The feeling of pages, binding and the printed word have long been part of the book experience—a manual engagement between the reader and text where the actual structure of the book carries the content. But now, the corporeal experience of reading or viewing a book is at risk as we move into an age of standardized digital tablets and electronics that provide us with the content we want without the physicality of a cumbersome book.
Regardless of what you think about digital print, it's the new reality. A reverse in this trend is beyond unlikely.
But, now more than ever, artists such as Sandra Murchison are working to revitalize interests in how we receive the printed word, photograph or illustration. Murchison is the director and founder of the Purple Word Center for Book and Paper Arts, a studio space in midtown that focuses specifically on connecting text and image by crafting handmade books, portfolios, prints and more.
"Book arts are sculptural," she says. "(They) can include painting, photography, drawing, collage, craftsmanship and more. In a way, book arts are sort of a microcosm of a whole larger art department without having to manage numerous studios and spaces."
Murchison, a professor of art at Millsaps who is originally from New Jersey, has wanted a midtown studio space for some time now. She was drawn to the efficiency and feasibility of setting up a space where artists, students, and members of the community could learn various bookmaking and printing crafts. Her own artwork integrates text and images, so book arts were a natural fit for Murchison, a 15-year Millsaps veteran who understands the potency of interdisciplinary collaboration.
"It's all about the overlap of disciplines," Murchison says. "Not only the studio disciplines but the academic disciplines as well."
Because Murchison and her studio coordinator at Purple Word, Jonathan Metzger (also a visiting assistant professor of art at Millsaps), both have backgrounds in the fine arts, they see book bindings, prints, portfolios and albums as an aesthetic structural medium in and of itself—something that can be viscerally paired with the content within the pages.
"Bookmaking seems like an incredible opportunity to fully realize the potential of what a powerful image could be or what a powerful phrase could be when put together with an image," Metzger says.
Purple Word is still in its nascence, but it has started offering book making and printing workshops for anyone interested in the Jackson area. Book making workshops for November and December include making accordion-style books, Japanese stab binding (a type of sewn binding) books, coptic stitch books, and hardbound portfolios, all of which can be used for a variety of purposes from family albums to sketchbooks for poets and illustrators. Print making workshops will include relief and monotype printing.
Murchison's future goals include becoming more involved with the creative writing department at Millsaps as well as offering midtown kids a chance to learn something about this craft.
"One of our major goals is trying to fixate on image and text in midtown, especially thinking about ways to advance literacy with children," Murchison says.
She has always favored the midtown area for its potential in the arts.
"Midtown has a history of being an arts district," Murchison says. "I think there's so much that's already been accomplished through Midtown Partners."
Midtown Partners Inc. and Millsaps College have both been strategic in jumpstarting Purple Word, and Murchison and Metzger are looking forward to offering different workshops (into the spring) as well as opportunities for local artists to rent their space on Wesley Avenue for a small fee. Artists will be able to come into the studio to work on their own projects with the assistance of a studio monitor.
As for the value of the physical book or print versus the digital medium, Metzger offers some good artistic insight into the future.
"I think choice is really the key word," he says. "We're trying to give people a choice to work with their hands if they're tired of the digital realm. As we keep on going, that choice might be harder to find."
Purple Word Center for Book and Paper Arts will offer a special-guest artist workshop Nov. 22 when Lindsey Landfried visits to teach a free workshop on making "liporello books." The event is open to the public along with the Nov. 30 "Midtown Holiday Studio Tours" where several studios, including Purple Word, will conduct an open house that all can visit for free.
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