The electronic media tsunami has not yet completely obliterated the culture of printed matter. According to one youthful source, photographers at last year’s Le Book meeting were all showing their work on iPads; but this year they went back to portfolios, purportedly because the electronic images just didn’t do justice to their work. That’s good news for Brooke Merrill Tinney, the Boiceville-based proprietor of a bookbindery called Dweller By The Stream Bindery.
All of her clients are currently photographers, who hire her to create a one-of-a-kind, high-quality portfolio or box for their work, often to specific requirements. “I do luxury items,” she said. Indeed, some of the portfolios that she has crafted are veritable works of art, tooled from soft leather with a silk lining or consisting of a delicate box that unfolds in unexpected ways. Or the book might be covered in a photographic image, seamlessly wrapped from front to back. One of her unique creations consists of multiple small books incorporated within the binder, each consisting of a mini-presentation of images: a solution that best reflects the client’s strong sense of narrative, she notes on her blog.
Tinney said that in figuring out how to execute a client’s concept, she often collaborates with other skilled people in the area. For example, one client wanted an all-white binder in glossy paper, with a name silkscreened in white on the cover. When the silkscreen wouldn’t adhere to the glossy paper, Tinney said that Ann Kalmbach, executive director at the Women’s Studio Workshop, came up with the solution: vinyl lettering. She contracted out the lettering to a guy who operates a small sign business (“located in a tiny outbuilding in his backyard”) and has a vinyl cutter linked to a computer.
She also has worked with Ginny Ballard, the framer at Catskill Art & Office Supply in Kingston. “Ginny and I, over the years, have developed interesting techniques that enable me to use a wraparound photograph on the cover of a portfolio,” Tinney said.
While most bookbinders find their calling through their literary antiquarian interests, Tinney was different: She had earned a graphic design degree at the Rochester Institute of Technology and worked as a production manager at an ad agency, meanwhile earning a graduate degree in Printing Technology. The path to becoming a binder was somewhat circuitous (though she noted that she had always “loved the smell of ink”). In the early 1990s, she was vacationing in Northampton, Massachusetts, when she became entranced by a bookbindery located in a “little elfin magical house” on a side street. She subsequently signed up for a three-month internship offered by proprietor Bill Streeter, took some classes at the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan, purchased an “old gentleman’s bindery” – the equipment was briefly stored in Streeter’s brother’s barn – and soon had hung out her shingle on a small place around the corner from her apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Fortuitously, the abandoned building across the street opened as a microbrewery, and before she knew it the brewery’s customers, beer in hand, were drifting over to her shop, curious about what the woman framed within the bay window was doing with her chopping apparatus (it was called a board shear and resembled a big paper-cutter). Having purchased someone’s blank journal and photo album business, she always had specialized items for sale, and soon was busy restoring old cookbooks and family Bibles.
Utilizing her graphic design background, Tinney grew her business by targeting ad agencies and photographers. At one point, she was working with 15 high-end wedding photographers, binding the albums that they sold to their customers. Electronic media and the advent of low-cost online album producers have cut into that business, though Tinney said that she “is still riding the wave” of demand for you-can-touch-it customized print products. However, she is not sure how long it will continue, so to hedge her bets she and her partner, Daniel Bishop, are semi-homesteading on their 22 acres on the side of a mountain in Boiceville, while raising their two children.
They had left the City in 1999, initially working as caretakers. Tinney said that she chose the area because of the availability of good food – she had belonged to a food co-op in her Brooklyn neighborhood – the beautiful Nature, the access to culture and proximity to the City, where most of her clients are based. Tinney keeps goats and makes cheese from their milk and grows vegetables and herbs, which form the basis for homemade medicinal remedies, body creams and other products. Bishop, a woodworker and carpenter, built a 60-foot bridge across the stream on their property, as well as a building to house their studios (all from wood and stone procured on the site). “I’m studying biodynamic farming,” said Tinney. “We’re going to try to develop more of this land.”
Meanwhile, she continues to develop her binding business, which by and large fits into her crunchy-granola lifestyle (only one piece of equipment, the stamping machine, uses electricity). Clients find her through her blog at https://dwellerbythestream.wordpress.com, or through the reps with whom Tinney works; she also cold-calls photographers whose work she likes. “Back in the day when I worked in the ad agency, I didn’t think of myself as earthy/crunchy; but they named my hard drive ‘Earth Mother,’ so I guess I always had this in me,” she said, noting that life in Boiceville is good indeed.