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Kris Kerzman , Published August 18 2013

Novel art: Moorhead woman turns books into works of art

MOORHEAD – In the hands of Meredith Lynn, paper serves as the ultimate canvas.

The Moorhead-based artist finds a wealth of inspiration from this most basic of art materials. On her own, and as proprietor of Rust Belt Bindery, Lynn draws from many disciplines – illustration, photography, painting, printmaking, poetry, fiction and book art – to create her work.

Her final products are affordable, handcrafted objects that find fans across the country.

Lynn began Rust Belt Bindery about a year ago. A native Bostonian, she was drawn to book art while completing her MFA in drawing at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. Upon finding a home in Moorhead, Lynn began collaborating with other artists and writers to create small-run editions of handcrafted books. She said making books offers a lot of creative freedom.

“You can do things with book art that you can’t do with other kinds of art,” Lynn said. “You have a lot of room for creativity and for collaboration with other artists.”

Handmade books are far different from traditional, mass-produced texts. In fact, many of them challenge our conventional notion of the book.

“Hey, It’s America,” a short story by Ryan Ridge with illustrations by Genevieve Lawrence, comes in the form of small cards in a box. “The Widow Teasdale and the Ineffable Warmth of Personal Services,” a short story by Drew Jackson, is transformed through photography by Dorothy Hoover and a folded, accordion-style presentation.

“Song of Valadon,” a new book Lynn created with Fargo playwright Erika Lorentzsen features intricately cut reproductions of paintings by the French painter Suzanne Valadon.

Lynn creates each book by hand, although some elements of each book are mechanically or digitally reproduced. In designing each book, Lynn tries to figure out how to do the most as efficiently as possible while making the design fit the content. She said it requires plenty of problem-solving and engineering.

The result is an art object that takes on a special significance in a landscape of easily downloaded and reproducible literary and art works.

“The rise in e-books has made the handmade more special and more interesting,” she said. “There are two ways to make an object valuable, either by making it with valuable materials or spending a lot of time creating it by hand.”

“E-publishing has been a boon for us and for writers,” Lynn continued. “It allows us to do what we do and makes it special.”

Lynn finds plenty of homes for Rust Belt Bindery’s handmade volumes, which typically cost about $30, but most of its business comes from outside of the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Book art lovers tend to be writers and artists who tap into a vibrant online community where books are reviewed for their content and construction, Lynn said. After a review, their limited runs of 100 or so books sell quickly.

“The book arts world is much more established than many in the larger art world would likely admit,” Lynn said. “And part of the beauty of the Internet is that we can exist nationally.”

What draws them in? Lynn said book art lovers realize “there is still some magic in an object,” particularly an artwork that is meant to be handled and manipulated.

“When you’re touching an object touched by someone else, there’s an intimacy that you can’t get anywhere else,” she said.

Adding to the appeal of book art is the fact that it is fairly easy to pick up and learn, plus the materials needed to create book art are relatively inexpensive. She demonstrated by showing a simple example of bookmaking that takes only a few folds and cuts from a single sheet of paper. It’s so simple, she includes a diagram of it on her business card. She hopes to begin spreading her love of bookbinding and book art with others through workshops and classes, and is working on a workshop series at Plains Art Museum for this fall.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net/artspulse.