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Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010

Robin Kinney’s Art of Bookmaking

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Artist Robin Kinney, owner of Bay View Book Arts Gallery, fills her first-floor studio with handmade art books for exhibition and purchase. The gallery and classroom space, which began seven years ago, has resided in the renovated Hide House on Greeley Street since 2007. To conserve funds, Kinney will likely move the gallery further south in 2010, even while she occupies her time with another vocation—teaching the art of bookmaking at Milwaukee schools through the organization Arts @ Large.

What is Arts @ Large and how did you get involved?

Arts @ Large is an organization similar to others in the city that sponsor artists and art classes to the city schools. All these organizations recognize that the public schools have lost funding for the arts and are trying to find people to work with them in the schools to provide all types of arts education to children. I began about two and a half years ago, and with the downturn in the economy, realized that I really wanted to have every child making books.

How does bookmaking work in the classroom?

I recently worked for six months at Zablocki School with kindergartners, first-graders and fifth-graders. At the end of the time we had a school-wide gallery night. The fifth-graders wrote, illustrated and bound their own handmade books. They needed to develop a character, a back story, vocabulary, profile and pictures, plus provide a continuous story over the eight pages. Everyone’s was remarkable. I really doubt adults could have done a better job.

What makes bookmaking so fascinating to children?

Books are familiar to children, and there’s a fearlessness to making books. Bookmaking also involves structure and construction. When you’re done you can say, “I’ve made something from nothing.” When you make a book you take ownership, with a tangible object, something to hold on to. The children, of all ages, really hang on to them after they’re finished.

Will teaching replace your work in the gallery?

I love the gallery, but there’s an immediate gratification with teaching children. They’re so honest and open, optimistic. We’ll always have a gallery, though. Making books, whether in the gallery or at schools, is not gender or age specific. All the kids have a book inside them. We all have a story, a book inside us. It’s a very democratic art form. You don’t need a lot of money, training or fancy materials. It’s very private and has an intimacy you don’t have with other art forms. Really, I’d love to know that kids graduate from high school with a library of books they’ve hand-made. I feel lucky to work with the kids and the gallery.