We had the good fortune of connecting with Lee Steiner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lee, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
When asked what I do, I tell people I make books by hand and the response is often, “Oh! I didn’t know anyone still did that.” In a casual conversation, how can I tell someone that bookbinding has been going on for almost two thousand years? Right now, there’s a skilled and vibrant community of bookbinders and book artists stretching around the world and, thankfully, they’re not just hidden in the basements of museums, but connected through websites, university tutorials, and every current social media platform. With bookbinding, there is always something new to learn, whether it’s mastering an ancient technique, experimenting with a newly developed tool or material, or just making it up as you go along.
The follow-up question is usually, “What do you do with the books you make?” Here’s where I get excited. I get to share all the ways a book with blank pages can enhance the life of someone who normally would never dare to write in a bound volume. I even wrote a little booklet I give away for free that tells you no to be afraid of the blank page and lists ideas to inspire you. I want others to know that when you hold a handmade book, you hold past knowledge in the palm of your hand. You can use the present to fill the blank pages and write your own future.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a native Texan and life-long artist. “Artist” includes bookbinder, painter, papermaker, and writer as well as collector, re-purposer, and finder of things. My handmade books all feature a “Vintage Vibe,” no doubt due to growing up in an inventive family of makers and junk collectors who’ve influenced my creative work with their habit of stopping the car whenever they saw something good by the side of the road.
Domestic Papers is the name of my book arts studio in Houston’s East End. The name comes from my love of everything paper and my love of travel to faraway places in search of cool finds to bring home to my cozy, antique-filled studio. I make travel journals from ancient map images, sketchbooks from rescued library discards, and I use my collection of vintage paper ephemera to create the one-of-a-kind, warm, blank paper-filled journals that writers love to get their hands on.
I’ve taught bookbinding workshops at local museums, for arts organizations, and in my own studio for many years. I love to share the art and craft of bookbinding with others and watch them light up as they realize there are endless possibilities to explore. I believe my passions – reading, collecting, sewing, writing, making – inspired what I see as my mission in life: to rescue paper and book materials that may be lost forever and give them a fresh purpose for the future.
Through my online Etsy shop, over 1,400 of my unique books have found their homes with writers and artists all over the world.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
When I have a guest visiting Houston, I like to show off our neighborhood in the East End. Just east of downtown, our vibrant urban community is home to many mural projects painted by local artists. You can easily plan a route to see them by car or bicycle and stop for fun photo ops. The city has convenient kiosks where you can rent a cool cruiser bike for the afternoon.
Houston is an international cuisine city so our guests never miss an interesting meal. We regularly enjoy La Esquina (our local taco truck), French Fry House, a tiny Thai cafe, a Monterey-style chicken grill, a neighborhood taqueria, an artsy coffeehouse, and, of course, all kinds of barbecue!
Our city has some quirky smaller museums that are a nice change from the big institutions. The Art Car Museum, The Orange Show, and The Printing Museum, for starters. With our area’s ethnic diversity, there’s always something new to explore.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to dedicate this Shoutout to the talented and lively members of the Houston Book Arts Guild, based at The Printing Museum in Houston, Texas.
Youtube: Domestic Papers Lee Steiner