Eco-Friendly Artist

Central Kentucky’s Oesch
finds her niche with leather

She makes hard-bound books
out of recycled materials

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(September 2012) – When Melissa Oesch came up with an idea for creating hand-bound books, she didn’t know it would catch on like it did. After more than two years of working at it fulltime, she enjoys the creative process and the eco-friendly aspect of her artwork.
Oesch, a resident of Lexington, Ky., creates hand-bound books out of recycled or repurposed materials. Her creations include journals, photo albums, wedding albums, book necklaces and book ornaments.
“I’ve kept a journal since I was 6 or 7 years old,” said Oesch, 29. “Writing has been a large part of my life.”

Melissa Oesch

Photo by Emily Ward

Melissa Oesch of Lexington, Ky.,
has been creating hand-bound
books since someone suggested
she make her own.

While attending college, someone asked Oesch if she would like to learn how to make her own books. She decided this idea would be worth pursuing and has since turned it into a lucrative business.
As a self-taught artist, Oesch said she primarily works with fabrics. She uses leather, coffee and rice bags, and paper to produce her distinctive books and journals. She loves mixing stitching and sewing with these materials and learned to sew by “trial and error.”
She gathers her materials from many different places. She has gotten scrap leather from manufactures that have shut down (such as car manufacturers), and coffee bags from local coffee roasting businesses. She has been able to find the old book covers she uses in a variety of places.
Oesch is so good at what she does that she was the First Place Craft Winner in the 2011 Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. This was her first time to participate in the event, and Oesch said she was “very surprised and excited to have won.”
She said she has a “super unique craft that is texture-based and appeals to the senses.”
Oesch was encouraged by other artists to enter the Madison Chautauqua. She “thought my work would do well there.” Oesch had visited Madison before and was captivated by “its setting and the quaintness of it all,” she said.
“The folks that run it did a great job. I really felt welcomed,” said Oesch.
Oesch participates in many such fine art festivals, staying mainly in the Midwest. “There are so many amazing events in this area that I’m still tapping into them,” she said.
Many customers who purchase her items “already keep journals,” said Oesch. And many are “people who are book lovers.” Her creations are great for graduation and birthday gifts and even for artists who want an inventive sketch book.
Steven Moore, a nature artist from Lexington, Ky., is one of her repeat customers. He first took notice of her artwork at an art fair after he “had been struggling with taking sketch books and tools (like pens, pencils, erasers) into the field,” he said.
“She helped me create a custom sketchbook, and I am very happy with the results,” said Moore. He believes her work has a good consistency and is nature inspired. The fact that it is also made from recycled products, makes it “more appealing to me,” said Moore.
“She has taken her craft beyond just bookmaking and branched out,” he said. “She produces a broad variety of functional items that carry a big appeal.”
The craftsmanship on her work is superb, Moore said. “Everything is custom made. I would expect the leather journal to need repair, but it doesn’t.”
Moore compares her hand-bound journals and books to ceramics.
“Some you display and some are only for drinking coffee from,” he said. Her work is “a good blending of attractive aesthetics and utilitarian use.”
Oesch also took part in this year’s Melwood Art Fair in Louisville and plans to participate in the upcoming St. James Court Art Fair on Oct. 5-7 and the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen’s Fall Fair in Berea, Ky., on Oct. 13-14.

• For more information about Melissa Oesch’s artwork, visit: www.reimaginedonline.com.


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