MACHIAS, Maine — Something magical seems to happen to some people the first time they see or touch a handmade book.
“There seems to be a genetic predisposition in book lovers,” Steve Miller, a paper and bookmaking expert from the University of Alabama, said last week. “Something seems to resonate on a very deep level. It is a love process.”
Miller is one of more than 71 people from all over the world participating in the 24th Paper and Book Intensive, held July 11-22 at the University of Maine at Machias, where bookmaking is a curriculum subject during the school year.
This is the first time the intensive has come to Maine and Miller said it was a natural place for book creators to congregate.
“What I saw here and in the surrounding artists made Maine the obvious choice,” he said. “There is so much going on in this area and Down East.”
Miller said there are small workshops and bookmaking classes that people can take, but the intensive is papermaking and bookmaking on a different level.
“This is the premier book and paper event in the United States,” Miller said. “Ten instructors — people at the top of their form — are chosen to teach. They are bookbinders, papermakers, conservationists and others with long histories of being the stars in their fields.”
The first indication that something special is going on is that all the participants are late for meals — they don’t want to stop working. In one room, printing presses line the walls and a student carefully selects the colors she will print with.
In an art gallery, there is a carefully preserved page from a Latin Bible printed in 1476, while in a second gallery paper art from many local artisans is displayed.
Another group of students beat flax and other wood pulp with long sticks, seeking just the right consistency to create paper sculptures.
Students dye paper, create paper, write on paper, bind paper into books and create magical book covers.
Jan Baker, who has taught papermaking and bookmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence for 30 years, said she through she knew all the tricks.
“This has been great,” she said. “A real eye-opener.” She also discovered that one of her students from two decades earlier was teaching at workshop at the intensive.
Student Emily Tripps of Alabama is at the intensive on a scholarship.
“I’m kind of speechless about the experience,” she said. “It is incredible. I’m very excited to be able to take the knowledge I’ve gained here and push it further.”
“You look at books a different way once you have made one yourself,” instructor David Wolfe of Portland said.
Classes include experimentation with moveable and pop-up books, bookbinding, papermaking, printing and other subjects.
The UMM book arts and papermaking facilities, under the leadership of professor and papermaker Bernie Vinzani, has its own “culture of the book.” Two bookmaking classes are part of the English program, he explained.
Book arts have been escalating in interest and availability, Miller said.
“After technology took over, companies began throwing out their printing presses. People rediscovered how paper was made and Bernie Vinzani was at the forefront of that movement,” Miller said.
Vinzani operates his own papermaking mill in Whiting.
“It is really about text, image, craft and art, all hand in hand,” Vinzani said.
Vinzani said two art galleries at UMM currently are showing paper arts. The galleries are open each weekday afternoon or by appointment. There also will be an auction of completed works and other items at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 21, in the campus dining hall.