Gena Ollendieck of rural Cresco shows some of her creations that can be seen Oct. 3, 4 and 5, when her home will be one of 31 stops on the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour. Her pieces include hand-bound leather books and journals, sculptures to hold them, and purses. 	(River Valley Reader photo by Lisa Brainard)
Gena Ollendieck of rural Cresco shows some of her creations that can be seen Oct. 3, 4 and 5, when her home will be one of 31 stops on the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour. Her pieces include hand-bound leather books and journals, sculptures to hold them, and purses. (River Valley Reader photo by Lisa Brainard)
A trip to the home of Gena and Todd Ollendieck in the rolling hills near the Upper Iowa River south of Kendallville reveals why the sixth annual Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour is such a crowd favorite each fall.

Traveling the backroads of the area, one will discover the little known, but soon-to-be-treasured bluffs, valleys and trees, ready to burst into fall color.

The treats of the tour run along the same lines. Set for the weekend of Oct. 3, 4 and 5, it will encompass 40 artists at 31 locations, all within a 35-mile radius of Decorah. You’ll discover the huge talents of area artists in the familiar environment of their homes and studios. The total caliber of the pieces on the tour — often seen in big art shows across the country — is priceless.

The tour runs each day from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and is free of charge. Brochures with maps may be picked up at the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce, from participating artists, or call the Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-463-4692. Also, there’s more information at this website: www.iowaarttour.com

Making books

Gena Ollendieck, a Cresco and later Central College graduate, lives on an acreage split off from the former farm of her parents. While she works each day on her Indigo Star Books in a hilltop home located a quarter mile down the lane, husband Todd drives to Preston and rides the bus from that town to his job at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester four days a week.

The rural location of the Ollendieck home is nothing short of scenic. The books, sculptures and bags she creates are nothing short of spectacular.

Ollendieck starts the 16th century leather hand-binding process by folding acid-free, archival-quality paper into smaller sizes. Steps then include hand-stitching the sheets to larger threads to bind the paper together. Ollendieck simplified the process by saying the paper was “sewn, glued, sewn to the cover and then glued again.”

She said that compared to most bound books made today, hers should never fall apart.

At this point Ollendieck starts creating the cover, “taking the old craft and adapting it to the art process.”

The eclectic book covers use “different found objects” for each one-of-a-kind look. Ollendieck goes on many antique store hunts to find the pieces, which can include parts from old adding machines and typewriters, silverware, tin, cigar boxes, door knobs, tape measures, toys and photos. She also can stamp words on the metal objects.

In the past two years, Ollendieck started making what she terms “sculpture,” pieces that hold her books for display. They’re also individual pieces making use of the “found objects.”

Ollendieck’s been making the books for 15 years. After college, she taught high school art for four years and then she and Todd served as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay, South America, for three years.

The size and price range of Indigo Star Books should include something for all budgets. Ollendieck has small books that can be worn as pins or necklaces. Not bound like her bigger pieces, they are created from discarded library books and run $20.

“I sell lots of these,” Ollendieck said with a smile.

She also makes books where the paper is accordion-folded. When opened, Ollendieck said, “They look like stars.” These sell for $45 to $75. Other books and sculptures are more expensive, depending upon the size and details involved.

Ollendieck also will have a new product to share with Tour participants. She’s started making purses, to be used as handbags or to hold her smaller books. They will be on display and available for ordering. The purses run from $300 to $500.

Laughing, Ollendieck said she might have to change her business name to “Indigo Star Books & Bags.”

For more information on Ollendieck’s art, she can be reached at (563) 547-1115. The home is located at 3112 335th Street and most easily reached off Highway 139 between Cresco and Kendallville.

Get traveling

The Ollendieck home is the first suggested stop on the tour, which stretches east as far as locations near Spring Grove and Dorchester, and as far south as Elgin, Iowa.

The Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour is designed so visitors can set their own pace. The brochure features a map and suggested directions to the studio locations. Also, there will be signs along the roads to help show the way.

Many studios are open exclusively to the general public for this event. A good number of the artists regularly participate in national fine art festivals throughout the United States. For example, Ollendieck travels to around 16 fine art shows annually.

Artwork on the tour will include pottery, paintings, woodcuts, baskets, jewelry, woodwork, stained glass, kaleidoscopes, photography, painted china, weaving and more.

Tour participants visiting at least five studios and answering a few questions to help plan future tours will be eligible for three door prizes: pottery by Nate Evans and Hallie Hite, an iron rose by Jay Hisel, and a Santa from Elea Uhl.

The tour is sponsored by Ellickson (LXN) Studio & Gallery, Decorah Regional Arts Council (DRAC), participating tour artists and by friends of the arts.