I’m hard at work finishing my upcoming presentation for the Grolier Club in Manhattan (Tuesday April 5th, 4-6pm) on collecting books in the digital age.
I’m hoping that my title of “Good News, the Book is Dead” will get the attention of a few people. It has been great fun coming up with my thoughts on e-books, on-line books, and how they will impact the codex as we know it. I won’t say any more at this point as I don’t want to spoil the presentation for those of you attending. More later!
The Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts: good exhibition space, spacious presentation media room, beautiful warehouse-esque architecture; all traits of this building that I have never ventured to before. My girlfriend, being a volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, loves taking her little sister Jessi to the DCCA as it rotates exhibits monthly and, since 2008, has offered free admission. After seeing it for myself, I can see why Jessi likes it.
Oak Knoll was lucky enough to attend the exhibition and symposium titled The Book: A Contemporary View. Each talk was extremely interesting, providing intriguing ideas and concepts from artist Buzz Spector and librarian Mark Dimunation, as well as many others. The exhibition that was in conjunction with the talks was unique and offered a concept of turning a physical book into a work of art that antiquarian dealers, such as Oak Knoll, have only been able to scratch the surface of.
When the symposium was over, I actually wanted more as I was having such a good time.
Click here to check out the exhibition description online.
Click here to see a list of artists’ books from Oak Knoll.
Check out a nice review of John Fuller & the Sycamore Press by Ryan Roberts on the Type Desk blog.
The most entertaining parts of the book have to do with the pitfalls of the printing process. Among other things, John mentions how he had once run out of fs while “setting a particularly clotted double-spread of Mick Imlah’s poem about Quasimodo.” So what did he do?
Well read the blog to find out!
Click here to order the book.
Rob and I are packed up and ready to head up the road to the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts in Wilmington. We are attending and exhibiting our books at their book arts symposium “The Book: A Contemporary View.” We are excited to tour the exhibit and to hear talks from Buzz Spector, Mark Dimunation, and more book art experts.
A nice article about the event appeared in today’s News Journal. Click here to read it online.
– Laura Williams, Publishing Director
The Thread that Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders by Pamela Train Leutz is the compilation of interviews with 21 independent bookbinders. Each chapter tells the story of a different bookbinder offering a closer look at their goals, studios, challenges, successes, and lives. This excerpt contains parts of Leutz’s interview with Monique Lallier, a bookbinder from Greensboro, North Carolina.
“May I have your attention?” I ﬁrst was introduced to Monique Lallier as she stood on a chair at the ﬁrst Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence conference I attended. As the organizer of the annual conference, she was trying to get our attention to make an announcement. She was gracious, stunning, well-dressed, and speaking in her French-Canadian accent.
Monique is married to Don Etherington, perhaps the most well known bookbinder in the USA, originally from England. Their storybook romance took place in Finland. Swiss master bookbinder Hugo Peller had been asked by one of his students, a prominent woman in Finland, to invite an exclusive group of bookbinders from around the world to a conference at her home in Finland. It was there on March 4, 1987, that Hugo introduced Don and Monique. A magnetic attraction brought them together in marriage soon after and has kept them together ever since. I arrive at their Greensboro, NC home during rose season. The rose garden in the front of their large attractive home, a gift from Don to Monique, is abloom with an abundance of color. Tasteful art is plentiful throughout their house. Inside the front door sits a large standing press that once belonged to Edith Diehl, a welcome to their world of bookbinding. To the left is a room that is their shared studio. The space is large enough that they each have a separate space to work, equipment they share, and a small desk. Hugo Peller’s polypress, now belonging to Monique, is a treasured piece of equipment. The upstairs library, packed with books, is Don’s home ofﬁce.
What about clients—how do you get them?
In Montreal we had good customers, collectors who kept coming back. In the states it is more difficult to develop a relationship. Most of my customers I haven’t met. They ﬁnd me on my website, and they ask me to do something. I rarely meet them. Some I do know though. It is very different than Montreal. You have collectors there and they like to personally choose the leather and the end papers. I still make a lot of my own marbled papers, Asco-color papers [learned from Hugo Peller].
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a bookbinder?
They need to go to a regular class where they work every week, or go to a place like the American Academy of Bookbinding for two or three weeks where they are assigned work for the year. You need to start with a good teacher. It is more difficult to undo bad habits than to start with good ones. I now see many people that start with all these simple techniques. In a sense it will bring more people to bookbinding, and maybe to ﬁne binding. For many people, they think that is what bookbinding is, but they need to explore more. After they feel comfortable doing a binding and working with leather, they need to have as many different teachers as they can. And they need to work regularly. They shouldn’t let two or three months go by without doing anything. They lose the details of developing their own techniques. But if they are passionate about it, it is not difficult.
I have Hugo’s polypress here, the one I worked on when studying with him. Hugo and I were writing to each other two or three times a year. We were going to visit in May. He wrote back that he was happy and that he was going to Finland. He died there of a heart attack on March 4th, the date he introduced Don and I.
What is your favorite thing about being a bookbinder?
The diversity. Each binding is a new endeavor, a new challenge. I don’t have a style that people will recognize in my bindings. People like Phillips Smith or Ivor Robinson have a precise style that you recognize from their bindings. I read the book and reﬂect on the spirit of the book. It is the inspiration from the book that makes each book different. And it forces me to do more that what I have done before.
How do you develop the design?
When I read the book, images come up in my head. The atmosphere of the book, in general, helps me start the process. I look at illustrations though I try not to be too inﬂuenced by them, just inspired. I take notes when I read. I feel the color, or write down words that struck me as inspirational or helped me understand the book. Sometimes it is more difficult, and I don’t come up with things. Then it is a struggle, but you do it; you come up with the best you can even if it doesn’t inspire you.
What is your least favorite part of bookbinding?
Sanding. I do it by hand to have better control, but it is a pain!
Is there anything you would like to achieve in bookbinding that you haven’t yet achieved? Can you think of a project that you would love to do?
I would like to write a book about bookbinding. I started to work on this but put it aside for a while. It will be a technical book with very good illustrations, a reference book that will especially help people who take my classes. They can read when they are away from class and comprehend what to do when the teacher is not there to answer questions. If students don’t have good notes, they can get a little lost. The book will help as a reference to refresh their memories so they can do the work at home.
What gifts or abilities do you have that make you a good bookbinder?
I think it is patience and paying attention to detail. I think these are the main qualities of a good bookbinding—details of the details.
For more information on Monique Lallier, and to see examples of her work, go to www.moniquelallier.com.
Click here to order The Thread that Binds.
Pamela Leutz shares with us how she traveled around the world learning the craft of bookbinding. See how her life as an administrative assistant quickly changed when she decided making books was her true passion.
Hi – I’m Pamela, author of the book, The Thread That Binds, Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders. Actually, I never intended to write a book. I started talking to people I knew about their lives as bookbinders because I was having a mid-life awakening. As much as I liked the people and place I worked as an administrative assistant, I was antsy to move on. I didn’t want life to end and never experience anything else. I loved making books, teaching bookbinding, and being around bookbinders.
I wanted to find out about the lives of people who made their living through bookbinding privately. Could I do it too? I asked a couple binders I knew if I could visit and see where they worked and hear how they got into the field, what their lives were like. What did they like about being bookbinders? What did they not like? How hard was it to make a living? Maybe I would write an article about them. But mostly it was for me. Other bookbinders I knew found out what I was doing. They seemed to be interested to hear about my visits. I decided to do a few more visits. It was great. I got to see the coolest studios and hear their amazing stories about what brought them to lives of bookbinding. I got so inspired and wanted to quit and start my new life as a bookbinder.
How did I start bookbinding? It wasn’t anything I had ever given any thought to until I married someone whose family owned a bookbinding supply business. We moved to Dallas where my husband worked in the branch office. I was excited to discover bookbinding classes offered through the Craft Guild of Dallas. I was intrigued. I liked all kinds of creative handwork and art. Bookbinding seemed to combine a bunch of things I could be good at. So I got on the waiting list (yes, there was a waiting list!) and finally got into the Wednesday morning class, 9am-12 noon. I would climb up rickety steps to a studio above a garage where a class of 12 students worked closely, amid snuggly arranged bookbinding supplies, machinery and tools. I was 22 years old in a class of people at least twice my age, mostly wealthy women who made bookbinding a hobby and social time. Instruction was slow – our instructor was teaching a class of 12 students who were all doing different things at different levels.
I continued taking classes every Wednesday for 5 years, but I was frustrated that my skills were still not great. Then something happened that I consider the pivot point in my life of bookbinding. I had the opportunity to study with master bookbinder, Hugo Peller, in Solothurn, Switzerland. As my son turned one in Dallas, I was walking through woods and meadows from the watchmaker’s home where I rented a room to the home studio of Hugo. It was a huge breakthrough for me. Hugo believed in me, expected a lot from me, and taught me more in five weeks, working every day, all day, than I had learned in five years of once a week classes.
I think that being in a place where there are no responsibilities except learning bookbinding, being taught by a master, and having abundant attention, was why my life of bookbinding changed. From then on, I was more confident, far more skilled, and absolutely in love with the craft.
I returned home confident and eager to delve deeper into bookbinding. I taught more, took commission work, and continued studying with great bookbinders when the opportunity arose. I was active in the Guild of Bookworkers and the regional Lone Star Chapter, even doing design bindings for exhibits.
Then came Jan Sobota. Dallas had the remarkable gift of Jan moving to Dallas to work as book conservator at the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University. (Don’t miss his chapter in my book!) Jan also taught classes at his home studio. It was fabulous! He taught design binding techniques and book conservation. The students were fun and serious and Jan was a great teacher. Entering the home he shared with wife Jarmila made me so happy. Jazz, Spanish, Czech – all variety of music played, and wine was shared as class came close to an end. It was like celebrating life with bookbinding as a great excuse.
Dallas, with Jan there, attracted top bookbinders and the Bridwell Library became the home of a design bookbinding exhibition-competition, the Helen Warren DeGolyer Bookbinding Competition, an event that not only showcased design bindings, but also the opportunity to see well-known bookbinders demonstrate various techniques. I got to bathe in the pleasure of being around bookbinders, and I liked it a lot!
It took me a few years to interview all the people that are in the book. I loved every minute of it, even transcribing the taped interviews. I ended up quitting my job and moving to Colorado where I worked on writing the book and bookbinding for a year. I miss my Dallas friends and the bookbinding world there like crazy, but I love walking out my door with my dog and hiking the beautiful trails around my house, viewing and feeling the presence of the mountains, smelling fresh air. I continue binding, studying (twice studying with Jan Sobota now in the quaint castle town of Loket, Czech Republic where he and Jarmila live), and keeping connected to bookbinders through visits, the internet, and email. I had to get a “regular” job again to pay the bills, but my life is richer having had The Thread that Binds experience. I look forward to what bookbinding brings to my life in the days to come.
What a cool story! Click here for more information on The Thread that Binds.
While most people think of books in terms of their contents or texts, Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts by David Pearson explains that books possess qualities beyond their texts. He shows how books can be seen as designed or artistic objects. In this excerpt, Pearson discusses how bookbindings have developed and changed over the years, while adding various levels of uniqueness to books.
Every binding tells a story, whether it is deluxe or humble. Binders offered their customers a choice, a spectrum of options from the simple to the elaborate, and the preferences they exercised can tell us something both about them and about their approach to the texts inside the books. These choices applied not only to external, decorative qualities but also to structural ones; there are various ways in which it is possible to cut corners in the sewing or other internal features of a handmade binding, leading to a cheaper but less hardwearing product. Early instructions from patrons to bookbinders are scarce, but where they do survive they often stress the importance of sturdy sewing and good quality handiwork rather than handsome tooling.
Fancy bindings reveal owners who could afford to pay that bit extra, or perhaps people who wished to display their wealth or status on their bookshelves; or they may be covering books which were regarded as particularly important. Simpler bindings can be equally revealing of personal histories; many of the books owned by John Donne, when he was a struggling and impoverished poet, are bound in parchment wrappers rather than leather, the cheap (or softback) option of the time. Books have often been bound and rebound, or repaired, more than once during their history and those staging posts can indicate the changing regard for the texts inside. A book which has survived several centuries in pristine condition suggests a text which has not exactly been eagerly sought out. Many of the copies of Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio now found in libraries around the world are in top quality nineteenth-century bindings, reflecting the veneration in which that book then came to be held; the few copies (of more than 200 surviving) which retain contemporary bindings are mostly very plain. A seventeenth-century devotional text is much more likely to be found in a fine binding of its period than a literary one, in line with the values of that time, although we now consider literature to be far more important than theology.
A binding will not only carry these messages which we can interpret, but also more immediate information about where and when it was made. A wall of leather-bound books may at first glance look pretty uniform but although the basic materials and construction methods of bookbindings remained substantially unchanged for many centuries, the decorative conventions underwent steady change from one generation to another, in line with the ever shifting more general currents of ornamental fashion. Just as sixteenth-century architecture or silverware are recognisably different from their eighteenth-century equivalents, so bookbindings are visually distinctive from one generation to another. This applies not only to handsomely decorated fine bindings, but also to much simpler ones; a sixpenny binding of 1600 is not the same as one of 1700, or even 1650. Unlike printers, bookbinders only rarely signed their work and we cannot often identify individual craftsmen; they worked within the stylistic conventions of their day and neither the binders, nor their customers, looked for individuality of design. What we can do, however, is place a particular binding within its time and place – we can recognise that it is English, or German, or French, and approximately when it was made – and also say whereabouts, within the range of options of its time, it sits.
Learn even more about this book and hear a panel discussion on “Collecting the Physical Book in a Digital Age,” at the Grolier Club on April 5 from 4-7pm. Bob Fleck will be giving a presentation that includes references to Books as History, while other speakers including Gary L. Strong and David Rose also share their opinions. The discussion will be moderated by Susan M. Allen. Click here for more information on the event and click here for more information on Books as History. The revised, paperback edition will be available in May.