Bridget O'Malley and Amanda Degener, the two women behind Cave Paper in Minneapolis, have been named the Minnesota Book Artist Award winners for 2012.

Since 1994, they have been making handcrafted and hand-dyed paper out of Belgian flax, cotton rag and denim, dyed with natural dyes such as persimmon juice, indigo and walnut. The paper is used, mainly, in limited-edition and fine-press books, though they also produce a line of journals and cards. Their work sells around the world.

The art of papermaking captivated O'Malley when she was still in college, studying art at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. "It can seem so very, very simple -- in fact, it's just fiber and water, at its most basic," she said. "But the complexity and nuances that can be manipulated in the process are so enormously interesting that I feel I have so much yet to learn."

The two women met at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and started Cave Paper in July 1994 -- so named because it is located deep in a basement in a late-1800s warehouse in downtown Minneapolis. It has limestone walls that are two feet thick and no windows.

"Papermaking is not the neatest process," O'Malley said. "You need access to water, and we do a lot of dyeing of the paper, so there's a lot of mess involved." A basement, with a floor drain, works well.

O'Malley is also a printmaker, which she studied at the University of Iowa after graduating from St. Kate's, and Degener is a sculptor. An exhibit celebrating their work will run Jan. 20 through March 25 at Open Book, 1011 Washington Av. S. in Minneapolis, with a reception honoring them on Feb. 10.

They also will be honored at the Minnesota Book Awards gala on April 14 in downtown St. Paul.

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune books editor.