Check out this great article by Jana Pullman explaining the steps she went through to bind the unbound sheets of The Thread that Binds by Pamela Train Leutz. Pullman explains how she chose the leathers, dyed the skins, and worked with Karen Hanmer following the binding techniques in Fine Bookbinding: A Technical Guide by Jen Lindsay. Her blog post is illustrated with great photos of her work, showing the wonderful details of how she created an awesome binding. Her finished product was displayed at the Lone Star Chapter of the Build of Book Workers 2011 shows in Dallas and Houston, Texas.
Take a look at some of the recent work going on at the American Academy of Bookbinding in Telluride, Colorado. A new post on the blog of the AAB shows recent printmaking photographs taken at the academy. Also, check out some of the bindings done by the AAB faculty. The right-hand column includes photographs of the work of Monique Lallier, Don Glaister, and Oak Knoll author Don Etherington.
Click here to read more.
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.
With the new year, we have added a new section to our blog. Similar to our blog entries containing excerpts from Bob Fleck’s book, Books about Books, we will be posting small sections from various Oak Knoll publications.
Our first entry is from Bookbinding & Conservation: A Sixty-Year Odyssey of Art and Craft by Don Etherington. Read about how Mr. Etherington first developed his skills in bookbinding.
In preparation for my interviews at the Central School the three crafts I felt would interesting to pursue were jewelry, engraving, and bookbinding. These courses lasted for three years and combined academic classes with the craft sessions. Bookbinding was actually my preferred choice at that time, though I have never really discovered why. In preparing a small portfolio of work for these interviews I had designed a complete alphabet of floriated capitals in color, a connection I imagine to those early classes of Miss Blades in copperplate handwriting. I was excited at being given this chance to interview at the Central School and I felt very sure that I wanted to pursue a career in which I could use my hands in a creative way. I interviewed at all three departments with the head instructors, and fortunately I was accepted for one of the six places available in bookbinding. The academic classes were held in a schoolhouse near Covent Garden, one or two miles from the Central. This entailed a lot of running between the two facilities when attending both academic and craft classes on the same day.
To gain furthers skills I also attended evening classes at the Central with instructors other than the daytime teachers. My instructor in the daytime was George Frewin, who had worked as a coverer for Sangorski and Sutcliffe, one of London’s finest binderies. He is pictured in the third row behind Stanley Bray, who is holding the firm’s cat. Also teaching at Central was Fred Wood, a wonderful craftsman.
Our class of six was very fortunate in having these two teachers, though in the beginning we had no idea how fortunate we really were. The evening teachers included Mr. Parks and the renowned binder William Matthews, who was Deborah Evetts’ teacher. Deborah Evetts became a very well known bookbinder and conservator and worked for many years at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Only a couple of us from the day class also attended evening sessions, and I believe I was the only one of my day session classmates to enter the craft of bookbinding and continue working in that field as a career. At the same time i was at the Central School another student named Bryan Maggs was studying with William Matthews and became a very good binder in his own right. His family owned Maggs Brothers, one of the most famous rare bookshops in London. Bryan was for many years the chief librarian at the Paul Getty Collection, housed in a castle-like building near Oxford. This amazing collection includes a significant number of bindings of T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, and it is where I discovered his use of the concertina guard on his bindings.
The day classes under Ferwin and Wood were very important to me in those formative years. Their emphasis on quality work and patience was planted deeply within me. One aspect of their teaching that has stayed with me all these years is the minute accuracy that was demanded in all the steps we perform in bookbinding. For example, when placing the book in the laying press prior to trimming the edges with the plough,
I always had to have one of the instructors check to see if the book was exactly parallel to the checks of the laying press. Often I would have to take the book out not once but a number of times to achieve perfection. Having to satisfy them certainly tested one’s patience. This exactness was required of every operation. At times it drove all of us crazy, but I know now that these were important lessons to learn, particularly at the age of thirteen and especially at the beginning of a career in bookbinding. Amazingly, after only the first few weeks of classes I was completely enamored with the craft, and I have never over the course of more than half a century been bored by or tired of the work. I believe to this day that my work still reflects their standards. The debt I owe them is great and their spirit is passed on to all of the students I have taught utilizing those very same principles.
Another example of this synergy between the publishing and antiquarian businesses was brought about by an interesting request for bookbinding titles that we received from Marianne Tidcombe, noted English author (though American-born). Marianne told me that she was working on a project to honor Bernard Middleton, the pre-imminent English bookbinder. Important bookbinders around the world would be asked to contribute a gold-tooled binding on a copy of Middleton’s memoirs that had been printed by hand by Henry Morris at his Bird & Bull Press. Twenty-five binders would be chosen and they would be paid for their work when (or if) the collection of bindings would be sold. I was asked to help find the binders, plan an Oak Knoll Press title describing this project which would be accompanied by full color plates of the bindings produced, and then sell the collection as a whole if possible, or piecemeal if it could not be sold as a collection. What a combination of antiquarian, new book, and publishing goals!
The letters to binders were sent out and 25 were chosen to participate. Each binder was asked to price their book and then produce it on schedule. The bindings were eventually mailed to London and assembled in Bernard’s living room. I flew to England to view this unbelievable collection of bindings with Marianne and Bernard. I’ll never forget the magic of walking into that room (I seem to remember candles burning in the background) and feeling the impact of seeing them as a group. We photographed them and produced a book entitled Twenty-Five Gold-Tooled Bookbindings, an International Tribute to Bernard C. Middleton’s Recollections (Bib. #78). The book was produced in a limited edition of 250 hardbound copies, 400 paperback copies, and a number of copies in sheets. The books themselves traveled as an exhibition from The British Library to Rochester, New York (Cary Collection at RIT, home of Bernard’s personal collection of books on bookbinding), and then on to the San Francisco Public Library. It was with great pleasure that I announced that I had found a private collector who was as impressed with this collection as I had been and bought it as a whole, thus preserving it intact.
We also experimented with finding ways to get a selection of our titles into the new bookstore market. We signed an agreement with the Lyons Press of New York in 1997 to act as our distributor for our popular titles (Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors was the star in the line). This company produced an interesting collection of books of their own and distributed a few, selected small publishers. Nick Lyons proved to be a real bookman and gentleman of the old school of publishing with great personal interest in fly-fishing and the production of limited edition books in that field. We increased the print runs of the titles that we gave to them in hopes that they would sell well. The Carter sold extremely well and others sold moderately well. Eventually we discovered that we were mostly just circulating money without much profit coming back to us. The large jobbers tended to order large numbers of copies of books in the hopes of selling them and then sent them all back to Lyons if they didn’t sell. The jobbers demanded large discounts, returned damaged books and didn’t need to worry about their order size since they weren’t paying for the books to begin with. We ended our relationship with the Lyons Press in April of 2000 and put the other distributors on a “proforma” basis and elected to do what we do best—market and sell directly to the end customer.
Check back Friday for more from Books about Books.