PUBLISHED: 16:27 03 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:29 03 February 2014
In the era of e-publishing, it seems books as objects have become more beautiful. Lucy Etherington talks to Suffolk artist and bookbinder Miranda Campbell
Like anyone in their right mind, I relish the ease of carrying around hundreds of literary tomes in one slim, lightweight device. But even in this glorious digital age, I confess, I’m a sucker for a second hand bookshop. There’s a romance in browsing dusty shelves imbued with the smell of leather and paper that Amazon can never replicate. Nothing quite beats holding a beautifully bound book in the palm of your hand.
Thankfully I’m not the only one who feels this way.
In 2009, on a trip to Paris to visit her daughter, editor Miranda Campbell visited the legendary Shakespeare&Co on the Left Bank, a book-lined warren stuffed with sofas and typewriters and beds for visiting writers, who in the past have included Hemingway and TS Eliot.
“I was struck by how cosy and quirky it felt,” Miranda recalls. “How comfortable people were being there. It was a meeting place, a community, but you could hear voices of writers and poets from the past whispering around the stacked shelves.”
Miranda was doing an MA in bookbinding at the time, and the visit inspired her to make her first book. Later in a limited edition box set, Lisez Entre les Lignes, she catches the eccentric and boudoir-ish essence of Shakespeare & Co. The book itself is, as Hemingway wrote about Paris, a moveable feast.
“I found I could use the structure and texture of bookbinding to capture the feel of the place,” says Miranda. “A good story fires the imagination and evokes strong feelings. I discovered how a book’s binding can add to the narrative.”
I meet Miranda in the converted barn she and her husband have renovated for 20 years in a remote spot between Cavendish and Clare.
As her bookbinding work has taken off, she has recently built a little ‘bindery’ within its walls. There’s a workbench, beneath which are scrolls of leather, coloured ribbons hanging from nails jutting from the herringbone brick wall, heaps of bark, feathers and leaves collected on various walks, twisted coils of wire and a central table for binding, which is all done with hand stitching using embroidery silks and beads.
She is busy creating a new exhibition for the Suffolk Craft Society, which has recently accepted her as a new member.
Considering the standards of her work, Miranda is relatively new to the craft. She worked in publishing for 25 years, tapping into her creative side through photography – powerful black and white images that reflect her travels across the world, and provide a documentary of raising a family in Suffolk.
She took a bookbinding course with Alan Fitch near Diss as a way to present her photographs, and in doing so discovered a passion. When her children had left school, she enrolled on an MA in Art, Design and The Book at The Minories in Colchester.
“I’ve always loved books and storytelling,” she says. “Shortly after starting my MA my father died. He was a great storyteller, and it left me thinking about all the stories that had died with him, as well as the memories of my childhood.”
She had caught Paris in one series of books, so in the next she set about capturing memories of her childhood in Africa and the Solomon islands.
“I felt very much at home in Africa, running barefoot as a child through the wet sand, leaving footprints that gradually disappear,” she tells me, showing me a book where the footprints are carved into handmade pages like braille.
A recent tragic loss – that of her youngest daughter, also a fabulous storyteller who had just started UEA’s prestigious Creative Writing course when she died – will also be woven into Miranda’s latest work.
“When people see my books on display in galleries, they are often reluctant to touch them as they look so delicate,” she adds. “But I would actively encourage them to touch and feel the material. It’s what my work is about.”
Miranda Campbell’s work is currently on display in the Suffolk Craft Society Shop as part of the New Members exhibition, Gallery 2, Town Hall Galleries, Corn Hill, Ipswich, IP1 1DH tel: 01473 432865,Tuesdays-Saturdays 10am-5pm. Contact Miranda at