Audra Loyal

Contributed by thevespiary.com

Audra Loyal is more than just a preservationist. She is a keeper of sentiment and savior of beloved keepsakes long thought to be beyond use. Loyal is a bookbinder. 

Just one block away from campus, Loyal runs the Vespiary. The open door joining the book binder’s shop and Nonna’s Neighborhood Eatery, the little cafe next door, lets in the sound of milk steaming for coffee, quiet chatter from the cafe’s patrons, and the occasional curious visitor. 

Tables and chairs are set up near windows and the wall of used books Loyal collects, as well as the journals she made herself, create a cozy atmosphere. Her leather apron and the cast iron presses are the strongest hints at the age of the several-hundred-year-old craft, although she doesn’t have to make her own glue or leather covers. 

“I don’t really want to be boiling a bunny hide in a cauldron all day long,” Loyal said. A picture of “EB”, one of her four bunnies, hangs on the wall beside her workbench in the middle of the shop.

Loyal makes journal binding look easy. She sews the crisp, blank sheets of paper together herself, folded together in bundles called signatures, before she builds the cover. As she folds the stiff paper and book cloth around the wood, tools move deftly over the materials, folding them together until she adheres the bundled paper to the cover. Loyal then slides the books into the press, where maple wood pushes the adhesive into the journal and a brass lining bites into the edge to give the notebook its flex joint. 

Loyal has been bookbinding for 15 years. She began working in the preservation department of the UC Davis library as an undergraduate studying zoology. She saw the equipment and the work  being done, and she knew it was for her. 

“I really love working with my hands and making things,” Loyal said. 

After years of travel and trying to find a job in science that suited her, Loyal ended up in Missoula working with the preservation department at the Mansfield Library. She started her own bookbinding business 10 years ago in a room in her home after people kept calling the department requesting personal book repairs. She now works out of a shop on Helen Avenue mending tears in paper and re-sewing books back together. Most of her work is on sentimental books.

“I have fixed ‘The Joy of Cooking’ a million times,” Loyal said. “The book is probably valueless. People walk in and say, ‘Here’s my mother’s cookbook.’ To them, it’s priceless.” 

Rowan Crabtree, a junior studying English at UM, stumbled upon the Vespiary once while getting coffee at the adjoining cafe. She loves both books and journals and has spent several afternoons studying there.

“I think people should embrace the place {in which} they are,” Crabtree said. “People can order stuff online, but how special is it that you get to talk with someone who made the thing you’ll be buying and using in your everyday life?” 

Information about group and individual journal making classes can be found at thevespiary.com