Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Bookbinder - an Empowering Portrait

This is part of my Empowering Portrait series, where interview people who have a story to be told... survivors, artists, mothers, students, everyday people who inspire me!

I've always aspired to be a sort of artist...  a writer, a seamstress, a cake decorator, a myriad of hobbies I hoped to turn into something bigger.  But I tend to get into a new hobby and then fizzle out.  So when I hear about someone who has turned their inspiration into a artist's reality, I'm in awe.

I met Brooke Usrey when we were middle schoolers; we shared a love for running and speaking French, and she was just simply one of the coolest and most unique people I'd ever met.  She wore vintage before vintage was 'in', and her wardrobe was as colorful as a painter's palette.  It's no wonder that Brooke is an artist, inspired by the world around her: she grew up in the lush woods near Bloomington, Indiana, on a small goat farm.  My visits to the Usrey farm always felt magical, like I was visiting a place that was too wonderful to be real.

When it came time to choose a college, Brooke chose one in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, North Carolina that fit her to a 't': Warren Wilson College.  It was in the art department that Brooke first learned the trade that would inspire her to become a bookbinder.

"I started making books in college, when I took a book arts class [at Warren Wilson]," Brooke said.  "Once I began learning different structures, I was hooked.  I was always making books on my own and selling them at local fairs or to family and friends."

Bookbinding is no simple task.

"Most of the materials I use are recycled or salvaged paper, decorative papers, book board, linen thread, poly vinyl acetate, ribbon, and book cloth.  The typical journal I make and sell takes about two hours total to complete, with lots of glue-drying time in between stages."

Brooke is not only an artist, but a selfless volunteer who has dedicated her time over the past few years to mental health and helping senior citizens.  Warren Wilson requires all students to work on campus and complete community service hours, but Brooke took it a step further after graduation: she spent two years as a volunteer with AmeriCorps.  During that time, she continued bookbinding and took classes in New York and Massachusetts.  Upon completion of her service, she returned to Asheville to start an apprenticeship with a traditional bookbinder in her studio.  Brooke opened her own Etsy shop in January 2010.

"I am very much inspired by old images of nature and people, and I find book cover ideas in used books from thrift stores or yard sales," Brooke said.  "I also visit art stores when I'm traveling and will buy any kind of new beautiful decorative paper that I can find."

Brooke has started expanding her talents; she recently ventured into making decorative custom boxes, photo albums, and portfolio books.  Her customers on Etsy collaborate with her, inspiring new projects and designs.  It's the perfect place to showcase her pieces.

"If anything is interested in starting an Etsy store for the craft they love, I say GO FOR IT," Brooke shared, "Etsy makes it very east to get exposure and find new ideas from fellow crafters...  You can put as much energy as you would like into [your shop], with no penalty for the times when you need to take a break and focus on other areas of life."  She has also enjoyed getting to know other sellers on the site.

Outside of bookbinding, Brooke is a devoted friend and pen pal, teaches art to children during the summer, plays the ukelele, and even contra dances!  But above all, she credits the people in her life for making it the exciting adventure it has been so far.

"The parts of my life that have most influenced the person I am now have been the relationships and friendships I have developed over my lifetime," Brooke said,  "More and more I believe that friends and family are the most precious gift life can offer."

Wise words spoken by a soul as beautiful as her art.

Empowering Portrait Lightning Round Questions!
If you turned on my iPod right now, I'd be listening to: The Talking Heads.
I never leave home without my: root beer-flavored chapstick.
If I could teleport to any place in the world right now, I'd be: taking a walk with my friend Jane to the market near her home in Paris.
I have never: danced the Watusi.
If I were an animal, I would be: a river otter.
If you had some advice for your 16-year-old self, what would it be? Your intuition is so worth listening to- you know more than you think you do.  Also, friends are the best thing you will ever have.

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