If you can buy artisanal bread, why not artisanal books? That’s the question asked by Sheilah Egan of Egan Impressions, publicist for Lion Stone Books and its new Artisanal series. Beginning this month with the publication of founder Sallie Lowenstein’s Geneses: Alien Creation Myths and Their Descendants, the 15-year-old small press is publishing a series of hand-bound books for young people, at what Egan calls “commercially viable” prices. Lowenstein hand-fed the color images through a giclee-quality printer, hand cut and hand assembled the book before hand-sewing it with linen thread in a Japanese stab binding. She also hand-folded and hand-wrapped the dust jackets for Geneses, which retails for $28.
Lowenstein chose the name Geneses, plural for “Genesis,” to describe the variety of creation myths in the book, Lion Stone’s 11th. She has been fascinated with other cultures ever since she traveled through Burma (now Myanmar) as a girl. Lowenstein, who writes and illustrates most of Lion Stone’s books, is perhaps best known for Sender Unknown, which has sold close to 62,000 copies in a Scholastic edition.
Lowenstein began creating fine art before turning to writing and regards Geneses—and all print books—as art. “A book is like a kinesthetic sculpture; you turn the page,” she says. She chose the name “Artisanal” for her new series, she adds, “because I wanted to use a term that says they’re handmade and very personal. But they’re still literature with original illustrations. It’s a very personal way to sell books in a very mass market world.” Lowenstein has no interest in doing e-books, which, she says, have a flat dimensionality. “The books aren’t finished until I completely finish the illustrations and the design. It influences how they are read. You don’t get those variances in e-books; there’s no texture.”
Typically Lion Stone (a literal translation of “Lowenstein”) publishes one book a year, although Lowenstein may do a second at the end of 2012. Her next Artisanal book will be on old growth forests and is written by her brother, Frank Lowenstein, former director of forest health for The Nature Conservancy’s North American Conservation Region and now its climate change adaptation strategy leader. She will illustrate it with “photo drawings” of trees and bind in a medieval longstitch binding with a leather cover. The third book in the series is a novel for teens and young adults that will have a similar Japanese stab binding as Geneses. But the pages will be folded to create patterns down the edges when the book is closed. “I’m sort of a perfectionist about the books being beautiful,” says Lowenstein.