Like the artform it’s dedicated to, Asheville Bookworks is hidden. You could stand right in front of its building in West Asheville and patronize four other storefronts without ever knowing—because there’s no sign to tell you—the entrance is tucked onto the side.
That’s worked just fine for the screenprinters, papermakers and mixed-media book artists who, since 2004, have regarded Asheville Bookworks as their town square.
When I found I could put my drawings in book form and tell little stories, that felt really powerful to me,” said Laura Ladendorf, who was focused on drawing in 2009, when she took a part time job with Asheville Bookworks. She said it changed her artistic life.
When founding owner Laurie Corral revealed plans to close Asheville Bookworks early next year, the sense of loss, while contained to this little community, was strong.
“I met people who walked in the door and said they moved here for the place,” Ladendorf said. “I thought I better pay attention, and I’ve been part of this really strong community ever since.
Book arts are difficult to describe, but you usually know it when you see it.
The works involve a mix of skills and visual expressions. They can be small as a thimble or large as room-sized installations. They usually, though not always, include paper that’s handmade and handbound, lending a unique texture to each. Some are folded into accordion-styled panels that are hand-drawn or painted or dressed in text or photo collages.
Corral grew up in Wheeling, W.V., studied book arts in Chicago and developed the concept for Asheville Bookworks after teaching bookmaking about 75 miles east of Asheville, as the education director at the Hickory Museum of Art.
“I had this idea that I wanted to create a gathering place for people who are interested in this artform,” Corral said. “I did not anticipate the close-knit community that supported it and has been with it over the years and the relationships that have formed surrounding it and the growth that a lot of us have seen in each other.”
Starting with one printing press, Corral acquired and outfitted Asheville Bookworks with about a dozen more of varied size and vintage. There’s a large paper cutter and boxes and drawers of lead type. Weekly classes are devoted to binding, print and paper making, alternative photography. There’s also a small gallery with different exhibitions every two months of work from book artists here and elsewhere.
“One of my goals in the beginning was to raise awareness of book arts in our region,” she said.
John Dancy-Jones has made his own paper for more than 40 years and he’s used Asheville Bookworks as a model for developing his own full bookmaking studio. He sees the ticking calendar to the closure of Asheville Bookworks as a potential turning point for the bookmaking community — positively and otherwise.
Regulars of Asheville Bookworks are already lining up new spaces to meet, work and hold classes.
“The scale of this equipment—I mean, it’s a museum, just this amazing collection, and a piece of history,” Dancy-Jones said. “Book arts, whether it’s at the most creative end, or at the artisan end, gives us something we really need and need to hold onto.”
In recent years, though, Corral said she felt she did all she could with Asheville Bookworks in its current form. She decided to keep the room and all the equipment inside it but devote it to her own artmaking. Once she closes up, she wants to spend her newfound time discovering other sectors of the local visual arts community.
“I’m really trying not to let it be a big hole,” Corral said. “As much work as it is, I’ll be sad to not pull these exhibitions together, but if I give myself that space to be able to synthesize where I am, where the book arts community is, there’s a lot of elements to what might happen next.”
Asheville Bookworks’ current exhibition, devoted to works inspired by the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s monster, is on view through Oct. 27. Corral expects to close her center at the end of March 2019.
“When you’re forced to shift and change, new things will come,” Ladendorf said. “So I actually anticipate growth.”