a book-making course to arts educators this summer.

ECU photography graduate student Charity Valentine sews the spine of her collection of books at a recent book arts class.

“ECU has an excellent art department and I think students from many disciplines, even English and library sciences, could benefit from this,” said Robinson, who teaches part-time, and also works as an administrative assistant for ECU’s publications office.

“In the book arts, the finished object is rarely just one medium. It could be, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve been doing a lot of planning and we have a strong long-term vision for the program.”

Some students in other disciplines are already taking advantage of the Book Arts course offering. Charity Valentine is a graduate student in ECU’s photography department. For her final project, she has incorporated her own photographic prints with a set of twenty identical scarlet silk-bound books.

“Photography lends itself well to book arts,” Valentine said as she sewed waxed thread through the seam of one of her books. “I often come up with photo sequences and narratives, and they need a place to be put.”

Robinson said she has found many students tend to figure out what to fill the book with once its form takes shape. “Everyone has a story; most people have many stories, but don’t think of it until they start to make a book,” she said.

This page originally appeared in the Dec. 9, 2005 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at