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Binding Ties

Handmade Tales: Elissa Campbell

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Whenever Elissa Campbell, 38, of Blue Roof Designs goes on vacation, she buys a few more unique sheets of handmade paper. Her collection resides in a massive metal flat file in the basement studio of her Montpelier home — which is, yes, roofed with bluish slate. The paper craftswoman pulls out file drawers for visitors with the pride of a jeweler, revealing neatly stacked pages of every imaginable shade, pattern and heft.

There are leaves of razor-thin wood veneer from her trip to Paris, and a few examples of an arresting red-and-green dragon print she found in New Mexico. A sheaf of pale-blue, daisy-embossed sheets, Campbell says, were made by internationally known papermaker Richard Langdell of East Topsham, Vermont. Fingering a selection from Japan, she enthuses, “Japanese paper is like the butter of paper: It behaves so nicely.” Some samples she can’t bring herself to use. “I get kind of attached to paper sometimes,” she admits with a chuckle.

When Campbell eventually subjects these rectangular beauties to her high-end cutter — “I like my toys,” she avers — she transforms them into stunning photo albums, journals, guest books and other bound works of art. One line of journals, named for exotic birds, has a sewn-strap, binding adorned with colorful, trailing synthetic plumage; another integrates a single chopstick into its traditional stab binding to complement the Japanese-print cover. A wedding set called “The Bridal Suite” includes a large photo album with a satin-ribbon ballet-shoe binding, a smaller album, a guest book, an accordion journal and photo corners. This all comes in a matching handmade box that’s big enough to hold additional nuptial mementos.

After her husband pressured her, Campbell says, she changed her prices to reflect the actual time she spends on each piece. The work-intensive journals go for $50, and a Bridal Suite costs $500. “Wedding photographers get at least that much,” Campbell points out — then they typically insert the photos into commercially made albums that she dismisses as “toilet seat covers.”

Trained in art therapy, Campbell calls her blank tomes “a place for people to express themselves.” The upstate New York native earned a Master’s degree in expressive therapies from Lesley University while working part-time at a paper store, where she taught workshops on making albums. The job helped her settle on bookbinding therapy for her thesis topic. “Even though I don’t do art therapy anymore, this is my contribution,” she says.

Campbell crafts only on evenings and weekends. She works full-time as the office and information systems manager of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, a national nonprofit based in Montpelier. CERF provides financial assistance to craft artists coping with career-threatening disasters; currently the organization is helping Midwesterners whose workshops have fallen to the flood waters.

The online tech guru takes her hands-on craft seriously, attending bookbinding classes and workshops around the country to acquire new techniques. Recently, she learned caterpillar binding — a threading method that looks just like its namesake — which she plans to incorporate into a series of wood-bound notebooks.

Campbell also finds time for the larger art community. A member of the Book Arts Guild of Vermont, she blogs about her discoveries regularly on WordPress.com. She helps organize area artists under the umbrella group Montpelier Watershed Artists for Open Studio Weekend. And Campbell participates in Vermont Arts Council statewide initiatives: Last year she made a flag book of pop-up maple and oak leaves for the “Palettes of Vermont” project, and now she’s contemplating what to do with the oversized wooden puzzle piece for this year’s VAC project, “Art Fits Vermont.”

Campbell’s next vacation destination is the Virgin Islands — a relaxing place for most, but she’s worried. “I think they don’t have any paper there,” she says, sounding genuinely concerned. “It’s going to be weird, but I guess I’ll just have to sit on the beach.”


Click a photo above to see the location.

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