Field Interview: Kelly Allen-Kujawski
Today's interview is with artist, Kelly Allen-Kujawski of Rarities Bindery. Kelly preserves treasured memories and the endangered art of writing, pen to paper. Her technique is labor intensive from start to finish. Owning a Rarities Bindery journal is so special. You can feel the amount of love, dedication and work that Kelly has put towards your piece! Kelly is a positive light always and we can't wait to have her in the Field all winter!
Find Kelly in the Field at
SUNDAYS: 2/11, 3/11 + 4/8
1. Rarities Bindery preserves the art of writing through handmade journals and special memories through preservation boxes. Has preserving these personal art forms always been important to you?
I would honestly have to say no. I'm not a writer by any means, but for as long as I can remember, my nose has been buried in books. This led to me collecting antique books. (They smell so good and are so pretty!) This then led me to wanting to save the ones that needed some love. As for preserving memories? I come from a LARGE Portuguese and Sicilian family with a small side of old English and Native American. We have some memories to save for sure!
2. Can you elaborate on the purpose/thought behind a preservation box a bit? What are the different things that people use them for? What makes a preservation box a better option for storing something special?
A preservation box is exactly what it sounds like. A box to preserve or protect a book or artifact. While I specialize in books, I've made a few boxes for family heirlooms as well. When my grandmother passed, my mom and I found her wedding prayer book and gloves she wore. I designed a box to house them together to keep them safe as not only are they over 55 years old, but they're covered in a delicate lace. The boxes are made with all archival quality materials, meaning, it will help protect the item, slow disintegration down, and keep the item clean without risk of elements touching it. It truly is one of the best ways to protect and preserve something of importance.
3. How did you learn the art of book/journal binding?
Though many classes, after discovering the art through a YouTube video. I started with some basic bookbinding and box making classes at the Creative Arts Network in New Haven, CT. Once I realized I wanted to stick with this and move into conservation and preservation, I began taking classes (whenever I was and am able to) at North Bennet Street School up in Boston.
4. Is it more time consuming to work with leather versus the paper covers? Or are they both a long process?
Using papers and making the hardcover books is the most time consuming. Hardcover books have to have the pages cut, folded, and pressed so they’re flattened out. Pressing takes 4 to 12 hours depending on thickness. Once pressed, sewing holes need to be punched, and pages sewn together. Spines need gluing and backing to protect it from usage. Then boards are cut, decorative papers and cloth all measured, cut, and glued, and everything attached before being pressed to dry. And that's the condensed step by step! Leather is much easier as there are no pastes, no pressing, and it's a much more rustic design so measurements don't need to be as perfect or precise.
5. I know that you take pride in the vintage papers that you use for covers. What is your most prized vintage paper find?
Oh boy. There have been a few sheets I've had that I've had quite the internal struggle with about cutting up when the time came. My absolute favorite though, is a handmade paper from Nepal that is about 30 years old and is just stunning (to me). The paper and designs are all hand done. I bought 2 sheets of it at the time and am kicking myself for not buying more!
6. What types of journals do you offer? Are they mainly for writing or sketching?
Mainly for writing. But I'm branching out a bit and custom orders are always welcome. I have some that I've made recently in leather that contain water color paper. I've done a bridal planner for a new bride; guest books for a wedding; a photo album as a wedding gift; and one of my favorites, a pocket sized wine journal. Record you favorite wines while you're out enjoying it!
7. Do you personally journal on a regular basis?
Eh no. I'm a terrible writer. I tried for years to keep journals but usually would forget about it after a week or two. I prefer to nap away what's bothering me I think. Haha!
8. Tell us a little bit about custom orders that people have come to you for. What is the usual lead time if someone would like to order something custom?
Ooo custom orders are fun! I received a custom order last year for a new bride (the one I mentioned a few questions up). The customer wanted a bridal planner for the bride, and 2 regular journals as well. These were all going to be gifts to her daughter's teachers at the end of the year. The customer provided bottles of wine, and I put together a whole end of year gift basket for them. Baby books get ordered a lot… usually gender neutral but those are fun too. The most recent order I had was for a mini leather journal with matching leather 6 ring planner. Time varies on custom orders depending on what is being ordered, if I need to order specific supplies, etc. Typically, 2 weeks to a month.
9. What would your advice be to a fellow artist who wants to embark on an intensive new process or medium but isn't sure where to start?
My advice is to just do it. Start where you feel you should and it'll build from there. Don't sweat small stuff like having a name brand or anything like that. Start with learning your product and passion and go about making it. Find classes somewhere, go on YouTube, read some books on the subject. Be confident in what you want to do and go rock it.
10. Dream collaboration? Can be a specific person, general person, company, etc. What would you create together?!
Favorite authors! Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Steinbeck, Neil Gaiman, J.R. Ward, David Mitchell, and Jay Kristoff. What would we create? I'd have their minds all work together to write a fantasy, old world, psychologically mind bending and hysterical yet romantic and sexy novel that I would then bind in a fabulous leather and keep all for myself.
See more of Kelly's work through her Instagram!