540 at The Yards Educator Spotlight | Laura Rowley

We are pleased to have Laura Rowley her course Intro to Book Binding: Level I for the first time at 540 at The Yards

Sunday March 24th  | 2pm-3:30pm  | $20

About Laura Rowley 

Rowley grew up on Lake Ontario in Kendall, New York, a town of about 2,700, northwest of Rochester and known for being the first Norwegian settlement in the country, majored in art at Wells College in Aurora. There, she concentrated her studies in book art but said she was allowed a lot of freedom to pursue individual studies. Laura took a bookbinding class when she was 18 and after two months she knew that book art would be her life’s work. She became determined to find a way to combine art, writing, craft and community into a career. She graduated in 2011 and eventually found her way to Trumansburg.

When did you begin business and/or teaching?
LR: I began teaching book arts 7 years ago during my second year of graduate school as a Teaching Assistant. The following year I had the opportunity to teach full-time as the Victor Hammer Fellow at Wells College.My business started more recently, about 5 years ago. I transitioned from teaching at colleges to teaching community classes and workshops and selling hand-bound books and services in the book arts. In order to share and promote this idea, I founded Illuminated Press.

Where did you get the inspiration for your business brand?
LR: During the start-up phase, I was teaching workshops in the Finger Lakes area and finding purpose teaching in different communities, especially with youth. I was also writing, designing, and publishing an edition of artist’s books called Forest Phosphorescence. The book tells a story of a firefly who is lost and afraid in the dark, but meets different fireflies who help “illuminate” their path. I was really telling my own journey through this book, about moving to a new area, and the people I was meeting who were helping me find my way in the arts and feel a part of community. I decided the word “Illuminate” best described my mission-to inspire people and communities by sharing the art and craft of bookmaking.

What makes you want to teach/do your business?
LR: I am driven to teach and practice book art because the process of making books is so engaging to me, and I want to empower others with these skills. A book can be a really powerful vessel for expression and sharing ideas, and to limit this power only to publishers is not necessary. People have been producing books for hundreds of years on their own, and we need to continue making books that speak the truth.

For you how does what you do as a brand or business related to wellness?
LR: I believe that there is great potential in using language and art for personal and community wellness. For me and others, journaling is an important part of wellness. It’s my hope that the journals I make, sell, and teach how to make inspire people to use them- to share their worries, hopes, and dreams with a blank page. So often, our thoughts are overwhelming in our minds, but when we can let it out through writing or drawing, it can bring a sense of relief. Art and craft are also important tools that help fight for social change. Since the dawn of the printing press, people have been producing posters and pamphlets that reveal injustices in our societies.

This has inspired me to bring workshops to communities with an emphasis on social justice. For example, I recently collaborated with STEPS, a grassroots organization in Seneca County, for a “Sustainable Screen Printing” workshop in Lodi, NY. We visited the high school and worked with students to produce 4 designs promoting environmental sustainability. Since there has been a proposed trash incinerator to be built in Seneca County, we had really great discussions on how this could harm people and the environment. Then we held an event where community members could print the designs on tshirts and posters. I’m currently working with Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes to plan a letterpress poster printing workshop for Sexual Assault Awareness month in April. In these workshops and with the books I make and share, I hope people feel that they are not alone in the personal and societal issues that we face, and that we have a way to direct our energy toward positive change through art making.

How do you stay healthy?
LR:  is on my mind a lot, especially since I deal with Endometriosis and  Ovarian Cysts. I need to remember to exercise a few times a week at the gym or outside, eat healthy food (I do a work-trade at a local CSA for organic vegetables), get enough rest, and make time for friends and loved ones. I have found that being an entrepreneur enables me to set my own schedule, so I am able to incorporate the activities I need to stay healthy.

What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of your career?
LR: The most challenging part of my career is juggling many different roles and staying organized. I identify as an educator, bookbinder, printer, paper-maker, designer, organizer, bookkeeper, and grant-writer, and doing these things in different communities in the Finger Lakes area and beyond. It can feel overwhelming at times, with some weeks being incredibly busy, and others more calm. But I love that everyday is different, and I am constantly meeting and working with new and interesting people.

When you aren’t teaching classes what do you like to do?
LR: When I’m not teaching, I love to garden, go on walks, hike, bike, cook, make art, write, and see live music shows in the Finger Lakes area.  I take classes whenever I can. I love the idea of being a lifetime learner.

What is it that inspires you to keep going as entrepreneur.
LR: When I have doubts about being an entrepreneur (maybe I should stop all of this and get a “real” job) I remember the community of people who are also pushing through the struggles of starting their own business. Some of my friends in the area have also started businesses teaching craft-based classes and working for social change, and this inspires me to keep going. I have discovered the magazine Good Company (the authors also wrote a book called In the Company of Women) which presents women and non-binary creative people who are also making a positive difference with their work and art. Reading these stories from such a wide variety of business people has been really inspiring. It’s helped me develop a vision for the work I want to do: to put people before profits, share opportunities and wealth, and have control over the work I take and when. I am understanding that there probably is not a job out there that I could apply for that contains everything I need and want, so I need to create it myself.

What are you working on now?
LR: Right now I am working on some orders for shops in the Finger Lakes area, preparing for workshops at afterschool programs, doing my taxes, promoting a program for community art making, planning a papermaking and printing project for a wedding, planning a workshop with Safe Harbors (April 7th at the Cracker Factory in Geneva), and  helping to design a set for a middle school play.

What’s has been your best experience thus far in your business?
LR: My best experience thus far in my business has actually been these past few weeks. I feel like I am doing some community projects that I have wanted to do for a long time (Sustainable Screen Printing, youth workshops, and Sexual Assault Awareness Workshops). It’s taken an immense amount of networking and promoting ideas, but it feels awesome to see ideas come to life, and people benefiting from those ideas.

What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
LR: The most challenging aspect of my career has been feeling confident in my identity as an entrepreneur. I have struggled in the past to advocate for myself because my motivation is helping people. In my mind, I thought an entrepreneur is focused on profit for their business rather than people. This caused me to give a lot of time without making enough income, and has lead me down other career paths to have a job as a teacher, librarian, social worker, and more to make a living.

While helping people and making positive change through art will always be my purpose, I am learning that book art is an integral part of my life. I must take care of myself financially in order to do the community work I am passionate about. Recently, I took a personal finance class at the Alternatives Credit Union in Ithaca. For the first time, I began to think about money rationally- as numbers in an equation of income minus expenses rather than attaching feelings to money. I also realized I have goals that I’m working toward- paying off student debt, saving to invest in the business, and I deserve to be paid for my time to achieve these goals.I am learning to create balance. I work a part-time job through a non-profit working with a teen with Down Syndrome a few hours a week to cover my basic needs. And for my business, with some projects, I account for all of my time and materials for clients who can afford it. And with others that benefit people and communities, I use sliding scale rates or write grants to make them happen. It’s an ongoing challenge to remember to support myself, but I know if I want to do this for the long-haul, I need to be sure that the business is financially sustainable.

Why should the community take this class?
LR: The community should take this class if they have ever wondered how books are made by hand, would like journals of their own, or would like to take home some handmade gifts for loved ones. These classes are great for beginners and people with experience as well because we will be making relatively simple structures, but there will be lots of time to experiment and play with materials too. Also, I think classes are always a great way to meet people and socialize. Let’s shake those winter blues and make beautiful things together!

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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