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Nashville, Tennessee 37211

Crowing Hens Bindery is a one-woman bindery and letterpress print shop that specializes in traditional handmade blank books, letterpress printed stationery, limited edition fine art prints, unique book jewelry & letterpress-printed decorative papers. As the owner of a Nashville-based private business, I do my best to honor the heritage of fine craft and art that saturates my community and region. All of my products are designed and made by hand in Nashville, Tennessee from high quality materials available using traditional bookbinding techniques. I aspire to create beautiful, useful work that becomes a part of your everyday life.


Bookbinding, printmaking, and toolmaking are elements of my business and my profession but they're not necessarily in step with today's fast paced digital culture. 

This blog, "Meet Mary" will be an opportunity for me to demystify my work and allow me to describe my products and their manufacture in greater detail. Whether I'm working on a production run for a new run of springbacks, developing a new line of decorative papers, or experimenting with new techniques or materials for boutique tools, my goal is for you to be able to see my work in progress and get to know me as a person, craftsman, and small business owner.

Filtering by Tag: Maryville College

Everything must come from something.

Mary Sullivan

Starting a business isn't supposed to be easy and I knew the challenges and obstacles that I would face as a self-employed, fledgling entrepreneur- or at least I knew of them, that they existed, and that they were many and formidable. Plugging along, I've come to find, is what I do best. My tendency to strive for perfection, to overanalyze, overthink, and do my best to avoid all error can be paralyzing and it's something that my MFA thesis committee at the University of Iowa Center for the Book did their very best to make me aware of and help me to begin to overcome during my final year of grad school. 

I know that I will make mistakes and that not all of my decisions will prove to be fruitful. I am an excellent counter. I love to number crunch material costs, cost per item, and production efficiency. Those things are calculable and fairly predictable. However, they are a safety blanket that can occasionally suffocate my productivity. Color combinations and material choices are something that I struggle with, at least I feel that I do, although some of my colleagues will probably disagree. Speculation as to how to price and market my books, and who may purchase them are another struggle. Technically you're only "self-employed" if you can generate enough revenue to support your needs and that of your enterprise, right?

My springback cutaway sampler, completed a few days before my show installation in early October.

My springback cutaway sampler, completed a few days before my show installation in early October.

Ultimately I am my harshest critic. This past month I have been simultaneously juggling new work for a gallery show, two separate production runs of springbacks, and preparing for my first bookbinding workshop in Two Rivers, Wisconsin at Hamilton's annual Wayzgoose conference. I must say the gallery show at Maryville College, my alma mater, looks amazing in pictures and has been well received. I look forward to seeing it in person later in the week at our closing reception. I am fully enjoying my production runs and while I am making many mistakes, they are accounted for and I am learning from them. You'd better believe I'm taking meticulous notes. And the workshop is an exciting beginning to the kind of bookbinding evangelism that I have been looking forward to since I began my MFA.

What I wasn't anticipating was the silence and the desire for distraction. The lack of patience and the self doubt. The questioning. The bird watching. The Woodwright's Shop. The Cheetos. And my bonsais.  

During my MFA interview I was told that most professional bookbinders work solo, that the majority of them were kindof quirky as a result. I can see now where the quirks could come into play. I talk more to my cats now than I do to people, at least on a daily basis. But to be fair after being away for three years we have a lot of catching up to do. I'm constantly talking to myself, my materials, and my tools- more often when they're not cooperating. And more than anything I am constantly under the impression that I should be farther along than I am, that I should already have commissions, a website, business cards, a logo, a well designed blog, a business plan, and income. And income.

As of yet I've done very little socializing and networking since I've been home, professional or personal. I am rediscovering Nashville again since it's grown so much while I've been away. I am getting used to my studio and making changes so that I can more easily work and store my materials and tools, and I am learning to work alone. It is a slow process of adjustment, one that I am fully committed to.

My humble workspace.

I'm not sure where the inspiration came from. I now have three bonsais, two of which I started from saplings no more than a few inches tall, and one from seed. Another two, a dogwood and a persimmon, have yet to sprout. They sit in my window and I get to watch them grow day by day. The hackberry I started from seed is growing like a weed. It germinated in about two weeks and in less than a month is nearly as tall as my other two, a white oak, and a red maple. Even so, I am surprised at how impatient I am with them all, frustrated at how slowly they grow, but how happy I am when I can actually notice changes.

My pitiful hackberry seedling.

My pitiful hackberry seedling.

So long as I continue to nourish them, they will grow. The same goes for my business, I suppose. A cheesy metaphor I know, but it's true. It has only been a little over 5 months since I graduated, 2 months since my move, and I am still making the transition in a post graduate world, one that is perhaps more challenging since my job will only exist if I make it so. Perhaps the greatest advantage is knowing that I get to call the shots, and I get to do what I love. And all of these adjustments, we'll call those growing pains.

I left a lot of people behind in Iowa that I dearly miss. Colleagues, friends, mentors, professors, my entire social, educational, and professional safety net. But I knew that before I moved. And I am here now, and so long as I grow, my safety net, my social circle, and my success here in my hometown will grow concurrently. I haven't lost my Iowa friends either, just their immediacy. And I am reconnecting with my family as well as my Nashville and East Tennessee friends.

The growth of my business, this blog, my success, and my bonsais- all of it is a slow process. One that requires time, investment, and what I am hoping my bonsais will contribute above all else, patience.