Making book

Carol Pallesen

Carol Pallesen helps keep traditional ways of bookmaking and calligraphy alive.

Carol Pallesen helps keep traditional ways of bookmaking and calligraphy alive.

Photo By David Robert

Since childhood, Carol Pallesen nurtured a love of writing—touching real pens to paper, creating beautiful cards and letters with her hands. Her long, slender fingers are tools for her pre-technology vision of artistry. Bookmaking evolved naturally for her.

Her inspirations for making books vary. Pallesen describes walking on a North Carolina beach, feeling a perfect harmony within herself and the external world. The wind was blowing as she picked up shells and climbed into the lifeguard chair. To commemorate the moment, she created an equilateral triangular book.

Triangles reminded Pallesen of waves and the triad between sky, water and sand. A shell from her beach walk serves as the lock, opening and closing the book, which measures about three inches per side. Pallesen created the cover paper in pastel blues and purples. The pages inside are earth tones with the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift by the Sea written in calligraphy. One can read the book six different ways, thanks to an intricate working of origami.

“By hand, it’s the movement,” says Pallesen. “It’s satisfying, and it’s beautiful.” She views her unique works as a head, heart and hand infusion of creativity.

Another book Pallesen crafted is a careful remembrance of her sister, Mary Jane, who died 16 years ago. It’s called a spine-stick book. A hinge made of paper creates the spine, where two sticks slip through. Each page inside is cut into four strips with a message written in calligraphy. The silver cover appears three dimensional with textured lines and swirls.

Spine-stick books were made by students in Pallesen’s December class at the Nevada Museum of Art. Eleven women and a 6-year-old boy personalized paste paint—a mixture of cooked wheat starch and acrylic paint—onto paper with stamps, words and textures.

Pallesen instructed the students to “go back to kindergarten” while swirling pinks and purples with her fingers. Soon, the hallway was lined with freshly painted papers in an array of colors with roses, leaves and swirled patterns.

Kathleen Durham attended Pallesen’s class a second time and showed fellow students the book she crafted in 2004. It has six sections of pages hand-stitched into the leather cover. Five sections have been filled by Durham and fellow members of the Wild Women artists group. To many students, the book seemed like a living memory.

Pallesen’s next class focuses on calligraphy, which she describes as “a ribbon turning in space.” She confesses total absorption in the movements. This class teaches the Carolingian Hand, a script developed in France around 780 A.D., with undulating rhythm and slight forward slope.

“I feel a duty in this technological world to keep the handwritten word alive,” Pallesen says. “I’m not against the machine, but I think we need a counterbalance.”

She laughs, pointing at the boxed computer that’s never been used on the floor of her scriptorium. Shelves are filled with bottles of paint, wicker baskets overflow with edging pens amid rolls, sheets and stacks of paper. When it comes to making books, Pallesen can’t decide if the words or the pens came first.

She says bookmaking is part painting and part sculpture. “In a tiny way, I’m reminding people of beautiful thoughts and ideas,” Pallesen says.

For an introduction into bookmaking on an old printing press, Bob Blesse teaches Book Arts (Art 414) at UNR every semester at the Black Rock Press to six students who learn typesetting, bookbinding, papermaking, design concepts and typography. Spring semester is already full. Contact him at to prepare for enrollment next summer or fall.