Ali Manning’s studio is all about the big picture—and well-planned details. The big picture is where her workspace is located: Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts, a five-acre artist complex that includes three brick mill buildings converted into work and live/work lofts. The details are what this book artist brings to her space that make it unique and inviting: a vintage suitcase, old type drawers, an antique book press, and her beautiful handmade books on display.
Manning creates her books and teaches book art classes here, and finds the building itself inspiring, including the old staircases, large loading doors, and even the stained floors. “But the main benefit,” she adds, “is the inspiration I receive from my interactions with other artists and their work. I’ve made some wonderful friendships with the artists, and the feedback I get from them on my work is invaluable—it has really helped me develop my voice.”
She came to the complex to find a community and to have a comfortable and accessible place to teach. As she configured the open, high-ceiling room, Manning says her goal was to create work and storage areas, and places to exhibit her books during open studios. Standing-height worktables are set up in front of a large window that provides lots of light and a great view of one of the city’s many canals.
One can’t-miss feature of the studio is an impressive collection of thousands of sheets of handmade paper, stacked neatly on shelves along one wall. “Sturdy shelving is a must because the handmade paper is really heavy,” she says. Manning purchased the cache from a retired papermaker, and now uses it for her own work, in the classes she teaches, and she offers some for sale.
Bookbinding tools are stored in a fabric tool caddy and on hanging racks near her worktable. Finished books are displayed on white Ikea® shelves: “They give a clean and sturdy backdrop,” she says. Her handmade books, with their neatly stitched spines, also shine in vintage pieces: an old suitcase, small wooden crates, and classic metal shopping baskets.
“I love my set of shallow wooden drawers that I found in a group antique store in Camden, Maine,” she says. “I store extra tools for classes in there. Also, people know that I collect old wooden type drawers and typewriters, so friends will often stop by with ones they find.”
Manning says it’s important that visitors and students who come to the studio are inspired by the space, and that they feel comfortable. “I want the space to give the impression of openness, so they are comfortable asking questions about techniques, resources, etc. I also encourage them to pick up and touch my work because it’s tactile and meant to be handled.”
That hands-on experience may be the first step to learning more about making books from scratch: “I think it’s helpful to see where and how someone works, especially if it’s in a medium you’re interested in trying yourself. It takes away some of the mystery and hopefully makes it less intimidating.”
Ali Manning is a mixed-media book artist and teacher with a lifelong love of books, paper, and hand stitching. Her work is inspired by the forests that surround her New England home. When she’s not making books, she spends her time reading, going to flea markets, and hiking with her dog. Ali’s studio is in a historic converted textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. Visit her website at vintagepagedesigns.com.
The Studio Spotlight article also appears in our May/June 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. You’ll also find Ali’s article on creating a rust-printed long-stitch nature journal on page 62 of this issue. Want to see what else is inside our May/June edition? View our lookbook preview for a special sneak peek at some of the mixed-media art and projects inside!