Alumnus returns as MC’s artist in residence

Each year, Maryville College invites and welcomes a successful artist to be our Artist-in-Residence for a week and lead events focused on their expertise in the fine arts. This year’s Artist-in-Residence was Mary Sullivan, an MC alumnus and bookbinder and she hostedthroughout the week of March 9 through 13.

On Monday evening, Sullivan kicked off her residency with a talk in Lambert Recital Hall. This talk was first and foremost an explanation of her work as a bookbinder and the events that led up to this point in her career.

At MC, Sullivan explored every medium offered in the Fine Arts department. While her focus was in photography and printmaking, Sullivan appreciates the opportunities that she was faced with at MC that allowed her to explore a variety of different media and stay open minded to the new media, including letterpress printing and bookbinding.

Sullivan looks back on her days at MC with fond memories and felt at home upon her return to campus. Sullivan especially appreciates the liberal arts education that she received at MC.

“The thing about the liberal arts is that it doesn’t make you choose,” Sullivan said. “It gives you a broad educational background. It’s kind of like the collage of education: you get a little bit of everything.”

After graduating MC in 2006, Sullivan returned home to Nashville, Tenn. and received an internship at Hatch Show Print, where she was later hired on as a full time designer and worked as a designer and printer for nearly five years.
Hatch Show Print is currently the country’s oldest continually operating letterpress poster shop.

“Hatch started business in 1879, and Thomas Edison invented his incandescent light bulb in 1879. To this day both are working which I think is a pretty impressive legacy,” Sullivan said.

During her time at Hatch Show Print, Sullivan discovered the art of bookmaking and eventually made the decision to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. After completing her Master of Fine Arts, Sullivan once again returned home to Nashville with high hopes of opening Crowing Hens Bindery.

Crowing Hens Bindery is a small, privately owned business that Sullivan operates out of her own studio. The Bindery’s current work includes a product line of variously sized and styled blank books that range from inexpensive pamphlets to deluxe spring back journals.

“Crowing Hens Bindery is a small business with very humble beginnings,” Sullivan said, “but it is an idea that has been years in the making, with roots stemming from my time here at Maryville College.”

Sullivan creates beautifully bound blank books because she genuinely believes that they serve a purpose in our society. In a world where we are constantly immersed in the online world, Sullivan sees potential in using physical books.

“I believe the act of writing in a book can fulfill the kinds of needs that all of this technology can not: the needs for privacy, solitude and silence, the chance to engage in a personal reflection without having to consider the thoughts of a global audience, and above all to make a physical mark and creating a lasting artifact that proves you existed,” Sullivan said.

After her autobiographical talk on Monday evening, Sullivan gathered with those who attended the event in the Blackberry Farm Gallery for a reception at the gallery exhibit that held her work throughout the week of her residency.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Sullivan hosted workshops in the Clayton Center for eager to learn MC students.

Tuesday’s workshop was a guided lesson that taught students how to do two different methods of bookbinding. Participating students were able to watch Sullivan work, create two of their own books, and take home directions for the methods discussed during the workshop for later reference.

Wednesday’s workshop allowed students to use a small and rare letterpress that was donated to the college. In the time that MC has possessed the letterpress, no one at the college has had enough expertise on letterpress printing to get the machine to full working capacity.

Sullivan dedicated a chunk of her time at MC to cleaning and rehabilitating the press before introducing it to professors and students for use on Wednesday, March 11. During the workshop, students were able to make their own design, carve it into linoleum and print it using the press.

Following the week’s workshops, Sullivan spent time on Thursday and Friday with individual art students reviewing portfolios and offering feedback on each student’s work.

As an artist, Sullivan uses the art of bookbinding to “reclaim the intimate interaction between the mind, the pen and the page.” As an MC alumnus, Sullivan encourages current MC students to follow their passions and never be afraid to open new doors in life.

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