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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.

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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.

re·con·nect—re·set—re·fresh: Making & keeping New Year's resolutions for 2016

Mary Sullivan

Part 2: re·set

We’re already wrapping up week 2 of the New Year and there’s no doubt that some of you have already broken one or even several New Year’s resolutions. I know I have. That one about, “Try to eat healthier”?  How’s a lady supposed to eat healthier with the remnants of a perfectly good New Year’s ham in the fridge and a Christmas stocking full of candy? With Valentine’s Day around the corner, (and the day-after chocolate sales,) I might as well call it a year and sweep that “eat healthy” resolution under the rug, right? WRONG. Here’s the thing with resolutions, you get do-overs. All. Year. Long.

The way I see it, the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is a tool designed for self-improvement and optimism. Resolutions shouldn’t be so specific that you set yourself up for failure, (“I will run 3 miles every day”). Instead, make your resolutions broad and realistic, (“I want to run more and be more active”). This blanket resolution is specific enough to define an achievable goal, but broad enough to allow for the ebb and flow of daily life. It also leaves room for evolution and improvement.

Not only are stamps great for that resolution for writing more letters, they're also a great reminder for all of those fruits and vegetables you said you'd eat more of this year.

Not only are stamps great for that resolution for writing more letters, they're also a great reminder for all of those fruits and vegetables you said you'd eat more of this year.

Maybe your “run more” resolution turns into playing on an indoor soccer team during the winter, a kickball league in the summer, and trail running in the fall. And as we all know, making New Year’s resolutions is only the half of it. The other half is holding yourself accountable.

In Part 1 of my “re·con·nect —re·set—re·fresh” post, I mentioned that while some people like to share their resolutions with friends, others choose to keep theirs private. One of the easiest and most rewarding ways of tracking your own success throughout the year is to keep a “Resolution Journal”. Keeping a journal just for New Year’s resolutions is a great way to help you reach your personal goals by creating a sense of personal accountability.

For insight on how to start and keep a “Resolution Journal” check back for Part 3. If you’re like me and you’ve already broken one or two resolutions, use this week as a breather to regroup and even revise your resolutions. Scout out one or several special journals that speak to you and then, hit the reset button. 

Check out my selection of journals and notebooks and use the code RESOLUTION2016 at checkout and receive 15% off of your very own "Resolution Journal" to start the year off right. Use #MyCHBook on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook to show how you use your Crowing Hens Bindery book throughout the year!

 

re·con·nect—re·set—re·fresh: Making & keeping New Year's resolutions for 2016

Mary Sullivan

VintageStamps1

Part 1: re·con·nect

The New Year is the time for new beginnings, reinvigoration, and of course resolutions. For many, this holiday is an opportunity to look back at the previous year & make personal goals to improve their health and increase happiness and fulfillment in the coming year. Some people announce their resolutions to family, friends, and coworkers while others choose to keep theirs private. Whether big or small, the important thing to remember is that resolutions are an optimistic opportunity for personal growth. By keeping resolutions broad in scope your goals can seem more attainable and can even be allowed to evolve over the course of the year. By involving others in your resolutions or adopting tools to hold yourself accountable, keeping resolutions cannot only be achievable but fun as well.

 

Vintage stamps are an elegant way to make your snail mail correspondence even more personal and memorable. By combining vintage stamps into a postage mosaic on an envelope I can create personalized pieces of historic art imbued with secret meanings tailored to each pen pal.

Vintage stamps are an elegant way to make your snail mail correspondence even more personal and memorable. By combining vintage stamps into a postage mosaic on an envelope I can create personalized pieces of historic art imbued with secret meanings tailored to each pen pal.

Several years in a row I made a resolution to write more letters; to friends, loved ones and colleagues. To make the process even more fun for me, I took up stamp collecting and started using vintage postage on my snail mail. After saving up my silver change for a year, I’d seek out local annual stamp shows and purchase postage in a wide range of values. Using vintage stamps in this way is not only beautiful, but it's also an economic option since vintage postage is still usable, (so long as it hasn’t been used before), and many vendors sell stamps below face value.

 

Now that I have a complete line of letterpress stationery, my letters can be even more special. Not only do I get to select my stamps, but I also get to choose from a range of stationery designs based on my mood, my message, or my pen pal. Making a resolution to write letters is a wonderful way to strengthen and maintain ties with friends and loved ones. It’s also a great way to initiate others into your resolution for the New Year and develop new interests, such as stamp collecting, calligraphy, typographic design, and regular snail mail correspondence.

Even though the stamps I use are not rare or especially valuable, I typically reserve one of each so that I have a record of what I've used. 

Even though the stamps I use are not rare or especially valuable, I typically reserve one of each so that I have a record of what I've used. 

To find vintage stamp sellers and stamp shows near you, visit the American Philatelic Society website. Local philatelic societies, like the Nashville Philatelic Society, typically meet monthly or quarterly and cost very little to join, and most stamp shows are open to the public. You can even find vintage postcards too! Refer to the US Postal Service for current postage rates.

Letter writing is a wonderful way to reconnect in an intimate, tangible way with the people we love. This kind of resolution not only benefits everyone involved, but it can easily become a treasured life-long habit. If one of your resolutions is to start writing more letters, consider this my gift to you! Enter HENPALS2016 at crowinghensbindery.com for 15% off of all stationery in stock. Also, use #CrowingHenPals16 on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to show off how you and your pen pals use your Crowing Hens stationery and stamps all year long. Your images could be featured right here on my blog in a future post, so get collecting, and get writing! Happy New Year everyone!

 

Anatomia libro: The Anatomy of the Book

Mary Sullivan

Plate 71 showing the dissection of the left forearm and hand. The hand is strategically posed, perhaps to reference a gesture often depicted in Renaissance art.    Govard Bidloo (1649-1713).  Anatomia humani corporis.  Amsterdam: Sumptibus viduae Joannis à Someren, haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & viduae Theodori Boom, 1685. Heirs 724 Illustration by Gerard de Lairesse.

Plate 71 showing the dissection of the left forearm and hand. The hand is strategically posed, perhaps to reference a gesture often depicted in Renaissance art. Govard Bidloo (1649-1713). Anatomia humani corporis. Amsterdam: Sumptibus viduae Joannis à Someren, haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & viduae Theodori Boom, 1685. Heirs 724 Illustration by Gerard de Lairesse.

As bookbinders we straddle the line between seamstress and surgeon, fabrication and triage. Whether we are tasked with giving birth to new books or in the rehabilitation of the tired and broken, our trade is governed by our understanding of their construction and the methodic choreography of that process between our hands, our tools, and our materials.

Along with 28 other book artists, I was asked to create a piece for “Micrographia: Book Art Responses to Early Modern Scientific Books an exhibit in conjunction to the symposium "Scientific Books and Their Makers" at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in October, 2015. Each artist was asked to create a piece in response to an early scientific text in which the invention of the microscope was instrumental in its content and creation. I was assigned a study of anatomical dissection completed in 1685 by Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo with illustrations by Gerard de Lairesse. As I am unable to read neither Latin nor Dutch, my attention naturally gravitated to the illustrations.

While studying Gerard de Lairesse’s renderings I was struck with a familiarity similar to how we as bookbinders document our own work today. The illustrations in Anatomia not only accurately identify the subject matter in microscopic detail, but they also serve as somewhat of a manual of practice, as if by viewing the illustrations alone one could conceivably explore the human body.

Plate 22 showing the dissection of the heart. Check out those decorative probes!  Govard Bidloo (1649-1713).  Anatomia humani corporis.  Amsterdam: Sumptibus viduae Joannis à Someren, haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & viduae Theodori Boom, 1685. Heirs 724 Illustration by Gerard de Lairesse.

Plate 22 showing the dissection of the heart. Check out those decorative probes! Govard Bidloo (1649-1713). Anatomia humani corporis. Amsterdam: Sumptibus viduae Joannis à Someren, haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & viduae Theodori Boom, 1685. Heirs 724 Illustration by Gerard de Lairesse.

Less of a sterile presentation of parts and more of an “as you were dissecting” manner, the illustrator shows the process of dissection in stages. The tools, working surfaces, and drapes garner just as much reverence as the body itself. The body is often strategically posed. The restraints, pins, probes, and sutures are all presented with as much attention to detail as any tissue sample showing not only respect for the subject, but it also demonstrates pride in the process and craftsmanship of anatomical dissection.

 

In plate 20, a book is used to raise a section of skin out of the shadows so that it is better lit for rendering. Whether or not an actual book was used as a prop during dissection is unlikely.  Govard Bidloo (1649-1713).  Anatomia humani corporis.  Amsterdam: Sumptibus viduae Joannis à Someren, haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & viduae Theodori Boom, 1685. Heirs 724 Illustration by Gerard de Lairesse.

In plate 20, a book is used to raise a section of skin out of the shadows so that it is better lit for rendering. Whether or not an actual book was used as a prop during dissection is unlikely. Govard Bidloo (1649-1713). Anatomia humani corporis. Amsterdam: Sumptibus viduae Joannis à Someren, haeredum Joannis à Dyk, Henrici & viduae Theodori Boom, 1685. Heirs 724 Illustration by Gerard de Lairesse.

Books are occasionally depicted as props, used to support severed limbs or flayed layers of tissue. While is unlikely that the anatomist used a finely bound tome in such a manner in the anatomical theatre the symbolism of the books in this case not only points to knowledge, it is also a possible acknowledgement of one’s forbearers and their contribution to the trade.

" A  natomia libro"  My response to the de Lairesse's illustrations in  A  natomia,  specifically to plate 71.  Signed and numbered limited edition print. Illustrated and carved into linoleum, printed on a C&P Pilot letterpress by Mary Louise Sullivan, Copyright 2015. Prints from the edition are available  HERE .

"Anatomia libro" My response to the de Lairesse's illustrations in Anatomia, specifically to plate 71. Signed and numbered limited edition print. Illustrated and carved into linoleum, printed on a C&P Pilot letterpress by Mary Louise Sullivan, Copyright 2015. Prints from the edition are available HERE.

Bookbinders, like anatomists, are people of tools, of process, and of materials. Our trade is consumed not only with the “how” but also in the “why” of our craft. To every bookbinder and books artist, the “what” is just as varied as we are, and the “who” includes not only ourselves, but extends also to our instructors, our histories, our consumers, and our readers.

 

*All leaves in this post from Bidloo’s Anatomia are from the digitized copy provided by the United Stated National Library of Medicine. Images have been color corrected for clarity. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/bidloo_home.html

Talking shop in the shop.

Mary Sullivan

Julie Sola's store, Fat Crow Press at the Idea Hatchery in East Nashville.

Julie Sola's store, Fat Crow Press at the Idea Hatchery in East Nashville.

For the past few months I've been filling in at Fat Crow Press, the retail store of Julie Sola, a like-minded printmaker and former coworker from Hatch Show Print. On top of being an entrepreneur, a printmaker, an author, artist, and seamstress she is also a veteran wardrobe manager for touring musicians. Think Kiss, Madonna, Motley Crüe, Kanye West & Rod Stewart. When she’s on the road I manage her store on the weekends. Because our printmaking processes are identical I bring my own blocks to carve so that customers can witness the process, ask questions, and learn more about her work and printmaking in general.

One linocut in a forthcoming series of prints loosely inspired by state flowers, trees, and insects.

One linocut in a forthcoming series of prints loosely inspired by state flowers, trees, and insects.

It’s been a wonderful experience for me in so many ways. I have some place to be, something that self-employed craftsmen often struggle with. I get into the retail mindset, a role I had not practiced since working at Hatch Show Print. I get to imagine how I would eventually run my own brick-and-mortar store. But best of all, I get to talk shop.

The most recent block I finished this past weekend while tending Fat Crow Press was this block for a postcard.

The most recent block I finished this past weekend while tending Fat Crow Press was this block for a postcard.

Half of being a bookbinder, printmaker, and craftsman is doing the work. The other half is promoting it. This includes learning how to explain your profession, how and why you do it. You become an educator, a proselytizer of craft practices.

Sometimes you get a clean slate, a curious person who has had no exposure to your craft. Those encounters are magical. As you explain the process, you glimpse a twinkle behind their eyes and realize that you are opening up a world of possibility to a person who had no idea that it even existed. And then you meet those interested people who truly get it. They’re either in the club, they’ve watched the ball game, or they simply appreciate what you do because they recognize that it is important.

I met one of those people this weekend. This gentleman and I talked letterpress, linocuts, and bookbinding. I didn’t have to defend my craft against e-books or e-mail. He didn’t shove me in the mainstream and make me swim against today’s current of technology. The man got it. He came into the shop not once, but twice to show off Julie’s work to his friends and to chat with me some more about my bookbinding. I gave him my card, we shook hands, and he was excited to send me his letterpress printed business card that he had recently commissioned. Smiles, it seems, breed smiles and it was the highlight of my week. Until Monday.

Coffee, check. Feet up, check. Full hummingbird feeders, check. Let the birdwatching begin!

Coffee, check. Feet up, check. Full hummingbird feeders, check. Let the birdwatching begin!

Mondays are typically my day off when I work on the weekends. And I had a full schedule of coffee, cats, and bird watching until I checked my work e-mail. And there he was, this man. Not only had he taken my business card, but he had also looked up my website, browsed my store, and contacted me.

Denim & Sienna Scribe, one of many new ruled and blank springback journals that are now available in my online store, featuring hand painted pastepapers and Italian linen-blend cloth. 

Denim & Sienna Scribe, one of many new ruled and blank springback journals that are now available in my online store, featuring hand painted pastepapers and Italian linen-blend cloth. 

I have spent this past year building inventory, applying to trade shows, teaching, and building a website and an online presence. It’s a lot of work for a one-woman-show, especially in the first year. Product is made, trade shows are packed and unpacked. The studio waxes and wanes in tidiness, and occasionally the online store gets restocked. After a full year of production I have bound hundreds of books and pulled thousands of prints. And Monday, thanks to this man and his interest in a springback journal with ruled pages, I finally photographed and listed my latest inventory.

Thank you, sir for that friendly and unknowing kick in the grown-up pants. I hope you enjoy your new journal. Tell your friends, make them jealous, and pass along that business card. You, sir, have made my month!

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