Paper business in line with UI’s book arts program


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Just off the alley between Washington Street and Iowa Avenue, tucked in the back of Beadology, is the Paper Nest.

The business, no bigger than the average dorm room and owned by 32-year-old Elizabeth Munger, serves University of Iowa students and others seeking high-quality paper and tools for printmaking and bookbinding.

But what may seem like a niche market is in fact a growing one, particularly in the Iowa City area.

Since Munger opened her store in November, she estimates around 50 UI students have some through her doors, many looking for specialty paper.

She serves printmakers and bookbinders who study at the UI Center for the Book, students in the School of Art and Art History, and other Iowa City residents.

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“It’s definitely a niche business,” she said. “You don’t really find a lot of specialty art shops anymore.”

And though specialty art stores are still somewhat uncommon, the field of specialty paper is a growing one, said Christina Rancon, a decorative paper specialist at Art Supply Warehouse in Westminster, Calif.

That trend is mirrored at the UI, where the Center for the Book is set to expand to offer an M.F.A. in book arts next year.

Graduate-student applications for enrollment in the Center for the Book have tripled since officials announced the addition of the M.F.A. program, said Director Matthew Brown.

Degree-granting programs in book arts are rare, he said.

“The university’s program, between its facilities and its faculty — it will really be a national leader,” he said.

Munger, who once studied at the Center for the Book, also does letterpress printing of wedding invitations, custom stationery, business cards, and album covers.

“It’s not necessarily a drawing and painting type of thing,” she said. “People are realizing that you can do mixed media with paper.”

To the center’s printmakers and bookbinders, there is a big benefit to seeing and touching the paper before they use it as opposed to ordering it online without knowing precisely what they will receive, Munger said.

“Shipping and handling and waiting time is kind of a pain,” Munger said, noting materials will bind differently depending on their physical properties.

Emily Martin, a UI adjunct assistant professor at the center, said she prefers buying the supplies in person.

“It’s nice to be able to get one sheet of something and see what it’s like instead of having to order things,” she said. “It’s much nicer to be able to go and look.”

Martin said the class fees at the center cover basic materials, but many students need additional supplies that they buy in such local craft stores.

UI junior Ashley Bruxvoort used material from the Paper Nest recently to create hardcover pamphlets for her Bookbinding I class.

“The great thing about buying it in person is you can see exactly what you’re going to get and how big the sheet is going to be,” said the English major who has never ordered online. “You could order it online, and something completely unexpected could show up.”

Bruxvoort said students often buy paper directly from the Center for the Book or get paper out of a collective scrap bin for projects.

“If you’re picky about what you want, as I am, you have to go and buy it,” she said.

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