Sintra Statue-large

Why The Binder’s Apprentice?

In 2010 when I spent a year teaching English in Almeria, Spain, I was able to visit Lisbon, Portugal for Easter Break. In Lisbon, I saw many amazing things, including the Monastery of the Hieronymites and the Maritime Museum, a live Fado show in a shadowy basement and a rich, dubious and highly confusing street market which sold everything from World War II helmets to beaded ballgowns to the best pastries I’ve had in my life. The place that struck me the most, however, and which planted the seed for this blog, was a town outside of Lisbon called Sintra, which my friends and I visited on an overcast day towards the end of our trip. Sintra is a lush place, so green it’s almost painful to the eyes, and when I was there I felt I’d entered a land removed from this world; as we climbed the mountain road to the Pena Palace, the area’s ancient, elaborate stonework shone in shades of alternating gray rain showers and transcendent rainbows. Hidden gazebos, statues and greenhouses cast an aura of magic and possibility over our ascent. Each statue was wrought with symbolism and the one in the picture above has continued to captivate me and serve as my icon for its simple, beautiful message honoring the eternal cycle of teaching and learning.

When I returned to the States, I moved to the far north and began, among other things, to help launch a community arts center, work with local artists to develop their careers, and learn a bit about both non-profit  and for-profit businesses. While I’ve always worked in the arts, in 2012, I began formally working as an apprentice for a local book bindery called Atelier. There I helped grow the business by managing the website, arranging presentations and traveling classes, and documenting the work. At the same time, I learned traditional techniques in leather bookbinding, restoration and custom design. In 2014, I was awarded the Wisconsin Folk Arts Apprenticeship Grant and was able to work on restoring children’s books under the guidance of my mentor and teacher, Florian Bieschke.

The Binder’s Apprentice is a testament to the wisdom of the diverse mentors I’ve had; all of them without exception are notable for their commitment to simultaneously pass on what they know and stay receptive to new lessons. As one wise woman once told me, “If you stop growing, you die” and, as I’ve learned, growth is only possible by engaging in the cycle of teaching and learning.