Showing posts with label Skimplicity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Skimplicity. Show all posts

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student- Part 4

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student: Why bookbinding? A discussion between a student and her mentor.

Introduction: This series of posts was prompted by questions from Sarah Kim (aka Skimplicity), a long-term work-study student of mine at Syracuse University Libraries who is now enrolled in the Bookbinding program of the North Bennet Street School in Boston, fulfilling a dream she’s had for some time. The “interview” is spread out over several posts, so check back regularly… This is Part 4. See here for part 1, part 2, part 3.

Sarah: What do you hope to see from younger people studying books (like students from NBSS, or library science students)?

Good question, and will respond based on my personal experiences and pet peeves from being a listowner, employee, supervisor, mentor, and gadfly/curmudgeon for 30+ years.

I think the most important thing to remember is that no matter what your situation, acknowledge what you don’t know, and that you still have lots of mistakes to make. Keep good notes and keep building your reference and tool collections – you can never have enough, and your heirs (perhaps future mentees?) will thank you. Start a file for any and all clippings, mentions, ... of you and your work, and organize it – useful for when you become famous. Getting covered in the local press (please not as the last bookbinder in the world practicing their lost art under the stairs) is a good start. For your first positions find ones where you will be working under good supervision and hopefully mentorship. Resist hanging out your shingle and going solo right away. Working with/for others allows you to build on what you learned, exposes you to new ways of doing things (even the same things), provides other perspectives, and hopefully a steady stream of work with which you can push yourself and take risks knowing there will be someone to bail you out (or tell you what you could have done to avoid it…). Remember those teachers even when you move on, even if the experience was not your favorite (don’t burn/neglect bridges), and share updates. This doesn’t take much effort long term, and could lead to referrals or even references down the road. If they don’t remember you there won’t be much point in providing anything meaningful.

In terms of goals, especially for the North Bennet Street, Alabama/Iowa type book arts students, aim high, don’t all set out to make journals… Acquire nice fine press, better publishers' textblocks, or ones you can download that can be sewn to bind – these are more interesting than endless blank books. You can often find 1st editions of significant literature for not a lot of $$$ because the bindings are damaged. Textblocks not sewn? Fancy them up like NBSS grad Henry Hebert has done. Liked the term so much I appropriated it. Try to get good edition/production work to develop those chops and muscle memory, something that only repetition can really provide. Find books that interest you (or that you can sell), and create bindings in response to the texts/illustrations. While “self-referential,” books about books can often provide blank canvases on which you can let your creativity be less constrained. Enter exhibitions, set book, themed, or open, non-juried and juried. Local/regional groups are great places to get that first experience, and colleagues will be able to (hopefully positively) critique and provide feedback, something less likely in national shows. Chicago Hand Bookbinders, was a great group in that regard when I first started entering exhibits back in the late 80s. Think about repair and conservation work as well. That's where the jobs are in institutions, and most likely where your bread and butter will come from if on your own. That would include things like Bibles, cookbooks, children's books, ... that often hold deep sentimental value. And in all things, make sure to price your work fairly, including to you.

Ask lots of questions wherever you find your “community,” IRL or online, but think about the question before asking. Is there research you might want to do before asking to help form a better question. Provide all the context you can, provide links to images, ... so that the respondents don’t have to guess or the conversation devolves into an endless cycle of follow-up questions. Don’t assume everything is online and free. The best stuff is in people’s heads, hands, and print. Most of this kind of knowledge cannot be crammed into a tweet, so be prepared to express yourself long-form. Develop good information literacy skills so that you can discern credible sources from the not so credible ones. There is a lot of information that gets passed around that is just bad, or devoid enough of context to be dangerous. Learn to recognize names. Use your real name or that of your business consistently and have a “signature” that provides basic contact/descriptive information. It shows seriousness and gives more credibility. This goes for websites and blogs, too. Provide a bio and contact information. If not your home address, at least what city/state… Websites evolve, so don’t expect them to be perfect the first time around. That said, don’t take them down while you figure out what you want, just tweak, and then release a new look/content when you’re ready. You want to develop your own brand, nurture, and sustain it long term.

I hope to see all of you engaged in the “profession” and become lifelong learners who also contribute actively to the continuation of what we do through their good work, teaching at whatever level, exhibiting, publishing, sharing, … To become mentors like you hopefully had for the next generation. This also carries over to becoming engaged and active in member organizations that contribute to building connections between all of us like the Guild of Book Workers (GBW), the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Group (CBBAG), Designer Bookbinders (DB), Society of Bookbinders (SoB)... Designer Bookbinders have the best journal, so even though UK focused are well worth it. Membership in all more or less the same and a value. All also have regular exhibitions to enter, though most require you to join.

Sarah: I feel like our society today still pressures young people to get a college education. How do you think North Bennet Street School, and other vocational schools, fit into this conversation? 

Int'l Brotherhood of Bookbinders pin.
Ca. 1.5 cm wide.

The trades, including fine crafts, have been marginalized by the idea that everyone has to go to college, including advanced degrees. This has been going on for a long time. Depending on your goals and desired work environment college/advanced degrees may be required, e.g. working as a conservator in a research library/museum environment is one of those situations. Even in private practice, some kinds of grant projects you may find yourself bidding on will have educational/certification requirements.

That said, I wish this country had a well developed system of learning trades, something that would benefit almost all industries and trades. On a national, or even trade-by-trade basis, it would be difficult to build in uniform standards and learning outcomes that are essential for the “degrees” (certificates, certifications, …) to be portable. On a statewide basis that may be possible, especially if coordinated by community colleges and allied programs. There would have to be partnerships with the trades and the business that make it up to ensure that the apprentices/trainees get the practical AND theoretical knowledge in the mechanics of the trade, but also running a business and best practices for that so that they can succeed. They also need and access to networks of peers and mentors. The apprenticeship should have a fixed duration and be paid. After completing their apprenticeships, the newly minted “journeymen” should either be hired by the companies they worked in or be able to find work in others. The former option is common in larger industries - the industry investing in developing its own workforce. It’s a topic I’m glad is seeing more coverage in the mainstream press.

So, this could work for “popular” trades like welding, plumbing, electrical work, construction, … What about fine crafts like bookbinding? Harder because the critical mass of businesses is not there across a broad geographic area and the jobs and work that support them are also not as plentiful as we would like. What core competencies and certification would be broadly agreed upon and available? A North Bennet Street diploma is recognized as are MFA’s but what about for people beyond these, the autodidacts and people in the “fly-over” states. The Guild of Book Workers once thought about certification in some form, but couldn’t agree enough to flesh out the idea. AIC has voted on it at least once and failed, but does have a peer-reviewed Professional Associate and Fellow category. Graduating from a recognized conservation program provides a strong credential, but what about those that entered the field via apprenticeships, also those most likely to work in private practice...

Int'l Brotherhood of Bookbinders convention ribbon from 1942.

Then, there is the question of whether people care. After all, we’re not practicing medicine, law, or building airplanes/bridges… This is a question that came up often in AIC discussions, where the hope for certification was a form of regulating the trade and who could practice it akin to the medieval guilds (or modern ones in places like Germany). What would we hope to gain from this certification beyond learning the basic ropes of the trade? Access to group rates for health insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, 401K plans?

I would love to see a flourishing educational and practicing skilled trades and craft “scene,” and feel it could elevate what we do, but only if we (those who practice it) also strongly identify with it and help advertise that greater idea (like displaying diplomas on wall in professional offices), but also helping develop and share educational materials about the trade wherever we appear, kind of like that old ad campaign of looking for the union label.


That also brings me back to being professional engaged, and not just looking for the benefits of membership. Also “simple” things like actively seeking out PR opportunities and working in the greater field we work in and member organizations in a sustained way. Building those relationships into our individual brands as well so that the general public starts to recognize it… Yes, it’s work, but if a natural extension of what we do becomes second nature.

So, let me flip the question. What do YOU, the reader, student of the craft, budding entrepreneur think? What are you looking for and what are your desired outcomes? Does a structured education/career in the trade matter to you? Are there things you aren’t interested in/willing to do for your career in the trades/crafts? Does any of this matter, and to whom?

Share in the comments below… 

Int'l Brotherhood of Bookbinders stamping die (Backwards, obviously)
Ca. 1.5 cm wide.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student- Part 3

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student: Why bookbinding? A discussion between a student and her mentor.

Introduction: This series of posts was prompted by questions from Sarah Kim (aka Skimplicity), a long-term work-study student of mine at Syracuse University Libraries who is now enrolled in the Bookbinding program of the North Bennet Street School in Boston, fulfilling a dream she’s had for some time. The “interview” is spread out over several posts, so check back regularly… This is Part 3. See here for part 1, part 2

Sarah: You being a person having great respect and influence in the bookbinding world, what are your goals when it comes to books?

While I have created some beautiful bindings and exhibited widely, my influence on the field is derived more from building (online) community and sharing the German binding tradition. For more on the former, see the next installment of this series. My sharing of the German binding tradition is woven into my work, some of which I will describe below.

Working as a rare book conservator was my goal when I started on this adventure, and it was a very rewarding career. In that, I was fortunate to work with and learn from some of the best, in particular Bill Minter who really took my work up several notches during the 3ish years I worked for him. Beyond the fundamentals, the skills required for conservation are different than those for design binding. We very seldom start with a blank canvas, we have to respect the provenance, structure, materials, … of the object. When I started in conservation we were much more invasive - full treatments starting with disbinding, washing, deacidification, … were not unusual… Now, we are much more likely to do minimal treatments or make enclosures. I was glad to have developed those skills, but it would be a challenge to develop those “chops” and the confidence you need without regular practice.

My goal is to create a well crafted book with a cohesive aesthetic. Doesn’t matter whether it is just a simple binding (say a recasing…) or a binding being entered in an exhibit. I’ll leave conservation work out of this discussion and focus on the more creative work. After working my way through the medieval treasure binding and Art Nouveau aesthetics, I found myself drawn to the cleaner lines of the 1920s - Deco, New Objectivity in Germany (Wiemeler, Dorfner, …), and other binders like Edgar Mansfield, Ivor Robinson, Philip Smith, and in the US Don Glaister and Frank Mowery. I loved looking at images of the bindings in books and catalogs as they were so in- and aspirational. Added to that mix was the work of Jean de Gonet who created exquisite bindings with open/visible structures using new materials like industrial rubbers/metals. It was only in the past few years that I learned that the German, Otto Dorfner had pioneered some of those structures in the 20s… Regardless, I found the combinations of materials with visible structural elements compelling and they soon became regular features of my bindings. Likewise various variations on the Bradel binding where the boards and spine are worked separately and joined later...

Pamela Leutz, The Thread That Binds, Oak Knoll Press, 2010.
Modified Bradel binding (Gebrochener Rücken); red Roma endpapers; sewn link stitch on four reinforced leather tapes; dark red and gray handsewn endbands; spine covered in gray leather with cutouts for tapes; boards covered in reddish brown Pergamena deer vellum; titled stamped in gold on front cover with leather onlays. 23 x 15.5 x 4 cm. Bound 2010.

That said, we all need creative outlets, they keep the mind fresh and allow us to be creative… Creating unique bindings and taking on the odd editions were my way of doing that, and it has been very rewarding and at times frustrating when I am shown my limitations… I’m not an artist and can’t draw to save my life. As an apprentice, I learned the basics how to make graphite and gilt edges, and the basics of gold/blind tooling. I love graphite edges, especially highly burnished ones and will always prefer them over gold. That’s probably the reason I’ve made so few of the latter, and as a result don’t get the results I want… Hand tooling is also something that requires regular and intensive practice in order to achieve any degree of competence and proficiency. I can recite the process for doing so though. Tooling is also time consuming and expensive, leading to less work that calls for it. Less commissions = less practice = less proficiency… and so the spiral goes. As a result we see less and less tooled bindings. An exceptional exceptions among the "youngsters" is Sam Feinstein, a NBSS grad.

Fritz and Trudi Eberhardt, Rules for Bookbinders, The Boss Dog Press, 2003.
Edelpappband / millimeter binding: Endpapers same as text; top edge in graphite and burnished; dark red leather endband around thread core; vellum trim at head/tail caps with invisible corners; covered in handmade pastepaper; title in graphite on front cover. Soft “Ascona-style” slipcase covered in paper to match book with title in graphite on spine. 18 x 12.5 x 1cm. Bound 2005.

As a result of not getting that regular practice I’ve worked to create my own aesthetic that largely lets the materials and combination of those speak for themselves. I’ve done very little marbling, using oil paints on methylcellulose the few times I’ve done it. Instead, I prefer paste papers, a technique I love, and I'm glad to see binders like Sarah Creighton, Carol Blinn, Amy Borezo, or Don Rash using them in their one of a kind and edition bindings. Must be at least partially derived from my German roots. Millimeter bindings, known in Germany as the Edelpappband (taught as the Rubow at NBSS), are great for using with decorated papers. The mythologies of that structure are best left for another day. My love, however, is vellum, a material that (when not in limp bindings) most binders seem to have an irrational fear of. I presented on this style at GBW Standards in 2001 (with an article in the GBW Journal) and Peter Geraty is doing a great job teaching the style across the country. Done right, vellum bindings are stable and the natural variations in the skins create a look and feel like no other. Jesse Meyer creates some of the most beautiful skins, and I’m glad to use them regularly.

Gaylord Schanilec and Clarke Garry, Mayflies of the Driftless Region, Midnight Paper Sales Press, 2005.
Dorfner/de Gonet "open joint" binding; sewn on 3 brown salmon leather slips; flyleaves and doublures of Cave Paper “layered indigo day” paper; graphite top edge; rolled endbands brown salmon leather; spine covered in gray salmon leather; boards covered in full vellum with printed illustrations from text below; salmon leather slips attached to boards and framed with decorative weathered wood veneer; tied mayfly attached to front board. 26.5 x 19 x 2 cm. Bound 2013.
A description of the structure and binding process can be read on the Pressbengel Project blog.

I also like working with leathers, goat mostly, and recently have started using fish leather more. The latter was pushed in Germany during WW1 and after as an “austerity” material - cheap & readily available without needing to be imported. It is a very interesting material with lots of variation and strong. Not big enough for a full binding unless making miniatures but easy to combine with other materials. Ernst Collin, author of The Bone Folder (original in German as Der Pressbengel), and who I have been very involved with wrote several articles on the topic and these no doubt influenced me.

Occasionally, I also like to try something different, and so it was with the images below that represent two editioned projects I completed with with Thorsten Dennerline/BirdPress. The first, 26 Words, was an edition of 10 alphabet books in response to the Guild's ABeCedarium exhibit of 1998. For the book we "randomly" selected 26 words that Thorsten illustrated and printed, and for which I completed the edition bindings. For my two personal copies I crafted two very different works. The first a tradition concertina that fits into a hinged case. For the second (a "second" because in folding the accordion there was a variance in alignment leading to me to put a fold where it should be) I saved my bacon by drawing on my conservator skills and changing the structure to a board book. The bound book then fits into the sculptural box. I have never done anything like these since.

26 Words. Illustrations and printing by Thorsten Dennerline/Bird Press. 1998.
Concertina Structure; boards covered in full Niger goat; onlays of chagrin and oasis goat, and frog; housed in hinged and cut-out slipcase in oasis leather and veiney calf vellum; title and represented words beneath vellum. Bound 1998.
26 Words. Illustrations and printing by Thorsten Dennerline/Bird Press. 1998
Board Book Structure; covered in full black clansman goat with onlays of red oasis goat and calf with laserprint; housed in television shaped box with cutout front to reveal decor of binding; box covered in full black goat with wood, wire and acrylic. "Dummy binding" inserted into box to give overall sense of work while book is removed. Bound 2000.

Below, a more traditional binding I completed to Thorsten's designs. This is the standard edition of which there were 40 copies. The deluxe comprised the remaining two copies and was covered in full vellum with the same structure. Illustrations in the regular edition were monochrome, in the deluxe colored. All volumes received clamshell boxes. Working on multiples like this was great fun as you find your rhythm and just work...

Lær Mig, Nattens Stjerne!/Teach Me, Star of Night!
Fine press artist’s book of poems by Peter Laugesen, and 8 etchings by Thorsten Dennerline / Bird Press; sewn on 5 raised alum-tawed thongs; buttonhole stitch endbands; spine covered in vellum; boards covered in quarter vellum with Japanese bookcloth sides; title and ornament stamped in black. Edition of 50. 25.5 x 24 x 2cm. Bound 2001.

More examples of my bindings can be seen on my website here.

In my last post, I mentioned some of the reasons for returning to the US from Germany even though that was perhaps not the plan. One of the things that happened in the spring of my last apprentice year (and 2 short months before my exams) was that I was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy. At the hospital the doctor said, "so what are you going to do now?" Hadn't thought about it, was still bike racing, and thinking of my life and career... "Well, you won't be able to get a job and will need to go on disability..." Ah, well, that's a problem then, and that statement alone made it easy to return to the US. Effects of this progressive disease weren't obvious for a very long time, in part because I continually adapted to those changes. Part of that was getting a job in academia with great health insurance, and  acquiring new interests and skills in my day job such as digitization and management. The impact is also felt on my benchwork where I am having increasing issues with stamina and some fine motor skills such as sewing endbands or holding a finishing tool… I have no intention to stop binding, but rather will adapt by changing structures and other aspects. It creates some interesting design challenges, and for those things I can't do, I ask for help... I also makes travel much more difficult, logistically and otherwise. Adapting to changing circumstances and adjusting ones career/artistic/life goals is essential regardless of circumstance. Sometimes we just need to roll with it, something easier said than done. Perhaps subconsciously, that was also a factor addressed in Sarah's next question.

Sarah: How would you describe your role in the bookbinding community?

First Book_Arts-L graphic...

I think my role for the last 20+ years has really been one of providing a virtual home for all the book arts that allows participants from across the globe share events, training and exhibit opportunities, ask questions, provide answers, and discuss any and all book arts related topics. A big contributor to the success of this is the mix of backgrounds, from "sages" and leaders in the field to newbies, and representatives of most of the leading book arts centers and programs. The resources I provide have been (and will remain) accessible to all at no cost.

The two pillars of this virtual home have been the Book_Arts-L listserv and the Book Arts Web, founded in 1994 and 1995 respectively. In those days, the Internet was still very young, very few outside academia used email, ... It was still a very person-to-person and print-based environment, something I hope we never lose. That said, after having lived in places like Chicago with the then vibrant Chicago Hand Bookbinders, or New Haven with NYC, Boston, and Northampton, MA all very close, moving to Ithaca, NY was a culture shock with almost no one involved with or actively interested in the book arts, binding, ... beyond their day jobs. So, it came down to being isolated... I had been on Conservation Online (CoOL) since 1989 and discovered Exlibris (a listserv for special collections folks) while at Cornell. After posting book arts topics to both, the listowners suggested I might be interested in starting a new list for book arts, something Cornell (and Syracuse) made available to staff. It would be easy, they said... It was, and in late June of '94 the list was started, and very quickly grew in subscribers after some messages to CoOL and Exlibris, as well as a mention in the Guild of Book Workers' Newsletter. Many of those early subscribers are still on the list, and I know of two cases where the offspring of those are now on as well.


Final cover of The Bonefolder showing all issues...

The Book Arts Web was started a year after as one of my first library school projects. It is largely a list of links (very Web 0.5) but I also try to provide unique content. Other similar sites were started shortly thereafter, but all have largely folded since. What has surprised me is how long-lived some of the sites have been. In terms of the unique content, The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist started in 2004 was the most significant addition. It was an open access, freely available, journal that filled a void in the landscape - a reliable platform for widely sharing long-form writing on the book arts. Although we folded in 2013, it was for me hands-down the most rewarding project, a) for proving it could be done, and b) because of the team that produced it, Donia Conn, Karen Hanmer, Ann Carroll Kearney, Chela Metzger, Pamela Barrios, Conservator, Don Rash. I'm pleased to say that all issues are still online, and are archived as a part of LOCKSS and at the Internet Archive.

Squiggles, or a visualization that represents my day-job...


About four years after starting the list/website I was asked to speak about this brave new online world for a symposium in honor of the Silver Buckle Press' 25th anniversary at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In that talk, "Getting us out / Bringing us together: How listservs and the Web have changed the way in which book artists work and communicate" I shared my thoughts and experiences. I think most of them still hold even if some of the platforms have changed. I also ran some data, my new day job, on the list and websites that was interesting if geekish... Those are at Book_Arts-L and Book Arts Web Demographics and Usage.What does it tell us, that the online book arts world I created is still incredibly vibrant even 22+ years on, that an old Web 0.5 technology can still provide a robust platform for book artists of all levels to share information and discuss the issues, and that on a world-wide basis. It is a real community, that while online celebrates and sustains the physical and haptic book arts (and all allied fields).

That said, there are lots of other virtual spaces where book arts people meet in the "hipper" social media. You (Sarah) and I were messaging about that recently. I have no idea why Book_Arts-L is still going so strong, even when compared to those new media platforms. One of the things that strikes me is that on almost all other sites, whether forums or "social" media, the "owners" are often not as involved in sustaining the conversations. Sustaining a community takes work, not a lot at any given time, but ongoing care and feeding. This means starting conversations when things are slow, sharing articles, thoughts, ... that may be of interest, and of oneself. It also means promoting the community in other fora.  Having an archive that goes back to the first message helps too, and is a tremendous resource.

In terms of format, I think the best thing about Book_Arts-L is that it is long-form friendly, i.e. you can really compose thoughts, questions, and responses. I know this goes counter to a 140 character limitation, but it really does make for more thoughtful interactions.

Regardless, I invite any and all to develop the killer app or virtual community to replace it so I can retire.

My other big thing is sharing the German bookbinding tradition, whether as tutorials for specific techniques, or the history thereof. I do that here my Pressbengel Project blog. I enjoy it, and it has gotten a good response.

So, all this is what I am best known for – Building and sustaining a community based on sharing.



Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student- Part 2

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student: Why bookbinding? A discussion between a student and her mentor

Introduction: This series of posts was prompted by questions from Sarah Kim (aka Skimplicity), a long-term work-study student of mine at Syracuse University Libraries who is now enrolled in the Bookbinding program of the North Bennet Street School in Boston, fulfilling a dream she’s had for some time. The “interview” is spread out over several posts, so check back regularly… This is Part 2. See here for part 1, part 3, part 4.

Sarah: Ok, so our experiences as college students were similar, at least as far as the work-study job went. But why Germany, weren't there opportunities in the US? What was a formal apprenticeship like? Why did you end up returning to the US and what were your next steps?

Sensing my interest, John Dean (talks about his own training starting page 7) who had served a traditional apprenticeship and worked in the UK before emigrating, and Frank Mowery who studied bookbinding with Wiemeler student Kurt Londenberg in Hamburg and later conservation in Vienna, both encouraged me to take advantage of my dual-citizenship and formally apprentice in Germany where there was a very structured and rigid apprenticeship system. I knew the language and was familiar with the culture, but not in the way I thought...

In the US, the options were more limited with the conservation program in the library school at Columbia University being the best option, with lots of coursework in library preservation, conservation science, but not so much bench time. North Bennet Street School did not have a bookbinding program at the time. Formal apprenticeships were also very hard to come by and unstructured. My goal was to work in library conservation for special collections materials, so a very solid foundation in the craft of bookbinding was a must. So, apprenticeship it was, and Germany the natural choice...

Apprenticeship in Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Apprenticeships were regulated by the Guilds on a regional and national basis, and apprentices were expected to work to the Rahmenlehrplan (in German) that outlines the terms of the apprenticeship, learning outcomes tied to a calendar, topics to be covered, ... Also included was the trade school requirement. Apprentices were tested on this after the second year, and then the third (the final). All test questions and practical exercises were the same nation-wide. This system helped ensure that the binderies knew what to expect from the newly minted Journeymen  in terms of hands-on skills, the ability to estimate jobs (materials usage and time), and the overall structure of the trade. After all, they would need this solid foundation if they wanted to become Meister, open their own bindery, and train apprentices. All required.

Excerpt from Rahmenlehrplan. Click to enlarge.

There are three inviolable rules that apply to all apprentices, in all trades, everywhere:
  1. The Meister is always right
  2. The apprentice is always wrong
  3. If, in the event of a disaster, the apprentice happens to be right, they are still wrong.
Roll with them... They follow you throughout life. ;-)

Being shown the door if complaining - lots looking for apprenticeships…
A Schreinerei (on door) is a carpentry shop. Different tools and products, same system…

Despite feeling prepared for apprenticeship due to my work-study and internship experiences, perhaps even ahead of the curve, my start as a “stift” (lowest grade apprentice) in this system was (and still is) challenging as it was not always politically correct or comfortable. So, I needed develop a thick skin Took me longer than I thought, and many of the other apprentices I knew, especially those that had gone to university or were qualified to do so.

Buchbinderei Klein where I served my apprenticeship. It was in the Künstlersiedlung Halfmannshof
(an artist's colony started in 1931), by far the most attractive bindery location to work in.
An island of bucolic tranquility in a declining industrial landscape.
Interesting note, the bindery was mentioned by name and location in The Book of Air and Shadows (pp28-29)
by Michael Gruber
Interior: note the neat and orderly stacks of jobs in progress...
Orange and blue (Syracuse University colors), who would have thought?

The bindery itself was staffed by the Meister, his wife who was a journeyman and completed her Meister shortly after I left, another apprentice (2 years ahead of me), and occasionally when we were really backed up another journeyman. In a small shop like ours, the staggering of apprentices makes good sense as you need continuity and the junior apprentice learns a lot just from watching the senior apprentice work. In terms of becoming a Meister, there were, of course, all the finer techniques one needed to know, but also all the things associated with managing a business such as accounting, estimating jobs and materials usage (introduced during the apprenticeship), managing staff at all levels (including all the legal regulations), some marketing. In short everything needed to succeed, at least on paper.

As apprentices we were fully integrated into the production workflow of the shop based on our abilities. Without us, everything grinds to a halt. First jobs were cleaning up, sorting supplies, cleaning brushes, ... One could not help but get they feeling that "they" let the shop go for a while in anticipation of the new apprentice. While tedious and perhaps "degrading," it taught you what the materials were, how to handle them, where they were stored, their value, ...  Looking back, even if not tasked with it, I looked at all those places and things in each job thereafter. We were given basic tools, but expected to acquire our own as we progressed. This also drilled into us the care and maintenance required so that they would last - can't do good work with bad tools... A professional uses their own tools and maintains them, period. Buy the best you can (barely) afford.

We largely did library binding by hand in batches of 100ish/week (or so) along with other jobs such as repairs of cookbooks, Bibles, presentation bindings/materials, ... So, folding endpapers, cutting super for spine linings, pulling staples from journals (one staple will trash a guillotine blade and the Meister's mood). While the Meister fan-glued the journals, my job was to put them in the press, one after the other. Then, eventually trim to a template, apply a color to the top edge, endbands, and start cutting materials for the Bradel binding covers... After I had the hang of that, it was time for me to start assembling the cases. My first time, the Meister tested one, then another, then the third... Off to the dumpster the lot of 50+ went, and I got to work late to redo. He made his point. I got more practice in production work and things became second nature. By the end, I was working independently (as much as an apprentice is allowed to) and taking books all the way through to the end, stamping, casing in. The second nature bit is critical so that one can focus on the critical parts of the process, not endlessly comparing thread thickness, groove width, folding... The Guild also required us to keep a daily journal, with one page for notes/essay and a listing of tasks completed with time, all initialed by the Meister.

Math for bookbinders: Calculating materials needs for covering a quarter binding
and and stamping foil.
More straightforward than it looks..., sure, we'll go with that...
Weekly report and entries in my journal for the guild.
Essay is on making stenciled papers (Schablonenwischpapier)
Also trimmed texblocks, applied dye to top edge, made covers, stamped, cased-in,
went to trade school...

Based on my age, trade school was not required, but I quickly learned that the only way I would pass my final examinations was by going. Trade school was the great equalizer, teaching the skills that were necessary for the exam, math for bookbinding (estimating prices, calculating materials needs, ...), social studies (Because traditionally kids who left school after 8th grade needed to continue their development as informed citizens), structure of the trade, theoretical knowledge for binding, and technique. Also included were use of machines, BIG ones such as those used for folding on an industrial scale, or 2 meter guillotines that we needed to program and change blades on, solo. Our teacher for the machines had mangled hands, also missing a few fingers. He waved them as he reached into the running machines, and when he said DON'T do "X" we listened. Enrolling myself in trade school, got the Meister and me into hot water with the Guild, and each other. In the end, my apprenticeship was shortened from 3 to 2 years based on my "previous experiences" as a work-study and intern. That last year was "challenging," and I admit that I was a handful at times... (Lehrjahre sind keine Herrenjahre).

Still, I wouldn't trade the experiences for anything, and I have many good memories as well. I am glad we are still in regular contact.I also learned far more in those 2 years than I thought, especially when looking back. It was learning the skills, but more importantly learning how to work, to organize the tasks, workflows, work with materials. Resilience is a good thing, in any work environment or relationship. It makes us stronger and hopefully smarter.

Still maintaining connections back to my old stomping grounds, I sent note from the wilderness, "Report on Bookbinding Apprenticeship in Germany," that focused on daily life, but also on those things that provided inspiration for the conservation career I aspired to - we all dream of medieval books such as "Bibliotheca Palatina Exhibition at the University of Heidelberg"

My first exhibition binding - the annual national apprentice competition

Conflicted scorecards for that first exhibition: at left good enough for potential medal, at right mostly satisfactory, boards to thick, and trimmed  to narrowly. They didn’t like the endband either. Can’t say I blamed them, overworked leather, title crooked, endband as I learned it then weird (wider and flatter, rather than more vertical), boards were too thick for textblock, and what wasn’t commented on was the dent in the textblock starting with the front endpapers from where a very small clump of something was pressed in during backing… Lots of pressure there… Oops!

With my apprenticeship winding down and realizing that I would not be staying in Germany as there more opportunities back in the USA, I started trying to line up (excessively aspirational) internships and enrolled in the full conservation program at The School for Book Restoration at the Centro del bel Libro in Ascona, Switzerland (yet another note from the field).

Internship “ding” letters - Vatican postcard signed by the Director.
The Masters at the “graduation” ceremony…
“If I learned nothing else, it was what not to do,” and
“Now I can prove the testing Masters wrong - that I can do better”

So, I passed my exams (not in any stellar fashion), and knew what I needed to learn and do. Next, pack up my life, mail all my LPs, stereo, press, books, ... back home to the US, and pack my tools, some cloths, my bike, and head down to the beautiful Ticino in Switzerland that I had heard so much about.

Ascona, elegant living in Paradise (on a REALLY tight budget).
Centro del bel Libro, Ascona

My bench in Ascona duringthe wooden boards binding class.

The Centro del bel Libro in Ascona was a therapeutic and transformative experience on many levels and during the 4 months I was there I completed the entire conservation program. This included chemistry for paper and leather (the first time I actually got it!), paper conservation techniques, leather binding, parchment bindings, and wooden boards bindings. Lots of models, and thankfully books to work on thanks to my father and others who sent me some of his treasures. Classes taught by Julia Puissant went from dawn to dusk with longer breaks (and working into the night) if we ended up swimming on the beach or alpine river. The small classes were very international with students from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, and the US during my time. I bought my first Schärfix, bought a wonderful Swiss paring knife I still use, and learned... The Centro del bel Libro also have school for creative binding, similarly organized and then under the direction of Edwin Heim. All the students spent much time together, and it was just wonderful. There were two one week breaks so I headed off to Florence for one, and Milan/Venice for the other.

Chief among the takeaways, other than learning the foundations of various conservation techniques, was that all that tedious repetition really did build muscle memory and “chops,” creating a solid foundation for more complex work. For example, I didn’t need to think about how to sew, but could see that sewing around 2 cords was conceptual the same as one cord, ditto working with leather (paring…), … I really did learn something during my time of servitude. Those lessons and connections became increasingly obvious the further I progressed in my career. I faced many challenges during my apprenticeship (cultural and otherwise) and when I look at the pieces I completed for my final exams I cringe. I knew even then that I could do better, especially with more encouragement, and most important an internal sense of drive to learn, broaden horizons, and seek challenges. For the day-to-day, when tasks become second nature we can focus on the finer points, more easily assimilate other techniques/adapt to changing circumstances as often happens in conservation, and do better work because we are more organized. To get those experiences, I highly recommend working in batches and on editions.

Would I have stayed in the US if North Bennet Street School had existed? It would have been tempting, but I don't think so for reasons that have nothing to do with the school. For me, a big part was seeing if I could return to Germany, back to my roots so to speak to live and work. I grew up sitting on the fence between the old and new worlds and gave myself a rash. Going back this way was the only way I would find out. Despite all the challenges of my apprenticeship, the idea of working full-time in a bindery and knowing that if you succeed you will know "X" and be able to work most anywhere combined learning with the real world. After 4 years of college, I was ready for something else for a while. I returned for a few reasons, the biggest being that I saw more job prospects with my skill set back in the US and greater flexibility. I doubt I would have had the same opportunities over there.

I'm very glad that we have North Bennet Street School and book arts programs like Alabama and Iowa, never mind the centers throughout the country. For the conservation side, I'm sorry the former Columbia program that moved to UT Austin folded, but am glad it was mostly picked up by at Winterthur, University of Delaware. Ultimately, I lament that the traditional apprenticeship model with defined expectations and structure for both parties, as well as recognized and authoritative credentials never developed here to the same degree. And, even in Germany, the apprentice model in many trades is in decline. There may be numerous reasons for this, economics are a big one. In light of alternatives to "college for all," I am glad to see the idea of formal apprenticeships being considered again. Happy to discuss...

Back in the US

Not under the stairs with the new bench I build with my father. 4'x8' +,
with flat files on one side and a light table that doubles as paring surface on the other.

After I returned from my apprenticeship and Ascona the end of 1987,  I set myself up in “private practice” (this time not under the stairs) with jobs coming from faculty connections. I also started making blank books, but stopped when I realized that people didn't want to pay me what I thought I needed to earn based on time and materials. This allowed me to keep my skills sharp while I looked for a job in the field. To help make ends meet I also got a job at my college bookstore, promptly using the 40% trade discount to buy more books about binding like Tini Miura’s  My World of Bibliophile Binding, and Johnson’s Manual of Bookbinding… Good investments, but bad omens of a lifelong addiction. Throughout, I continued to seek guidance from folks in the conservation lab (and access to supplies/equipment), as well as others until getting my first real job in Chicago - perhaps another story - but after working in one traditional hand bindery (Monastery Hill) that had a conservation/extra binding department where I worked, and with renowned conservator Bill Minter for about 3 years. During my Chicago time, I was also able to take advantage of an Mellon Foundation internship with Frank Mowery at the Folger, another transformative experience.

My bench at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC
At William Minter's in Chicago

Despite loving Chicago, the siren call of benefits and longer vacations (very important considerations) pulled me towards working in academic libraries where I spent time at Yale and Cornell (reunited with John Dean), and finally Syracuse where I got to know Sarah by way of abook arts I presentation I gave when she was a freshman. During that time I also advanced in “rank,” responsibilities changed and increased, I got an MLS (the "wrong" one, but that was ok), got to establish a conservation lab and program, and ultimately was shifted to a completely different area in a “reorganization.” Because I invested in my own infrastructure since the beginning. I’m still at it with binding and related activities that are now only for my own pleasure, and I feel there is still more I can contribute.

As Conservator at Syracuse - a staged photo shoot for an article.

Throughout this who adventure, I was fortunate to be able to count on the guidance, mentorship, and support of those I worked with and got to know as a result of other things like serving on the Board of the Guild of Book Workers, starting Book_Art-L, Book Arts Web, and The Bonefolder, ... Find those mentors early and hold on to them. The relationship will change, but the benefits remain if done right. Join professional groups and consider serving. Join others like Designer Bookbinders and the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild for their publications. Start sharing in writing, on listservs and social media, invite dialog, teach to your level of comfort/competence, enter exhibits - get engaged.

You can hear me speak about much of this in "Stations of a Bookbinder's Life: Twenty-five Years in the Field," a talk I gave to the Cornell University Bookarts Club in 2007. In it I discussed my experiences as an apprentice in Germany, work as a binder and conservator, and the many twists and turns my career took. When I was preparing for that, I found a flyer for a similar talk I gave in 1993 (no doubt with photographic slides), but couldn’t find any notes in my “archive.” I did better in 2007.

Next, we discuss my goals when it comes to books...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student- Part 1

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student: Why bookbinding? A discussion between a student and her mentor

Introduction: This series of posts was prompted by questions from Sarah Kim (aka Skimplicity), a long-term work-study student of mine at Syracuse University Libraries who is now enrolled in the Bookbinding program of the North Bennet Street School in Boston, fulfilling a dream she’s had for some time. This is Part 1. See here for part 2 and part 3, part 4.

I (Sarah) was introduced to the bookbinding world when met Peter teaching book arts in one of my art classes. This led me to working the next six years at the Syracuse University Libraries’ Preservation Department repairing books. However, bookbinding was something I never considered pursuing because initially, I wanted to be a creative director or a graphic designer, or something of the like working in a creative field in the modern age. But I never found enjoyment working on a computer screen as I did working with my hands: folding paper, brushing glue, cutting book cloth and buckram with my olfa knife. And that is what lead me to North Bennet Street School, to give myself the best opportunity to learn and hone those hand skills.

It wasn’t until I started attending North Bennet Street School that I realized just how huge the realm of bookbinding is; a wide variety of materials and pastes and tools, reading materials, discovering a whole society of bookbinders much like how Harry first stepped into Diagon Alley... While I had an idea that bookbinding was something Peter does outside of working at the library, in which he did show some of the work he has been doing, it was still an intangible concept for me to grasp: Why does he make books? If books are now only mass-produced, does this make Peter an artist? Is this a hobby that people do? Is it still a thing for people to get apprenticeships? What happens afterwards? Why is the bookbinding program at NBSS two years? Is there really that much to learn about books and the different types of bindings? Questions I had brewing in the back of my mind, but not quite knowing how to ask, or knowing what exactly I was asking for, but never really asked until I was forced to ask these questions myself when I became a bookbinding student... So, to make up for the “lost time” a little bit, I’ve had the privilege of keeping regular correspondence with Peter to ask him these questions, and hopefully to continue to keep asking more questions.

The “interview” will be spread out over several posts, so check back regularly… This is Part 1.

Sarah: Let’s start off with some background information. While in college, what made you want to drop the idea of studying law and going into bookbinding? In other words, how did you end up in Germany?

When I started college (1981) there was a fair measure of pressure from some quarters of my family to study law… So, when I enrolled it was a history major in one of the top programs in the country. Based on AP credits, this would have put me on track to do a BA/MA in 3 years. Needless to say I got my hat handed to me and like many students had to reassess my options. So, switched majors to German Lit (I grew up speaking German, the kid of an itinerant art historian)... The thought of law school, however remained.

Like many students, I needed a work-study job, and being a faculty brat my parents knew the campus an options well… So, “son, the library hires a lot of students… Shelving books is boring, but there’s this Englishman in the basement who has a book conservation program and manages preservation…” Sounded interesting, went down, talked to John Dean (talks about own training starting page 7), and got the job. That experience, and all the people who worked their changed my ideas, interests, and goals. This was a fully developed program with circulating collections repair and rehousing (my job, largely), rare book, and paper conservation. They also managed the library binding program that was substantial in those pre e-journal days…

John Dean - My first mentor from Johns Hopkins and later Cornell.
Martha Edgerton - my day to day supervisor who had
the unenviable task of keeping me focused on the job at hand...

Like Sarah, I was put to work learning how to repair the heavily used books from the circulating collections, make basic enclosures for brittle items, clean stacks, … Because of the nature of the program (Then a 7-year apprenticeship program in contrast to the MLS Columbia preservation and conservation program that had started around the same time), I was exposed to all levels of work, something that deeply intrigued me so that when I wasn’t training for bike racing or studying, I volunteered with the paper conservator and just watched. The director of the program, John Dean, encouraged this interest by inviting me to observe presenters brought in like Tini Miura, exposing me to other aspects of the field. Through these experiences I also became involved with the Baltimore Area Conservation Group (BACG) providing more networking opportunities. [John gave a great lecture on the history of conservation and his path - I was glad to invite him here to Syracuse.]

Despite some academic challenges, I managed to stay a semester ahead, and at the encouragement of John (and Frank Mowery at the Folger Shakespeare who I had also been introduced to) decided to intern in a conservation lab/bindery in Germany. Language and dual citizenship helped make that easy. I also helped that my sister’s godmother was a librarian there as well as  one of my father’s first positions, and that the binder/conservator had done a fair bit of work for him over the years.
One can never start building networks (and discovering pre-existing ones) too early - start now if you haven’t and nurture them.
As often happens when one goes off to do interesting things, someone else mentions that a report or newsletter article would be great, and so it was with "Experiences at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum," which was followed up by an illustrated lecture after my return.  
Writing about and sharing experiences is a great way to think about and (re)process them, and it's only gotten easier in the online world. Who knows, you might even inspire others...
While in Nuremberg, I also began my compulsive reference collection building habit by buying my first manuals – Zeier’s Books, Boxes, and Portfolios, the Fritz Wiese books such as Der Bucheinband, and was first exposed to Ernst Collin’s Pressbengel (little did I know then…). I also greatly expanded my tool collection. Other takeaways, a notebook filled with (crude) sketches and things to follow-up on, and lots of photos (slides that need to be scanned). The Zeier and Wiese are still among my favorite manuals.
Start building your reference collections early, you'll never regret it, and despite the online offerings we have today the best resources are still in print. Ditto on acquiring the best tools you can (barely) afford. They'll last a lifetime is cared for.
The lab at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.

Across the courtyard from the lab, the cover of the Codex Aureus Epternacensis.
One of my father's first publications was about it.

Box, bindings, and clamshell from internship in Nuremberg below… My first marbled papers, using oil and traditional watercolors - Nice to use them. Blank books, the gateway drug to ??? All these different projects, in addition to doing basic work like sewing, cutting materials, ... for regular lab workflow gave me a great introduction to binding in the German tradition, the bookbinding literature, but also the culture of work and society in general. Very different from the visits to see family, some was "better," some not. During that time I also lived in a Catholic boarding house where the main residents were apprentices in town for trade school. A melting pot.

Box

My first millimeter (Edelpappband) binding

Draft for my father's last book... Sadly, never got published.

While there, I also got the scores for the LSAT that I took the day I was flying to Germany. I had the out I needed to convince my grandfather (a retired judge) that law school was off the table, and that I was pursuing the binding/conservation option. I then began pouring through the Branchenbücher (Yellow Pages) for binderies across Germany (but also not too far from relatives).

Returned home for Christmas (‘84), set up my first “Harry Potter” studio in the basement and under stairs… (picture below) to keep the skills up. Having all the good tools I acquired while in Nuremberg helped, too. So, had lots of fun practicing my marbling with oil paints (that I haven’t really done since) and paste papers. Making blank books and boxes as gifts (building expectations of the gift that keeps coming…) gave me lots of repetition. I was also grateful for the use of a board shear and guillotine to do all the cutting (again, keep nurturing your connections...). Still had to ride/race my bike and graduate, but carved out the time to start sending “application” letters and resume, all handwritten as the Germans expected it… Should have at least typed and xeroxed the resume bit…

In the end, I received 3 invitations to interview, all essentially asking me to come next week (and after their responses arrived by mail at my place), called them to reiterate which continent I lived on, and still managed to schedule the 3 interviews for 3 weeks hence so I could get flight and finish college. Thanks to senior “privilege” I was able to skip most finals and only needed to reschedule one. Week long trip went well, had offers from two, chose the one that spoke to me - in an artist’s colony, and packed up my life to start my apprenticeship 4 weeks after graduation…

Like Harry Potter under the stairs. Made the press and sewing frame...
I was very fortunate that throughout my time as a work-study student and during my internship I was very fortunate to have had my interest in bookbinding nurtured and supported by those around me, my parents, John, Martha, Herr Reinwald. By humoring my never-ending questions, and allowing me to observe and push myself (often beyond my level of experience with the inevitable "failures"), they ignited a spark and led me to commit to bookbinding, book arts, and conservation.
To all in a situation like mine was, take advantage of any and all opportunities presented, seek out challenges, and don't be put off by the first (or second) "no." I am still in touch with almost all of my early teachers and mentors, and we are now peers. It is there example that helped show me the way, and in large part the joy of sharing it with others such as work-study students and interns. And, you'll need their letters of support sooner than you think...