The Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen is proud to announce Whitney Withington as our March 2019 Artist of the Month! Doing business as Sacred Woman Text, Whitney Withington has been creating unique and personal hand-made journals since the 1990s. Using repurposed woods, decorative hand-made papers, waxed linen threads, and hand-torn archival pages with Coptic stitch binding, Whitney encourages people to enjoy her heirloom-quality journals as a new creative space for their own work.
In 2019, Whitney received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women to create artist books presenting the lives of African-American women and their families in Appalachia. A collection of her hand-made journals are available at the Kentucky Guild Visual Arts Galleries in Old Town Berea. She graciously answered several questions about her work and process:
Q. Why did you become interested in bookmaking?
Whitney Withington: I began bookmaking in 1996 by combining my love for journal writing with sewing. Before I became a bookmaker, I had spent many years searching for the right journals for my creative writing. By becoming a bookmaker, I was able to make my own journals, using my experiences to create the journals I would enjoy using as a writer. My goal as a bookmaker is to create fully functional journals which inspire writers.
Q. How has your bookmaking developed over the years?
WW: For the first fifteen years of bookmaking I was completely self-taught. I began bookmaking with very simple handheld tools and recycled materials. As my skills developed, I began to embellish my journals with embroidery, bead work, handmade papers and more elaborate binding techniques.
For the past seven years, I have been attending Arrowmont Craft School and Campbell Folk School to further my bookmaking skills. There I have learned to incorporate Coptic Stitch Binding, image transfers, printmaking and encaustics in my bookmaking. Taking classes in bookmaking has been a great way to transition from being self-taught to a more well-rounded bookmaker.
Q. Who has helped you develop your bookmaking techniques?
WW: I am grateful to the many people and organizations who have helped me develop my bookmaking skills. The artist enrichment grant by the Kentucky Foundation for Women has provided me with funding to purchase bookmaking equipment and improve my bookmaking techniques.
Learning new techniques and mediums has also been an important area of growth for me as a bookmaker. Collaborations with woodworker Joe Osolnik has inspired the use of reclaimed woods and taught me several woodworking skills. I am learning photo editing and book design programs with the assistance of a computer mentor, Kent Withington, to be able to create multiple edition books.
Q. Where do you foresee your future bookmaking ambitions?
WW: One of my future bookmaking goals is to learn to create artist books. Artist books are different than journals because artist book’s interior pages are filled with imagery and words. I hope to combine traditional bookmaking techniques, such as letterpress, with newer computer aided techniques for book design. Learning to make artist books will require me to bring all my skills as an artist to the table while learning several new techniques.
Q. Who has been an inspiration to your bookmaking over the years?
WW: There are many great bookmakers out there whose artistic styles have inspired me, yet it is my mother, Kay Withington, who inspires me most with my bookmaking. For it is my mother who has used the journals to create a record our family’s daily life. Her journals are filled with memories, prayers and notes of gratitude. It is a joy and inspiration to see my mother using the many journals I have given to her as gifts.
Q. What advice do you have for people interested in bookmaking?
WW: Making your own journals can be very rewarding. I always encourage people interested in bookmaking to begin with the simple items they may have at hand. I began with a sewing kit, a hole punch and recycled papers. You can even start with a stapler. Have fun and make a little journal you would enjoy using. Stick with it and soon your own bookmaking skills will develop. I also encourage people to try taking a bookmaking workshop to improve your skills and meet other people interested in the book arts.