Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

Friday, December 8, 2017

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017, edited by Jeanette Koch, photography by Greg Smolonski: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, UK: available at the Designer Bookbinders Online Shop, £30.00 + s/h.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017 catalogue, was produced to accompany a travelling exhibition of the same title that first ran from July 18 through August 20, 2017, in Weston Library at the University of Oxford.  The exhibition could later be seen through September 28, 2017 at the Library of Birmingham, followed by a showing in London at St Bride Foundation until October 24, 2017, and then, in a final venue, at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, Massachusetts, November 3, 2017 through December 22, 2017. If you missed the show in the United Kingdom and will not be travelling to Boston to view the 28 prizewinners and a selection of American entries, do purchase this catalogue, which has completely captured the bookbindings exhibited in the four venues as well as all those entered in the competition.

The Designer Bookbinders and their impressive roster of supporters should be very proud of the ambitious travelling exhibition and catalogue. The catalogue, beginning with its cover, conveys excitement and motion through the dynamic dragon motif lunging toward the viewer. Played out against a rich red background highlighted by glittering gold-toned titling, it serves as a theatrical introduction to the international themed contents within.

Heroic Works at North Bennet Street School
Photo © The North Bennet Street School

Heroic Works at North Bennet Street School
Photo © The North Bennet Street School

Since not all bookbinders and other followers of the book arts will be able to see the exhibition in any of the venues, it is commendable that the catalogue begins with descriptions of the four hosting institutions. Instead of just listing the exhibition dates, this informative catalogue gives brief paragraphs about the locations and provides their contact addresses. Readers will note that three of the four venues recently underwent extensive renovations and, although not mentioned, the North Bennet Street School is in a newly acquired and renovated building. It is comforting to know that books and related crafts, and the buildings that house them, are well cared for on both sides of the Atlantic.

The competition judges, Harri Aaltonen, Sue Doggett, and Sophie Schneideman, must have had a challenging time selecting the 28 books for the Sir Paul Getty Bodleian Prizes. The catalogue is filled with some breathtakingly beautiful books, created with outstanding technical skills. This review will only highlight fourteen books, although there are many, many more worthy of attention. Bookbinders and bibliophiles need to see the catalogue for themselves and savor the styles that appeal to them. The bookbindings, made using multiple techniques and materials, with finely honed skills, and keenly developed design consciousness, reveal that members of Designer Bookbinders merit their international reputation.

This reviewer had the good fortune to see the exhibition at the Windgate Gallery in the North Bennet Street School (NBSS). This venue may have influenced the choice of several books discussed here. Full disclosure: I am an American, graduated from the Bookbinding Program at NBSS, was taught by Mark Esser, and have served as a NBSS overseer for some years. That being said, the binding by Mark Esser is mesmerizing, in part because of the boldly repetitive design.  It was courageous to undertake a regular and symmetrical pattern, since the eye tends to focus on any flaws or inconsistencies in this style. Mark, well known for his commitment to craftsmanship, has accomplished a work that stuns in its perfection.

All images of bindings © Designer Bookbinders. Photos by Greg Smolonski.

Mark Esser (USA): Blind Date

The gorgeously crafted, wooden-board book, designed by Fabrizio Bertolotti fit perfectly into the NBSS Windgate Gallery setting.  The school, with programs involving wooden structures, such as Cabinet & Furniture Making, Violin Making, Carpentry, and Piano Restoration, has an appreciative audience ready to admire the precise woodworking mastery that went into the making of Bertolotti’s Héraclès.

Fabrizio Bertolotti (Italy): Héraclès

Priscilla Spitler’s cover, arrayed with brayer-printed leaves so vibrantly accenting the goatskin, was a delight to view on a bright New England day—the sky was filled with similar multi-hued leaves. One regrets that in an exhibition of bindings, interior features such as Spitler’s pochoir page illustrations cannot always be on display.

Priscilla Spitler (USA): In the Garden

In contrast to the flamboyant covers of Esser and Spitler, the prize-winning bindings by Keiko Fujii and Gavin Dovey have subtle tones and ornaments.  Fujii’s book has a soothing appearance because of the soft hues; pale blue calf accented with white and cream-colored onlays and inlays. The continuous elliptical configurations of the decorative elements blend harmoniously with the curve-modeled boards.

Keiko Fujii (Japan): Légendes Japonaises

Gavin Dovey has elegantly airbrushed the surface of the goatskin cover in a manner that brings to mind surface gilding. The tooled organic lines on the covers suggest veined butterfly wings, with the onlays and gold leaf resembling ocellus: considering the movement of the boards in relation to the spine, this also could imply the fluttering of wings.

Gavin Dovey (USA): Metamorphoses

The Windgate Gallery, as indicated above, featured the 28 prizewinners and a selection of American entries. The catalogue includes all the bindings entered in the competition. Photographer Greg Smolonski did a fine job imaging the books, so those seen in the catalogue are eye-catching, as well.
Architectural designs benefitted several bookbinders well in portraying the “heroic” on a grand scale. For instance, Sylwester Pacura illuminated his black Morocco binding of The Golden Legend with multi-colored leather onlays fashioning a glowing rose window, very pleasing in proportion.

Sylwester Pacura (Poland): The Golden Legend

Eliška Čabalová deftly sculpted and cut out the boards of her binding, creating the illusion of the gothic-windowed St. Vitus Cathedral, a fittingly dramatic symbol for Prague in Legends. The book seems to be an actual edifice, because Čabalová cleverly created the impression of shadows by uncovering the decorated flyleaves inside the cut out windows.

Eliška Čabalová (Czech Republic): Prague in Legends

Elements from nature also figured in a number of bindings and helped to accentuate the timeless quality of “the heroic.” Alain Taral’s walnut wood binding, with its strong grain and burls, bears the gravity of an object that has survived centuries of trial and strife. The binder wisely chose to allow the wood alone to make a statement, the resulting cover embodying beauty, unadorned.

Alain Taral (France): La Nuit des Fantômes

Dace Pāže adeptly attached Icelandic stones to metallic-toned leather covered boards so to suitably bind the Codex Regius. The placement and quantity, five stones on the upper and one on the lower board, combined with the size and sheen of the stones attractively symbolize Iceland.

Dace Pāže (Latvia): Codex Regius

Mythical beings from different cultures take formation on the book covers as well. Maria Ruzaykina used two striking creatures, a dragon and a human-faced bird, as metaphoric elements for her chosen title, Epic. The creatures, themselves lavishly tooled, are backlit by wonderfully gilt concentric circles.

Maria Ruzaykina (Russia): Epic

Karol Wilczynska selected to show a cave painting design on the upper cover of The Boy and the Taniwha. The painting, of wheel-like and circular forms evoking Taniwha, the unseen being, stands out because of the blocks of contrasting color with which Wilczynska framed it.

Karol Wilczynska (New Zealand): The Boy and the Taniwha

The human heroes show-up in the cover designs, both in figurative examples as well as in subjects picked to represent them. Given the theme of this exhibition, not surprisingly, there are a plenty of lovely samples to touch upon; three such books are looked at here. Patricia Richmond took the opportunity to showcase her tooling skills by decorating her Folk Tales and Fairy Tales from India with nicely rendered images of people. The variety of tools used together with the abundance of gold add intensity to the visually complex cover.

Patricia Richmond (United Kingdom): Folk Tales and Fairy Tales from India

Jamie Kamph employed hunting motifs to represent the actions of humans in the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The black silhouette hound and boar shaped onlays laid in a diagonal line balance out the red axe and holly sprig onlays. The binder cunningly avoided the use of the color green to stand for the mysterious knight.

Jamie Kamph (USA): Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Ido Agassi focused on the chainmail traditionally worn by knights of old to embellish the cover of Don Quixote Visiting a Printing Shop, reminding viewers of Quixote’s vivid conviction to revive chivalry.  Tooling a circle more than 12,000 times on the cover mirrors Quixote’s multiple efforts in attempting to achieve his goal; heroic efforts on both the part of the binder and the protagonist!

Ido Agassi (Israel): Don Quixote Visiting a Printing Shop

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017 catalogue provides a lasting record of the travelling exhibition by describing the venues, showing all the books entered in the competition, and by giving a contact list of the international group of bookbinders associated with their organization, highlighted by country. The foreword, preface, and introduction offer valuable background information and set the tone for the illustrations that follow. As Lori Sauer points out in her introduction, there remains a universal fascination with fine bindings, and people are collaborating on an international scale to preserve and foster the craft of bookbinding. Exhibitions, coupled with catalogues such as this, accentuate the effort exerted by groups like Designer Bookbinders, who heroically take on the herculean tasks of setting standards and acting as role models for the next generation of fine binders.



Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18 ½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, a board member of the New England Conservation Association, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

più da vicino (Closer) by Luigi Castiglioni

Castiglioni, Luigi. più da vicino. Rimini, Italie: Relié par Legatoria Anonima, 2014. 76 pp. Photographs by Alessandro Costa. €100 + s/h. For more information: www.luigicastiglioni.it and info@luigicastiglioni.it.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

“Who could ever harbour doubts about bookbinding being a major art form once one discovers the art of Luigi Castiglioni?” asks French bookbinder, Morina Mongin, in the preface to this catalog showcasing the work of Luigi Castiglioni. When you see the books, gorgeously photographed by Alessandro Costa, you will immediately respond to Ms. Mongin’s question with an emphatic “No one.” The catalog, with introductory material shown in black and white, acquaints the reader with Castiglioni and his bindery and then, with a glowing burst of color, displays the stunning books made by him.


Luigi Castiglioni

A first glance through the catalog importantly reveals that Castiglioni has mastered the art of bookbinding. The bindings, rendered with an enviable precision and control of technique, leave no doubts regarding his skill as a binder. The artistic use of leather onlays and inlays and the tooling in his designs is enhanced by the sheer dexterity with which they were executed.

Detail, onlaid, inlaid, and tooled cover

The textured and color-toned leather seen on the pictorial-style covers has a unique painterly appearance, a result of a printing and stamping process developed by Castiglioni. The colors are more subtle and variegated than can usually be found in leather, giving a three-dimensional quality to the surface of the book covers. The texture adds an interest, absorbing and reflecting the light in a way that deepens the form of the illustration. Those books with covers depicting mountains, orchards, or seascapes are a pleasure to look at because of this rich detail.

Detail, pictorial-style cover

The decorative gauffering, featured in the catalog on the heads of some text blocks, beautifully produces a modern appearance while paying tribute to historic patterns of the past. Here Castiglioni uses elements that evoke Rococo, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Islamic design, all the while manifesting his own creative style. These patterns also draw the eye to the endbands, a playful motif in Castiglioni’s book art. The asymmetrical color configuration seen on some of his endbands is at odds with the traditionally sewn endband, yet is clearly an intentional component in his vision of the book’s composition.  

Gauffered head with asymmetrical colored endband

Luigi Castiglioni’s signature also is an integrated part of the overall book design. The three bold, unabashed examples seen in the catalog rightly declare pride in the fine work that he has accomplished while forming a complementary ingredient to the volumes.

Castiglioni signature

The catalog is wonderfully formatted to give the reader not only an introduction to the bookbinder, but also to lay out the details of his design sensitivity and to exhibit his technical skill. Other bookbinders could use this catalog as an inspirational resource for their own work, in addition to viewing it as a stellar example of how to promote design bookbindings to potential collectors.




Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, Board member of the New England Conservation Association, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Contemporary Paper Bindings - A Guide to Bookbinding Techniques, Tools, and Materials

Hanmer, Karen. Contemporary Paper Bindings: A Guide to Bookbinding Techniques, Tools, and Materials. Glenview, IL: Karen Hanmer Book Arts, 2016. 130 pages, 11 x 8.5". $55 + s/h from Lulu.

Reviewed by Abigail Bainbridge

I’d been watching Karen Hanmer post images online for some time: a square carefully lined up to mark sewing stations on a spine, each step of tying a weaver’s knot, folding paper for yapp edges. When she eventually started posting images of a book cover, and then links to the self-published book, I realized what they were for. Contemporary Paper Bindings: A Guide to Bookbinding Techniques, Tools, and Materials (self-published through Lulu) goes through bookbinding fundamentals before giving step-by-step instructions for ten paper case bindings. Photographs and occasional diagrams throughout the book illustrate the text. The cover’s white-on-green grid references the ubiquitous green cutting mat.

The first sections (“Parts of a Book,” “Studio Essentials,” “Sewing Fundamentals”) explain everything to the novice, so that someone with enough motivation and hand skills but no experience at all could understand the basics. In fact, although the introduction bills the book as appropriate for all range of experiences, I’d say that it’s mainly aimed at this inexperienced bookbinder given the vocabulary and how much of it focuses on concepts like the names of parts of the book, how to use tools and set up a work station, and so on. There are some nice tips here, like flattening a thread with a folder to make it easier to pierce when locking the thread onto a needle, or the use of a thick catalogue as a makeshift support when piercing sewing stations in gatherings.




Instructions for the ten bindings follow, beginning about halfway through the book. A sentence or two of introduction and a few finished photos provide context that I wish was a little more detailed in terms of history and use. It would be nice to have more images here that show the full character of each binding, although some of the in-progress images in the instructions help construct a picture of what the book would look like. Instructions for the binding follow, with step-by-step text and photos to guide the binder through making the book; I would imagine this would be really helpful particularly to beginners and easier to understand in many cases than diagrams.




The structures themselves are mainly based on the idea of a multi-section textblock with limp covers made of heavyweight handmade paper, although there are variations such as paper over very thin boards, or thin paper wrappers around a thin volume. Some are more appropriate for decorative or artists’ books, while others could be useful as conservation structures.

The book would appear to be drawn from a compilation of workshop handouts, expanded and fleshed out to form a coherent and cohesive text. With this context the book makes more sense (the US letter paper size, Word-style formatting, credits on the bottom of every page) and I have to say, as class notes, they’re the most amazing I’ve ever seen. Assuming it to be a standard bookbinding manual written and designed as a complete book, however, might lead to some confusion, as it misses some of the polish one might expect in editing and photo quality—generally they’re a little dark and low on contrast, and there are typographical errors throughout. Long lines of text the entire width of the page are difficult to follow in general but particular in a scenario like this and could have been broken up into columns or otherwise made more easy on the eye. In terms of content, I think it’s great; my one quibble is with the vocabulary, which I wish followed a standard lexicon such as A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology (Etherington & Roberts) or Ligatus’ Language of Bookbindings, particularly if beginners will use the book. Otherwise I find it a useful resource and would recommend it to my students.



Abigail Bainbridge is a book & paper conservator at Bainbridge Conservation in London. She is the conservation science lecturer for the MA Conservation program at Camberwell College of Arts and is Associate Tutor (Books) at West Dean College. She also teaches short courses at the London Center for Book Arts and Women's Studio Workshop (US). Abigail is a member of IADA and the treasurer of the Icon Book & Paper Group. She can be found online at http://www.bainbridgeconservation.com.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Bookbinder’s Miscellany

Middleton, Bernard. A Bookbinder’s Miscellany. Alan Isaac Rare Books: Oxford, England, 2015. Octavo, 114 pp, 225 x 158mm, illustrated, colour plates and line drawings by the author, blue cloth, gilt. Edition of 500. Essays on Fine Binding, with an Introduction by Sam Ellenport. £27 + £9 s/h from Alan Isaac Rare Books.

Reviewed by Abigail Bainbridge

When A Bookbinder’s Miscellany by Bernard Middleton (Alan Isaac Rare Books: Oxford, England, 2015) came in the mail I was surprised to see that inside the little limited-edition blue cloth binding was a selection of articles that Middleton wrote between 1951 and 1976. I had assumed the “miscellany” in the title referred to a collection of recent reflections on his long and distinguished career as a bookbinder rather than a collection of articles mostly written in his mid-20s, just at the beginning.

One or two were familiar to me but for the most part these articles were new, and the overriding impression in reading the book is that of listening to a conversation that started without you. The themes are familiar—amateur vs. trade binders, English vs. French styles, the decline of skills and loss of the big bookbinding firms, worry over the future of the craft. But it’s quite interesting to hear them as they happened in the moment rather than, as I had assumed, in the form of present-day recollections. There’s no editing for hindsight nor, much to my delight, the youthful bravado and brashness of young Bernard compared to the unassuming politeness of present-day Bernard. I started writing down passages that made me laugh (from the page of the first article, on the subject of a badly-bound book: “If I had been so unwise as to exert myself in opening the book there is no doubt that I should have done it (or myself!) an injury…”) and in the end stopped because I was virtually copying down the whole book.

As I worked my way through the articles, fully intending to skim read but ending up lingering on each one, I kept an eye on the dates given at the beginning for when the article was first published. We were on 1951 for so long that I eventually went back to count up and saw that there were seven published that year – in Paper & Print and British Colonial Printer – and the pace doesn’t seem to slow in 1952; presumably there were others that didn’t make the cut for the book. Bernard was 27 then, and though they’re not generally very lengthy articles, one has the impression of a prolific early career in writing as well as bookbinding that set the stage for his later books, The Restoration of Leather Bindings (American Library Association: 1972), A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique (Hafner: 1963), and Recollections: My Life in Bookbinding (Bird & Bull Press: 1995).

An introduction by Middleton and Alan Isaac gives an overview of the profession and the process of bookbinding, illustrated with a few pages of color photos taken by Isaac that do help illustrate the points despite sometimes unhelpful angles (eg. from the side when trying to show an unevenly rounded spine, so that the unevenness is not very apparent) and distracting backgrounds. The introduction was a helpful orientation to someone who hasn’t trained as a trade binder or has limited experience, although one would probably need to have a certain level of experience to get much out of this book as a base level of knowledge on the part of the reader is assumed. Some interesting changes in perspective are visible here; when describing squares 2015 Middleton indicates that “Taste has historically dictated the dimensions of the squares… they should be proportionate, neither excessively large or mincingly small,” (5) though 1954 Middleton cautions that “Small square are neat and impart an air of refinement, whereas large ones give the binding a heavy ledger-like appearance” (71).

The articles that follow are in no particular subject order but one can nevertheless group them into a few categories. There are, of course, notes on technique: “The Supported French Groove,” “The Art of Covering with Leather,” “Notes on the Hand Sewing of Books,” “Facsimile Printing.” These are practical but still filled with notes that help explain why things might be done a certain way, or that give context to the style of the times, often with a nod towards how things used to be done either in terms of fashion or to lament a loss of skill or market for such objects. There are quite a few that focus on the differences between binding in England and elsewhere: “Notes on Craft Bookbinding in Paris,” “Two Bookbinding Exhibitions: Abstract Motif in Irish Work,” “Book Review: American Bindings of the Finest Quality.” In these, and in parts of other articles, Middleton studiously compares technique, aesthetic, and practice, often to comedic effect as in this description of a French binder using their typical paring knife rather than a spokeshave to reduce a whole skin, “The girl I watched … was working on it when I arrived and was still prodding away at it when I left the bindery 20 minutes later. … [The spokeshave] has come into general use in England only during the last 30 years, or so, and there are still a few members of the old school who prefer French knives and look capable of slicing human skin if it is suggested that they are out-dated” (49).

In “Controversial Thoughts on the Decoration of Fine Binding” as well as throughout other articles, Middleton argues for book design to follow all other household objects in becoming sleek, smooth, and modern. I was interested to see him advocate for a smooth spine, because raised bands lead one to decorate in the old-fashioned styles. There is much lamenting throughout that those with the money to pay for fine bindings tend to be older, thus (understandably, he says) tend towards old-fashioned styles, and this combined with poor education in design leads to books made with little imagination. I would have quite liked to see images of his bindings from the time, compared to those he does not prefer, and I wonder what he thinks now about the ideal style for a binding.

Other articles give portraits of great names in bookbinding, such as Sydney Cockerell, Thomas Harrison, Roger Powell, and Arthur Johnson: “Fine Binding: A Craft and its Craftsmen,” and “He Was a Good Man and a Friend to All (Thomas Harrison)”. One name that appears quite a few times throughout with a lot of respect is William Matthews, who I knew only as the “Mr Matthews” who taught Maureen Duke, who in turn taught me. In the way that when I now teach, my students hear Maureen’s familiar refrains (“Give it a bit of lick!”), I heard Mr. Matthews’ through her, like stories of my parents’ grandparents that I never knew. An inevitable positive aspect to working in such a small field is the persistence of ghosts, the passing of not only knowledge from generation to generation, but of people.

The best way to experience this book must be to sit with it and Bernard at the same time, so that after every other sentence one could look up and pepper him with questions. One has the feeling, especially in the concluding piece written for the book by Bernard, that there are still so many stories there wasn’t room to print.



Abigail Bainbridge is a book & paper conservator. She is the conservation science lecturer for the MA in book & paper conservation program at Camberwell College of Arts (London) and is Associate Tutor in the book conservation department at West Dean College. She is also occasional short course tutor at the London Center for Book Arts and Women's Studio Workshop (US). Abigail is a member of ICON and the treasurer of its Book & Paper Group. She can be found online at http://www.bainbridgeconservation.com.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015

The Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015, Edited by Arthur Green and Hannah Brown, Dorchester, UK: printed by Henry Ling, Ltd.; published by The Society of Bookbinders, 2015. GBP 22.50, available from the Society of Bookbinders.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

In the age of electronic devices, on-line exhibitions have frequently become the chosen venue for displays of bookbindings. While I completely understand the usefulness of this mode – wider audience, less cost, global curators and exhibitors, possibility of showing large numbers and multiple views of books, running the exhibit for an extended period of time, and so forth – I still appreciate seeing images of books in print form. The Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015 catalogue, printed to accompany a physical exhibit of the same title which ran from August 20-23, 2015, is a lasting legacy of that show held at Keele University. The award-winning books could later be seen through November 5, 2015 at George Bayntun, Fine Bindings and Rare Books, Bath, and then, in a final venue, at Shepherds, London, November 14, 2015 through January 8, 2016. If you missed the show in August and will not be travelling to London in the near future, all is not lost; this catalogue beautifully captured the eighty-five bookbindings in the exhibit. [Publisher's note: The online version of the catalog linked to above only shows the competition's award winners]

Since I am a bookbinder, I immediately began my investigation of the catalogue by poring over the pages containing the book images. Right off, I was delighted to find that prize-winning entries in all five entrance categories were shown with good-sized whole book images and a second, closer view of a detail of the book. At least one book in each of the entrance categories was given two images as well. The fact that there were five categories is marvelous, including fine binding, complete book, case binding, restoration, and historical binding. The judges must have had a challenging time choosing the prize-winning entries; the catalogue is filled with fantastic bindings. I have to say, though, that Andrew Sims’s sumptuous Harleian-style binding in Morocco covering the Book of Common Prayer stands out as a masterful example of hand-tooling, and so expertly resembles 18th century style that it is not surprising as the selection for the Fine Cut International Award for Finishing. This is the sort of binding that inspires the admiration of fellow bookbinders as well as book collectors.

The Book of Common Prayer by Andrew Sims

Visite au Petit Matin by Ingela Dierick


Sims’s binding featured a number of floral decorative motifs; several other books also had floral themes, albeit very different in style. Ingela Dierick created a lovely, delicate bouquet of onlaid leather flowers in a design that charmingly sweeps from the front board to the back, suggestive of a guest handing flowers to a hostess, as in the theme of the book, Visite au Petit Matin. Abigail Bainbridge’s journal, Herbarium, covered in a vellum binding entrapping pressed flowers and foliage, dramatically evokes lavishly illuminated 15th century manuscript leaves or early embroidered bindings.

Herbarium by Abigail Bainbridge

Pan by Peter D. Verheyen


Bainbridge was not the only one who imaginatively used vellum to convey a theme in deceptively simple-appearing binding style. Peter Verheyen, whom I have long considered a master of subtle, elegant bindings, has achieved this with the natural-toned vellum covering Eight Wood Engravings on a Theme of Pan. The variation of color on the surface of the vellum reveals the markings of the fur originally attached to that skin, quickly reminding an observer that Pan, the subject of the engravings, has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. Additionally, the use of snakeskin with a pattern boldly resembling vertebrae on the spine of the binding, and the placement of the sewing supports, make this a pleasingly proportioned design. Karen Hanmer, too, exploits the character of vellum in a limp binding used to encase The Anatomical Exercises of Doctor William Harvey: Concerning the Motion of the Heart and Blood. While she used only four illustrations from the text to embellish the cover (arms with accentuated veins), the prominent veining on the vellum surface completes the message.

The Anatomical Exercises of Doctor William Harvey by Karen Hanmer

A Midsommer Nights Dreame by Dominic Riley


In bright contrast to the vellum bindings, books in variegated hues are represented in this catalogue as well. Using black goatskin with multicolor onlays and gold tooling for the cover of A Midsommer Nights Dreame, Dominic Riley skillfully put together a bookbinding which is both eye-catching and displays admirable control of technique. The gold-tooled lines forming the shape of the palace arches introduce depth to the flat plane of the boards, causing the bright colors of the trees and banner to appear to hover dreamily over the surface. Erin Fletcher, the only North Bennet Street School Bookbinding Program graduate whose work was in the exhibit, did her school proud with a nicely executed binding for The Nightingale and the Rose. An inlaid scarlet goatskin line visually pierces the book’s spine, and the embroidered feathers of the bird onlaid to the upper board add dimension to the cover. You can read about it being bound here.

The Nightingale and the Rose by Erin Fletcher

One could go on describing other excellent books, but the truth is, bookbinders need to see the catalogue for themselves. The bookbindings, made using multiple techniques and materials, signal that this is not a dying craft and that binders are still experimenting/experiencing new ways to use their skills and design arts to create unique books.

Once I had savored the books, I returned to the beginning of the catalogue to discover that, in addition to the beautiful images of books, there are other enjoyable features to this catalogue. The warm-hearted tone of the introduction draws the reader in, and the brief history of the society will be useful to those who are not bookbinders. Listing sponsors up front is a good move and having the entrance categories spelled out is very helpful. The images of the tools of the trade tucked in the gutters and margins of the introductory pages nicely balance out the text. I had a couple of minor quibbles: the Contents page repeats the case binding category and the names of the bookbinders in that category, which is confusing; and the countries of origin of the binders are printed in faint grey tone—since it was an international exhibit, I thought that should be emphasized more.

The Society of Bookbinders has produced a great catalogue to accompany their 2015 international bookbinding competition. It will remain a record of that show and those who enjoy bookbindings or books about bookbinding should consider adding this volume to their collection.



Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18 ½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Bindings of Trevor Jones

Jones, Trevor, Angela James and Colin Hamilton (editors). The Bindings of Trevor Jones. Foss: Duval & Hamilton, 2015. 9.5 x 11 inches. ISBN 9780950135519. 160 pages. Hardcover, dust jacket, $75.00. For orders outside of the Americas, cost is £45+ postage outside of UK. Please contact the publisher, duvalandhamilton@gmail.com to order.

Reviewed by Amy Borezo

“I consistently design beyond what I know I am capable of doing, and have to discover or invent the means as I go along.” – Trevor Jones (1931-2012)

The Bindings of Trevor Jones catalogs over 140 works by this eclectic bookbinder who sought experimentation with materials and a connection with fine art in his designs. In this impressive collection spanning nearly fifty years, his legacy in the history of bookbinding is made more than apparent. As one of the founding members of Designer Bookbinders, he and his colleagues helped revive the art and craft of bookbinding in Britain during the second half of the 20th century. The images in the catalog are supplemented by detailed sketches and notes from the binder, as well as articles he wrote in the 1980s and 90s that are as informative and enlightening today as they undoubtedly were then.

Cat 49, Ivor Bannet, The Amazons

The full color images of the bindings are arranged in chronological order, from Jones' first experiments as a student to the fully formed, complex and expertly executed designs of later years. His early work was influenced by his first binding instructor, Arthur Johnson, who displayed a modern design aesthetic that echoed the fine art of the middle of the 20th century. Jones' early bindings, in their asymmetrical compositions, amorphous color onlays and fluid black tooled lines, call to mind the bindings of Johnson and Edgar Mansfield, as well as painters like Miro and Picasso. At that time and in the years to come, Jones was inspired by the work of his peers and teachers rather than the purely decorative or overly restrained bindings of the past.

This forward looking approach to binding led to a great sense of experimentation. The catalog contains an informative essay on the use of spirit dyes, which is one of the many inventive techniques Jones utilized in his work. The freedom which the use of these dyes gave him was essential to his artistic development and allowed him to incorporate his training as an illustrator into his bindings. Jones often used the cover of a book as a painter would a canvas, filling it completely with pictorial, painterly representations, frequently of the human form. In his design of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach, the binder made an innovative structural decision based on the need to have a long horizontal surface on which to depict a reclining nude. He doubled the amount of board surface by hinging another board to both the front and back covers. These inner covers are hidden when the book is fully closed, revealing only a portion of the female nude figure on the exterior. He used this cover structure many times throughout his work to increase the surface area on which to construct a design while simultaneously creating a cinematic effect of a long horizontal image fully revealed only through manipulation by a reader/viewer.

Cat 64, James Joyce, Pomes Penyeach

During the 1970s, many binders responded to new movements in visual art and architecture that exposed the function of an object and incorporated it into its design. During the same time period, the massive flooding of libraries in Italy brought to light many examples of historical binding structures which complimented the new functionalist art movements. Jones took note of these developments and made use of the sewing support as a design element in several of his best bindings. Dark cords and lacings snake across covers showing themselves in unexpected places. In the description for his binding of Edgar Mansfield's 11.2.80 On Creation he reveals that he used a method of chance to determine the composition of the cover, lifting the long cords up and letting them drop repeatedly, tracing the results. This method of discovery and openness to process is indicative of much of his work. The design for this same binding continues on the inside of the covers where the laces from the exterior appear again, embedded in the doublures of grey goatskin, having emerged through eyelet holes or wrapped around edges.

Cat. 80, Edgar Mansfield, 11.2.80 On Creation

One of Jones' most ambitious projects is his first binding of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The structure of the book and its casing is artfully complex and captures the ominous mood of the text. The binder uses old leather gloves to create onlays in dark browns and reds, cutting and spreading single gloves out to construct seemingly monstrous hands that appear to be reaching, flailing, or grasping. Three sewing tapes are exposed on the spine and ten dark leather thongs trail across the front and back covers, gathering at each corner and spilling over the covers as loose ties. The closed book sits in the chest area of a large straight-jacketed, simplified human form sewn from canvas in muted colors. The human form wraps around the book, snapping closed, revealing the roughly stenciled title of the book. The whole is contained in a hinged, wooden box. Every detail of this work, including the custom paste paper flyleaves, evokes a powerful and haunting image of the human soul, psychologically bound and oppressed.

Cat. 75, George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Cat. 75, George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In Nineteen Eighty-Four and other work, Jones incorporated found materials in his designs, such as leather gloves, scraps of clothing, fur, handbags, wallets, and lacings. The found materials seem to share a connection to the human body, with the marks of time and use celebrated and highlighted by the binder. Jones also integrated into his designs the raw edges of the animal skins he worked with and would reinforce the grain of the leather and purposefully pucker and manipulate the skins, creating texture and dimension.

Cat.118, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Cat.118, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Jones had a deep connection with much of the work he chose to bind. He states in one of the catalog's essays that “[E]ven when I am binding a book for someone else I am at the time making it for myself.” The texts he worked with have a distinctly modern character, including those by James Joyce (of which there are many examples), George Mackay Brown, George Orwell, Arthur Miller, and David Jones. For the binding of Arthur Miller's, Death of a Salesman, Jones used onlays, inlays, cracquelle work, and stenciled spirit dyes to create two gripping, large scale self-portraits on front and back covers. The perspective and scale of the faces allow the viewer to connect with the deeply flawed everyman at the center of Miller's story. The tone and color of the portraits is dark and beautiful, ranging from a warm honeyed brown, like an aged photograph, where the cracks and fissures of the cracquelle work are most apparent, to the deep complimentary blue and purple-blacks. These are not just book covers, they are compelling paintings as well.

Trevor Jones created deeply personal work, unique in the history of bookbinding. The craftsmanship and art-making on display in this collection is informative and inspiring for anyone interested in the art of design binding, while the essays and historical context for the work advance and enrich the field of bookbinding on an international scale.

An excerpt from the introduction can be read on Oak Knoll Books' site.



Amy Borezo Amy is an artist, bookbinder, and the proprietor of Shelter Bookworks, a bookbinding studio in Western Massachusetts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tricks of the Trade, Confessions of a Bookbinder

Jamie Kamph. Tricks of the Trade: Confessions of a Bookbinder. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2015. 6 x 9 inches. ISBN 9781584563341. 144 pages. Hardcover $39.95, softcover $24.95.

Reviewed by Karen Hanmer*

Cherish each step along the way and perform it as completely and gracefully as possible.

Jamie Kamph’s Tricks of the Trade: Confessions of a Bookbinder is part memoir, part how-to, and part a collection of essays on the engineering aspects of binding, all gleaned from this design binder/conservator’s forty years of experience.

Kamph clearly and generously shares her process, though this is not intended to be a step-by-step manual, and the book is written with the experienced practitioner in mind. Binding, repair, design, and finishing are all addressed. Well-illustrated with diagrams and in-process photos, plus images of forty of her completed design bindings, the book also serves as a catalog of Kamph’s work.

An introduction provides Kamph’s philosophy of binding. Her process is one of both prudence and decisiveness: “At each step of a binding or rebinding I evaluate my work and decide if it is good enough to continue.” Throughout the book she echoes a sensible rule-of-thumb to bind by and to live by: “Don’t do anything you can’t undo.” She ends with a reading list of her go-to sources for binding history and technique.

M.F.K. Fischer, Deux Cuisines en Provence

The book proceeds with Kamph’s career transition from publishing to bookbinding after writing an article on hand bookbinding in New York City. Kamph had an ulterior motive in accepting the assignment: a book collector since her college days, she hoped to find a local source for repair of her own collection. Interviews with numerous binders led to an invitation to a one-evening “try-out” class with Deborah Evetts to determine if she had potential as a binder, then weekly lessons with Hope Weil, and finally establishment of her own Stonehouse Bindery.

Kamph continued her study independently, offering to examine every binding in nearby Princeton University’s rare book collections, and to report to the curator on bindings of note. The objective of her survey was twofold: research not only historical finishing design but also how various binding methods had withstood centuries of use. Kamph was seeking a structure that would support the designs that have become her trademark: elaborate tooling and onlays on the spine extending across the joints and onto the boards. A tight back spine might not be smooth enough to take gold tooling well, and the flexing from opening could cause the gold to flake off. The opening of a hollow back can exert enough pressure on the joints to cause the boards to detach over time. She found the engineering solution she was seeking in a 16th century Swiss binding: a tight back with a leather spine lining. With further refinements, this is the structure she still uses today.

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, vol. 1

Kamph next address her signature design style, illustrated by photographs of her completed bindings, sometimes shown alongside the period works she used for reference or inspiration. Her broad design vocabulary draws on a variety of mediums: visual and decorative arts, maps, architecture, and garden and textile design. Typography and decorative elements from the text often inspire a pattern which might be repeated, rotated, reversed, exploded. She also draws on historical book decoration, fragmenting or exaggerating elements to provide a more contemporary, often playful feel.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

She gives us a window into her design process, whether searching for just the right antiquarian image of an angel, finding an astrological map for the night Captain Ahab’s ship left Nantucket, or borrowing watercolor techniques to capture the play of light on a tableau of fruit.

This introduction to Kamph and her work is followed by twenty-some brief chapters, arranged roughly in the order a book is bound or by complexity of repair, followed by finishing techniques and tips on developing a design. Though Tricks of the Trade is not a step-by-step manual, much how-to information is provided in the narrative. Each chapter is a stand-alone essay on one step in the binding process, peppered with tips and anecdotes. The feel is that of the conversations binders have following a lecture or demonstration: colleagues swapping their personal techniques and the tribulations that got them there.

Topics covered include humidity in the studio, useful bindery items borrowed from the medicine cabinet and toolbox, adhesives, paper repair, board attachment, zig-zag endsheets, backing, spine lining, the inseparable actions of sharpening and paring, headbanding, headcaps, and corners. Later chapters address repair: inner and outer joints, cloth cases, rebacking. A chapter is devoted to the repair of a set of three nineteenth century novels in their original but very damaged paper bindings. Before and after photos show new bindings that retain the spirit of the modestly elegant originals.

Throughout, Kamph shares her preferred materials and suppliers, and describes equipment of her own design: a brass-edged recasing press, her tool-polishing set-up, a holder for rolls of gold leaf. I found numerous tips I may or may not have ever arrived at on my own: using tweezers when I might have reached for a thin folder, substituting thin Reemay where I would have used Japanese tissue, using book cloth matching the case for a hollow where I would have used paper, application of glair with a refillable water brush when I would have used a brush or the much more difficult to maintain technical pan, silicone release paper when I would have used Mylar.

 She offers a multitude of possibilities for altering new plain or decorated paper to match old. She addresses making endband cores and reveals a clever method for anchoring the core to the text block to ease the awkward initial wraps before the first tie-downs.

Particularly welcome are chapters addressing the dual nemesis of many fine binders: headcaps and corners. She notes that a well-formed headcap is in fact the convergence of numerous steps properly executed: not just covering but also spine lining, leather paring, headbanding, and attention to the appropriate historical style for that particular book. Kamph provides three options for forming corners, all illustrated with step-by-step diagrams. The most interesting, borrowed from Swiss binder Gerard Charrière, oddly resembles the historical tongue corner but with a shorter tongue pared very thin and folded beneath the two side flaps, which meet seamlessly above it.

A chapter on repair of the brawny, brittle family bible acknowledges this quotidian mission that binders love to hate. Kamph describes her method of washing and drying the text pages in “clumps,” repairing pages, and resewing to control swell, followed by backing to fit the old boards, or if new boards must be selected, the luxury of selecting a thicker pair to comfortably fit a generous shoulder.

Another chapter is devoted to a case study of Kamph’s treatment of a dilapidated first edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language. The two volumes bought at auction by a long-time client came with detached boards, some missing pages, and no leather remaining on the spines. However, the sewing was mostly intact, and rubbings of the spine reveled that the old glue still held impressions of the original tooling. Scans of the missing pages were acquired, printed onto paper toned to match the text and sewn on, new cords were attached to the old and the boards reattached, the books were rebacked. Using the spine rubbings as her guide, Kamph drew a design for a decorative tool to be made to match the original and purchased the 24-point Times Roman Condensed that was a reasonable match for the original titling font.

First edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, before treatment

First edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, after treatment

The greatest strength of Tricks of the Trade may lie in the final chapters on finishing techniques and generating design ideas. First Kamph describes the process of transferring the design of onlays, gold lines and titling to the binding by tooling through a pattern on translucent graph paper. This process is illustrated with photographs of a full pattern, a close-up of the pattern showing the numerous line segments marked to designate each tools that makes up each segment of the design, and the completed binding. Further instructions are given for cutting onlays to the precise size and shape required and setting them in place.

In just fourteen, highly-efficient pages, Kamph presents design possibilities, tools, and techniques for gold tooling. She discusses the optimal binding structure and choice of leather to lay the foundation for tooling, how to form an intricate design using just a few tools, how to modify tools to build the desired pattern, and when blind tooling might be a better design choice than gold. She outlines each step of the process: blinding-in, applying glair, polishing the tool, applying the gold, cleaning the impression, applying additional gold as needed and troubleshooting. Kamph uses ribbon gold, a roll of gold wound on a spool, interleaved with thin tissue. Ribbon gold is not applied directly to the book like leaf; instead it is picked up with a greased, heated tool which is then applied to the blind impression. The chapter concludes with a very useful matrix laying out methods for managing the interactions of leather, gold, glair, heat and pressure, tools, patterns, humidity and boards when conditions are “bad,” better,” or “best.”

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

In “How to Cheat at Gold Tooling,” Kamph offers suggestions for replacing missing tooling or refreshing damaged tooling on the fragile leather of antiquarian bindings, or adding tooling to a reback that will be a reasonable match to that on the remnants of the original spine.

The final chapter addresses generating design ideas. First, look to the book itself: read the text, look at the images. What is it about, where and when does it take place, what are the larger themes, and what items might be associated with any of this? A quick Web search will yield numerous possibilities, which can spur many additional ideas.

Kamph presents multiple techniques for onlays, some unconventional. She often repeats an onlay shape as a frieze extending across the spine from foredge to foredge. Instead of using these leather shapes themselves as onlays, she sometimes applies the strip of thinned leather they were cut from to the book, with the negative space making shapes appear in the leather the book is bound in. Kamph ends with a reminder to include the title in the design process. Freedom from traditional placement and content can reinforce themes in the text while enhancing the design.

Walt Whitman, The Half-Breed and Other Stories

A photograph of Kamph’s Stonehouse Bindery wraps from the back to front cover of Tricks of the Trade. Her New Jersey farm is visible through bench-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the studio. This scene completes the profile of the binder, her methods, and her work.

* Karen Hanmer was an early reader of this book.




Karen Hanmer’s artist-made books are physical manifestations of personal essays intertwining history, culture, politics, technology and arid wit. Her work is included in collections ranging from The Getty Museum and the Library of Congress to Yale University and Graceland. She is winner of the Jury Prize for Binding in the 2009 Helen Warren DeGolyer American Bookbinding Competition and is one of only eight graduates of the American Academy of Bookbinding’s Fine Binding program. Hanmer is a leader in the book arts community, having served on the editorial board of The Bonefolder, as Exhibitions Chair for the Guild of Book Workers, and as frequent exhibition curator and juror. She offers workshops and private instruction focusing on a solid foundation in basic binding skills. www.karenhanmer.com