“You just can’t produce the physical beauty or diversity of form of a book on a flat screen. And it puts limits on the creative act because of that,” according to Sallie Lowenstein, founder of 17-year-old Lion Stone Books in Kensington, Md. Lowenstein started the company as an artistic outlet for her writing and art, which she publishes in an artisanal format, and she continues to hand-produce books, instead of moving to digital publishing.
Although she typically produces one handbound, hand-sewn book a year, this fall she released two within weeks of each other. The first, Art Marks, is a journal filled with numerous vibrantly colored illustrations of a childhood road trip through India that marked a turning point in her life as an artist. The second book, Clothed in Bark, is an homage to trees, for which she created 48 “photo-drawings,” by using technical pens to accentuate the patterns and textures of trees and their bark on photographs. Her brother, Frank Lowenstein, deputy director at the New England Forestry Foundation, contributed an essay on forests.
Bound in leather with a Medieval Longstitch binding and printed on archival paper, Clothed in Bark is Lowenstein’s most expensive book to date, and her only one with a leather cover. Each of the 650 copies of the first edition, 6.5 X 14 inches high, retails for $150. Art Marks, for which she initially printed 500 copies, is a more traditional size, 5-3/4 wide X 9-1/2 inches high, and is printed on what seems like a thick notebook paper. It retails for $30, in part because its Coptic binding takes only one and a half hours to bind, versus 4 hours for Clothed in Bark. Lowenstein factors both materials and time into the price. “But,” she says, “ultimately it’s what I was told when I started selling my paintings and stone carvings: I have to be sure I’m satisfied with the price once it’s sold. I do beautiful books to be read. I want a book to be an intimate experience.”
Both books have received strong advance comments. Deborah Gaston, director of Education at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, notes, “Clothed in Bark reminds us that the sensory aspects of handmade books are increasingly special in this age of e-books. This focus on the senses extends beyond the book’s physical qualities to entice us to slow down and pay attention to the world around us.” Alida Allison at the National Center for Children’s Literature calls Art Marks “[a] truly lovely memoir. . . . Lowenstein’s prose matches her art and honors the memory of her journey.”
Stone Lion's books are available from Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other distributors, as well as bookstores and museum stores. Lowenstein and her brother will do some events, including a presentation and reception at the Harvard Forest, one of North America’s oldest managed forests. At a time when books can sometimes seem like commodities, Lowenstein has found a way through Stone Lion Books to preserve the sense of books as art, literally. “So far, [the books] seem to be selling themselves,” says Lowenstein. “I think people are so surprised by the books and so taken with the tactile quality, with the whole package—something so different from the digital world and the movement to e-books. After all, isn’t that the point of art, either literary or visual. It is an artifact of a culture.”