Late on a recent rainy Tuesday night the lights of the Charleston Library Society (CLS) glowed bright well past closing time. But unlike the typical special events that often take place at the 260-year-old institution — chamber music, fundraisers, political stump speeches — the affair on hand was of an entirely different nature. It was the second meeting of the Charleston Book Union, a new club dedicated to the art of bookbinding.

“It all really focuses on the paper arts,” says Kris Westerson, who co-founded Charleston Book Union with Brien Beidler. “A lot of times when you’re working in this medium you’re working by yourself and isolated so it’s kind of nice to share the work you’re doing with other people.”

Beidler, Charleston Library Society’s in-house bookbinding director knows this isolation first hand. In his role refurbishing CLS’ vast collection he often finds himself quietly working alone on a single tome for days. Grabbing a recently reduxed volume he explains how it took him 25 hours to stretch the blue leather, glue in the marbled paper, goldleaf emboss the cover, then finally, delicately stamp the book’s name and author on the spine. “I realized that there is a growing number of folks around town interested in bookbinding and book arts,” says Beidler. “So the Charleston Book Union was born in hopes of beginning a community of book people that allows us to host workshops and share our work and ideas.”

The crowd gathers around a table of book samples members have brought. Some are as simple as collapsible accordions, a tiny orange paperback unfolds to arm’s length. There are flip books familiar from childhood, handpainted paper journals, and leather masterpieces like the work of Don Rash, a nationally recognized design bookbinder and fine printer from Pennsylvania, whose sample, a rework of H.P. Lovecraft’s Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, is inset with glass eyes and secured with a bone hook. Rash studied under a German teacher who passed down the craft.

“There’s a real tradition in fine binding that goes back thousands of years,” says Westerson. For her part, book making is more about finding a medium to house her artistic projects, be they painting or calligraphy. “As people’s use of how they use the written word changes, the artists’ work becomes a little more interesting. It’s more of a creative expression than a banal object.”

That approach is what the growing club is all about, and some of the upcoming events and challenges will take the idea of creative expression into very unique, (read: tasty) directions. “We’re going to do an edible book festival,” says Carlye Jane Dougherty, owner of Heirloom Book Co. That’s right, she means books made out of food. Every year an International Edible Book Festival is held on April 1, and while Charleston Book Union didn’t form in time to participate, an edible book event in the fall is in the works. Plus, the group plans to bring in more guest speakers and Westerson already has a few workshops organized with a pocket album class May 1 at SpaceCraft Studios.

Whether you’re a book making novice or already well-versed in over-sewing, rounding, and gilting, Beidler says the Charleston Book Union is open to all, “It is a way for people interested in books, paper, and printing to connect and learn from each other, regardless of their experience.”

To learn more, email Brien Beidler at

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