By Julia Welstead
As I park alongside a sleek woodclad house, home to Sollas Bookbinding, a woman flits past the window, ushering me in with a welcoming wave. I walk into a familiarly busy kitchen scene: children, puppy, baking, washing, breakfast, homework, games, projects, ringing telephones….all ably orchestrated and overseen by the woman I have come to interview. Between washing up, making coffee and answering calls, she explains that they are journeying to her Berlin homeland in a couple of days. Meantime there are projects to finish, shop shelves to re-stock, travel bags to pack, the house to clean (a dog-sitter is moving in) and the small matter of concrete foundations to pour for a pod that’s due to be erected in their garden.
Corinna Krause is a very busy woman!
Coffees in hand, we move through to the relative haven of peace that is Corinna’s studio workshop. Having seen her handmade books on isle20, and having bought her book making kit myself (with three lovely booklets to show for it), I recognise the tools on the bench, the sheafs of handmade paper, and the finished results stacked on shelves. I can appreciate the time and skill that goes into creating these tactile works of art.
As she works on a set of book covers, Corinna tells me how she came to be here, and how she created her artisan bookbinding studio. Born and schooled in East Germany, Corinna took Celtic & English Studies at Edinburgh University, a choice prompted by a year in Ireland where the music and Gaelic reminded her of her folk music roots (she learned Classical and Traditional Mandolin at school). Her first visit to North Uist was for the music and the Gaelic, the unexpected part was to fall in love with the place. Meeting the poet Pauline Prior-Pitt here, and subsequently marrying her son Paul, was the icing on the cake.
Already a freelance English:German translator Corinna undertook a PhD on the significance of self-translation by Gaelic poets into English in terms of cross-cultural understanding and acceptance. In need of something tangible and physical to do with her hands, she returned to her old pastime of bookbinding, and thus was Sollas Bookbinding born.
Why North Uist? Corinna’s first response surprises me: having a circular road helps to define the community’s geographical area better than would a linear through-road. I concur: the islands where I feel more comfortable have that element of circularity, of embracing both land and community. To her list of the joys of living here Corinna adds beaches that bend around corners, idyllic swimming spots, innovative new and converted housing, an arts centre (Taigh Chearsabhagh) that attracts a vibrant art community, and, most importantly, the freeing of one’s mind in being able to look to long and broad horizons.
All the time we are talking Corinna is selecting, cutting, glueing, positioning, pressing, assessing. Her pile of book bindings grows. Her hand movements seem to prompt her thoughts. She tells me that her bookbinding journey began in Germany, inspired by learning how to transform two dimensional materials into three dimensional objects. Making her own decorative paper has been inspired and informed by her Scottish island environment, and through collaborations with other local artists. Joint exhibitions with themes like ‘rock & water’, ‘edge’, ‘sand’, ‘fishnet’ and ‘Hebridean spaces’ provide focus and stretch her creative mind and skills.
More personal projects include sea swimming log books, and chopping her husband’s old fish farm overalls (when he was made redundant) to make fish-stencilled bookcloth: ‘Plenty more fish in the sea’. Locally woven tweed also makes an appearance in a recent collaboration with weaver Margaret Rowan.
On the practicalities of running an island-based business, Corinna says it’s all pros and no cons. Establishing is easier, with lower rental costs, and a choice of part-time jobs to tide one over (island economies run on the power of the part-time multi-tasker). Materials can be sourced locally or ordered online, and products can be sold direct from the studio, online, or in many local shops. The vital ingredients (and I hear this again and again during my Island Makers odyssey) are ‘courage, funds and support’.
Another essential ingredient to a thriving island life is, as a forementioned, to multi-task. Hence building the pod, which will be advertised via isleHoliday.com (the holiday let platfrom that supports our Scottish island communities) for holidaymakers, and for those wishing to attend her bookbinding workshops.
The old adage, ‘if you want something doing, ask a busy woman’ springs to mind when contemplating Corinna’s portfolio of achievements and ongoing projects, ideas and dreams. She’s a veritable ball of energy, an inspiration, and a joy to meet.