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The Ground Shots Podcast

Feb 2, 2020

This episode of the Ground Shots Podcast features a conversation with craftsfolk Brien Beidler and Mary Sullivan at the off-grid rural Idaho homestead of Jim Croft and Melody Eckroft during their summer 2019 ‘Old Ways of Making Books’ class.

Brien, Mary and I sat down at the end of a three week workshop period where we all had different roles as both teachers and students during Jim and Melody’s yearly or bi-yearly ‘Old Ways of Making Books’ class. Brien and Mary are highly skilled bookbinders who came to assist Jim Croft and also continue to learn and be mentored by him.

I’ve mentioned the old ways class on the podcast several times and posted about it on the blog over the years. Alyssa Sacora and I talk about the Old Ways class on the podcast, here. I posted a photo diary three years ago of my time at Jim and Melody’s homestead, here. I posted a recent photo diary documenting the hide tanning portion of the class from this summer, here.


From the beginning, Brien Beidler has been inspired by historic bindings, and is consistently delighted by their ability to harmonize fine craftsmanship, quirky but elegant aesthetics, and evidence of the hands that made them. Though traditionally structured and bound with integrity, Brien's bindings seek ways to create new compositions and juxtapositions of these historic precedents.

Naturally, a healthy love of the tools of the trade followed suit, and with the generosity and encouragement of toolmaking legends Jim Croft and Shanna Leino, Brien also creates a limited assortment of specialized hand tools for bookbinding and its related trades.

Over the last nine years Brien has taken and taught a variety of bookbinding and toolmaking workshops, and is an active member of the Guild of Book Workers. In the fall of 2016, he and his wife upped their roots in Charleston, South Carolina and set up shop in Bloomington, Indiana, where Brien works from his home studio with Wren, his curmudgeonly Brittany.


Mary Sullivan grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and was one of those children who always seemed to be making something. After completing her BA in Fine Art from Maryville College in 2006 she worked as a designer and printer at the legendary Hatch Show Print, one of the country's oldest continually operating letterpress poster shops in Nashville, TN. After several years absorbing the history, materials, and tools of the trade she left Nashville temporarily to pursue an MFA in book arts at the renowned University of Iowa Center for the Book in Iowa City, Iowa. 

Over the next 3 years she studied bookbinding, paper-making, printmaking, calligraphy, and book repair and was taught by some of the most respected practitioners in my field. Upon completing her MFA in Book Arts in 2014, she moved back to her hometown in Nashville and founded Crowing Hens Bindery, where she designs, makes, and sells everything from blank books to letterpress printed stationery, decorative papers, art prints, and tools; all made by hand, one at a time.


In this episode of the podcast, we talk about:


how Brien and Mary met the bookbinder and papermaker Jim Croft and how he affected their relationships to bookbinding, printmaking, papermaking, and craft in general.

how learning about bookbinding and craft processes at Jim and Melody's homestead in northern Idaho is unique because of their land-based lifestyle

how Jim Croft's books are modeled after medieval era books, but are unique to him and the landscape of northern Idaho

the scavenge nature of Jim Croft's craft process

Brien talks about his focus on bookbinding, toolmaking etc. and his preference for making his books and tools accessible

Mary speaks on her work of bookbinding, printing, and art making; as well as her graduate school research on paper-making production

how industrialization affects the slow craft of bookbinding especially when using materials from the land and doing the process by hand and with the focus of quality books in mind

the effects industrialization has on the consumer's expectations of perfectionism, something that didn't always exist in bookbinding and paper-making historically

some bookbinding history

the responsibility of carrying on the trade of bookbinding and not losing the knowledge of how to make different styles of books

how capitalism affects our understanding and treatment of books

some talk on the value of art vs. craft in our culture


Jim and Melody’s website, where you can contact them about future classes out in Idaho (calling or writing letters is best):

Brien’s website:

Brien’s instagram: @bhbeidler

Mary’s website:

Mary’s instagram: @crowinghensbindery

Penland School of Craft:

Friends of Dard Hunter paper-making conference:

University of Iowa Center for the Book:


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Theme music: 'Sweat and Splinters' by Mother Marrow

Produced by: Opia Creative