Reflections on Craftsmanship by Anna Beth Sawyer


In this age of computers, digital art, and electronics, the artisans and craftsmen are being lost to the past. There is something subtly yet exceedingly beautiful about the woodworker laboring for hours at his bench to produce something both useful and lovely, or the stonemason setting his stones day by day until centuries later a monastery still stands in all its glory. Still more delightful is the floor to ceiling shelf, full of ancient tomes—not the mass-produced result of machinery, but the careful work of a man’s skilled hands. Carefully crafted and exquisitely adorned, they delight the heart of readers and collectors a hundred years later.

Long have I loved all these things and wished these skills were still at their heights. No longer are they necessary, but in the pursuit of expediency, the beauty of waiting, the joy of capable hands at their task, and the loveliness of things which last have vanished.

Unbeknownst to me, this appreciation for craftsmanship set my feet on a path not of my making. It began with the love of the arts and every old thing; it morphed and grew into a deep love of creating. As I came into adulthood, I began to seek the Lord for wisdom on what path to take and what vocation to pursue. I knew I loved art, but I possessed neither knack nor passion for computer graphics and digital design. And I couldn’t imagine making it in fine art as a vocation. I tied myself in stressful knots trying to figure out something to do with my life. Finally, as I wrote in my journal and prayed one night, the Lord spoke to my heart. I realized I wasn’t resting in His will. I wasn’t confident in His love for me, without me doing something awesome or accomplishing great labors for Him. I surrendered my striving, his peace filled my heart, and we had communion together up in my little room.

The next day as I prayed, I looked at my beloved, albeit small, collection of leather journals. Suddenly, an idea was birthed in my heart—I knew I wanted to make my own and learn the skills of bookbinding and leathercraft. It was perfect.

Then the Lord reminded me of a verse in Exodus, the first biblical mention of anyone being filled with the Spirit of God: “Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” Bezalel was filled with the Spirit of God, and in that moment he received wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in every area of craftsmanship.

If this glorious thing could happen to Bezalel under the old covenant, how much more for me, redeemed and renewed by the blood of Christ? What better teacher than an omnipotent God, the author of creativity? So my journey into bookbinding began. In a very small way, I received the privilege of carrying forward the skills of those craftsmen of old, and I anticipate the adventure to come as I continue down the path God has for me.

It has been my pleasure to host my lovely and talented sister, Anna Beth Sawyer. I hope you enjoyed reading these thoughts on craftsmanship, which apply to artisans of all kinds, even those working with words (writers). For Anna, this idea brought forth Ancient Bindings, a custom journal-making and book-binding business. Right now it’s in the early stages, but I encourage you to visit to see her lovely selection of hand-crafted leather journals (several depicted above), each one representing hours of thoughtful labor. She’s also beginning to rebind Bibles, so if you have a tattered old Bible that you can’t bear to part with, why not talk to her about getting it rebound with a custom leather cover?

Out of curiosity, how many of you keep a regular (or sporadic) journal?


  • Mirriam
    June 30, 2011 - 2:22 pm · Reply

    Oh my word; this post was awesome!
    Ever since I read ‘Inkheart’ I’ve wanted to be a ‘Book Doctor’ like Moe. I adore books; I hate to see them in disrepair, I want to fit them with leather bindings and preserve the page. I actually have one of the handmade journals – I bought it in Williamsburg – in the picture! And I keep a journal =D

    • Sarah Sawyer
      July 1, 2011 - 12:53 pm · Reply

      It’s been intriguing to watch Anna learn how to rebind books and craft journals. If I had the time, I would enjoy dabbling in it myself! I love books in all forms, but there’s something special about the ones with elaborate covers and leather bindings. 🙂

      I actually took the picture in the post of some of the journals Anna made…how cool that you found similar ones in Williamsburg! As a total aside, I enjoy Williamsburg so much. We live about two hours away, so we occasionally take day trips or overnight getaways there.

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