Mary Louise Sullivan: Bookbinder, printmaker, artist, craftsman
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and was one of those children who always seemed to be making something. After completing my BA in Fine Art from Maryville College in 2006 I worked as a designer and printer at the legendary Hatch Show Print, one of the country's oldest continually operating letterpress poster shops in Nashville, TN. After several years absorbing the history, materials, and tools of the trade I left Nashville temporarily to pursue an MFA in book arts at the renowned University of Iowa Center for the Book in Iowa City, Iowa.
Over the next 3 years I studied bookbinding, papermaking, printmaking, calligraphy, and book repair and was taught by some of the most respected practitioners in my field. Upon completing my MFA in Book Arts in 2014, I moved back to my hometown in Nashville and founded Crowing Hens Bindery, where I design, make, and sell everything from blank books to letterpress printed stationery, decorative papers, art prints, and tools; all made by hand, one at a time.
I have served on panels, given lectures, hosted workshops, and continue to show my work, sharing my love of bookbinding and printmaking to eager students as well as book, paper, and print enthusiasts alike.
About My work
Humans and books have a shared history that spans several millennia, and written language is even older still. Our ancestors invented the codex in the second century to protect and make portable humanity's most important information. The continuing desire and impulse to record, store, and refer to information on the physical page is a primal response, one that forever highlights the value of the book as part of our cultural DNA. Perhaps the most practical and personal relationships we have with books on a daily basis is in journaling.
Keeping a journal is a daily practice that can be both introspective and therapeutic. In many ways a journal is a personal sanctuary. What initially drew me to bookbinding was the process, the history, and the materials that we as bookbinders use. I am driven to make blank books, specifically journals, because I know from first hand how important a journal can become as a personal artifact.
The most intimate relationships we can have with books are a result of how much of ourselves we put into them, how much we rely on their sanctuary. With most of the journals I kept as a child, the bindings would fall apart, or the metal coils would get tangled and bent, and pages, and part of me would be lost. Not all books are designed for writing, and not all books are designed to last.
When I was learning to bind books, I was drawn to the styles of binding that were designed for people to write in. These bindings had already been tested by time, many of them lasting for centuries. The stark contrast between these centuries old books and the sorry state of the machine-made, mass produced journals of my youth made me realize that books didn't have to be ephemeral, that they could stand up to daily use, sometimes lasting for centuries. If made well with quality materials and skillful training, these vessels of information could last for generations.
This is my passion: to make well constructed, thoughtfully designed books that are both beautiful and dependable. I make books that are honest, books that serve the user, and books that will last for generations.
About the name "Crowing Hens Bindery"
As a child I was a gregarious tomboy, climbing trees with holes in my jeans and mud on my cheeks. My bookshelf was full of titles like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, My Side of the Mountain, and Where the Red Fern Grows. I always carried a pocket knife. I was not fond of combs.
I was occasionally teased by children and adults for my appearance and rugged activities. To soothe the sting, my Mom would tell me stories of my Great Grandmother, Georgia Marguerite Kossuth, who grew up at the turn of the 20th century and was a tomboy just like me. She was a rambunctious child and was always getting caught in trees by her petticoats. Her grandmother, in an attempt to dissuade her would wag a finger at her granddaughter and say, "Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens will always come to some bad ends!" Unmoved, Georgia stayed true to herself, embracing the "crowing hen" persona and lived a full and accomplished life.
Coming from my Mom, the saying was not an admonition but a personal mantra of perseverance, honesty, and self-confidence. The name of my bindery is therefore a constant reminder of who I am, where I come from, and an homage to all of the Crowing Hens who have made it possible for me to be who I am and to do what I love.
I am a Crowing Hen. Welcome to my bindery. Pleased to make your acquaintance.