The Kerrytown BookFest’s Community Book Award, which honors local contributions to publishing and book arts, will go to Tom and Cindy Hollander when the festival returns for its 10th year on Sunday at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market.
Chief among those contributions is Hollander’s School of Book & Paper Arts, which for almost 20 years has offered workshops, classes and studio space for book artists (my husband among them) and drawn students and teachers from around the country to Ann Arbor. So there is more than a touch of irony in the timing of Sunday’s award: When the 11th annual BookFest rolls around, the school will be no more.
I talked to Tom and Cindy earlier this week about their decision to close the school at the end of the spring 2013 term. In response to what they describe as diminishing enrollment, they say they are stepping away from one branch of a business that has expanded dramatically from the tiny shop on the second floor of Kerrytown Market & Shops in 1991. Today, the main floor of Hollander’s offers a lavish collection of fine papers and stationery, desk sets, decorative boxes and gifts along with bookbinding supplies; Hollander’s Kitchen Store is upstairs.
“When we opened our store,” Cindy said, “I can say I never heard the word ‘book art.’” But by 1994, she and Tom were teaching workshops and by 2002, they were using the lower level of their Kerrytown space for the Hollander’s School of Book & Paper Arts. Tom gives some credit for that expansion to local book artist Barbara Brown, who in the mid-1990s was leading occasional workshops at Hollander’s while also attending summer sessions at the American Academy of Bookbinding in Telluride, Colo.
“She’d come back after taking these classes,” Tom said, “and she really talked it up” – eventually persuading him to check things out for himself. “I’d been around the next level [of book arts] for long enough that I got interested in more than just business – I was ready for something different,” he said. “I wanted to go to the next level myself.”
Tom Hollander went to Telluride; what followed was a partnership with the academy that brought prestigious AAB faculty to Hollander’s from 2002 to 2006 and national recognition for the expanding Hollander’s operation. The store’s rich inventory of bookbinding papers and supplies deepened, the school’s schedule of classes and roster of instructors expanded and enrollment continued to grow. The Hollanders also were among the original organizers of the BookFest, and served on the board for eight years.
But the past couple years have brought some changes to the home front for the Hollanders. They visited their daughter – and grandson Oliver – in Alabama this past Labor Day weekend; that’s a 13-hour drive each way. Their son lives in Washington, D.C.
Their business has seen some changes, too – specifically, they say, a drop in enrollment at the school. While popular teachers are still filling certain paper arts and bookbinding workshops, Tom said, overall student numbers are down and “classes are falling off.”
The school “was a lot of work for me to oversee,” he said. “It always came back to me. And if you’re going to do it, do it right,” he said. “It’s our baby; our name is on it.” And while most of the book arts schools around the country are nonprofits, “we’re not.”
Cindy, whose primary responsibility is running the store, said it flatly: “The full schedule has been a drain.”
The school has drawn customers to the store and its online operation, and Tom acknowledged that the likelihood of a hit to sales of bookbinding papers and supplies was “a consideration” in the decision to close. At the same time, they’ve decided to add art supplies to their inventory – the closing of Michigan Book and Supply earlier this year left local art students without a downtown bricks-and-mortar source for everything from paint to mat board. And they have their hands full with the kitchen store on the third floor – cooking classes will continue.
“We’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” Tom said.
Since they announced that the spring term would be the last for the school, Cindy said, “there’s been a spike in enrollment.” She and Tom, together and separately, will teach several of the more than two dozen classes being offered in the current fall term.
“We haven’t ruled out offering occasional classes” after next spring, Cindy said, “but not a schedule of classes.” And Tom said he isn’t sure what will happen to the lower-level space and its impressive collection of antique book presses, page cutters, etching presses and letterpress equipment.
With “the right person, the right circumstances, we can still be involved,” Tom said, “but at a less intense level.”
“I’d love to get to the point where we could make things again,” Cindy said. “Maybe we can take some classes.”
Barbara Brown confirmed that Tom Hollander has approached her about offering classes or operating a studio – but in a new location. She said she has had some serious discussions recently with a number of local book artists about what might come after the Hollander’s school closes its doors. A definite path forward hasn’t been mapped, she said: “We really haven’t had time to sort it out.”
But, she said, “Ann Arbor isn’t done with books yet.”
Evidence of that will be on display from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the BookFest. Along with exhibitors that include book dealers, local publishers and printers, and paper and book artists, more than 30 writers will be on hand to talk about their work in panel discussions and presentations throughout the day. (Full disclosure: as he has since 2003, my husband, Alvey Jones, will have a booth at the BookFest.)
“Poetry as It Lives and Breathes,” scheduled for noon in the main tent, looks to cover many of the creative bases: Moderator Keith Taylor and a group of poets will read and discuss their work and a souvenir booklet of their poems will be available – along with the opportunity to create a binding for it.
About the writer: Domenica Trevor lives in Ann Arbor – her columns are published periodically in The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our columnists and other contributors. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.