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Within These Pages, Treasures Find

Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without soul.” Today, books are becoming more than just words printed on pages, bound together read from left to right, in a linear fashion. Books are a visual art that tell stories in unique ways—art infused with soul and an appreciation of the possibility of the page.

Trish Fenster displays a small sample of her handmade books and paper.
By day, Tricia Fenster, staff assistant, holds the College of Engineering & Technology Dean’s office together. Whether organizing an alumni banquet for two hundred people or coordinating E-Week activities, she is the woman with the answer for any question, and one of the first faces students, faculty and staff see upon entering the Dean’s office. But when she gets home, Fenster steps into a different world—a creative one in which she designs and constructs her own books. “Working on my books relaxes me,” she said. “And I have the opportunity to reflect—think about my life and my goals.”

Fenster has been making her own books since she was a young girl, but she began to seriously hone her craft in 1996, when she took a printmaking course at the University. “I’ve always liked the feel of old books that have been sitting on the shelf forever,” she said. Fenster’s books present a unique display of textures, materials and mediums—bound in leather, suede, lace, gauzy strips of brightly colored fabric. Some are traditional hardbound books with inlaid designs; others are more whimsical with nontraditional bindings and shapes. The books are accented with ribbons, homemade paper and printed images. “I really like using materials just sitting around. I once used a leather coat from high school, as the cover for a journal,” she said. In addition to found materials, Fenster makes her own paper with flowers and plants from her garden, old blue jeans, and anything else that strikes her fancy. Each book is a product of intensely personal effort and displays the varied hues of her personality.

Fenster creates a wide variety of books including address books, sketch books, journals, wedding guest books, and books that commemorate special events, such as Mother’s Day. Some are blank, so their owners can write their own stories while others tell a story in pictures, like a pictorial book of the story of King Kabul I and Gawain the Kitchen Boy. “In book arts, you can be inspired by an image, preserve the creative process and keep people interested in the product, because they can add their own creativity when they personalize the book as they see fit,” she said. “I like usable art—art that functions.”

Over the past several years, she has developed a database of all the books she has created, maintains a Web site showcasing her work and averages enough sales each year to sustain not only her passion for book arts, but also her other artistic interests which include painting and gardening. On average, her books sell for anywhere between $5 and $250.

When she makes customized books, Fenster consults with her clients, to determine what they want, then adds a bit of her own flair. She also works in other mediums, including printmaking, a process of taking an image, adhering it to a plate, inking that plate and running it through a press. As the roller pulls the paper through the press, the image is transferred. “Printmaking is my favorite thing to do,” Fenster said. “But a good press can cost over $8,000 and studio time is hard to come by. Someday, I hope to have a press in my home.”

In the meantime, Fenster is making the most of the tools she does have at her disposal. She is, perhaps, repurposing Cicero’s thinking on books, creating a world where books without artistry are books without soul.

Trish’s books and journals can be seen online at http://www.fensterjournals.com.

—Roxane Gay