Saturday, December 31, 2011

Welcome to the 2011 Bind-O-Rama

The Bonefolder's annual online exhibition.

Artistically Reversible: Where Conservation and Art Meet

We are pleased to present Artistically Reversible: Where Conservation and Art Meet, the 2011 Bonefolder Bind-O-Rama. This online exhibited was inspired by the tenets of the Tomorrow’s Past (TP) movement that seeks to provide antiquarian books with new, conservationally sound yet innovative bindings. The UK-based movement has its roots 1999 with Sün Evrard and was in part inspired by the late Edgar Mansfield who wrote that “surely it is better to create tomorrow’s past than to repeat today’s.” As British binder Jen Lindsay wrote in 2007, “Why go on making books based on Then – copying outdated methods and conventions, instead of making books based on Now – applying current knowledge and practice with a modern sensibility.”

TP member Kathy Abbott, a binder and conservator acknowledges that the work of TP has created quite a bit of controversy: some book conservators think we are imposing our will onto the books and think we should be more invisible; book restorers think that we should be making bindings which imitate the period of which the book was printed and book artists seem to like our structures but see us as a bit ‘staid’. This Bind-O-Rama created similar controversy in the US perhaps due to a misunderstanding of both the outcomes and on a deeper level of conservation ethics which as expressed consider every book to be rebound or treated as a cultural heritage artifact. This latter conflict was discussed at length in Barbara Appelbaum’s paper that was presented at the 2011 American Institute of Conservation meeting and entitled Conservation in the 21th Century; Will a 20th Century Code of Ethics Suffice? <http://barbaraappelbaumbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/paper_aic_conservation.pdf>.

While many books are most certainly cultural heritage artifacts either as objects themselves or as part of the collection that holds them, many, the majority perhaps are use objects that have seen a great deal of handling and exhibit their age and provenance through the wear that is exhibited by their deterioration of materials and structure. It is these objects that TP seeks to give new life and a renewed significance whether for collectors or antiquarians. Conservation principles of doing no harm, reversibility (or as expressed by James Reid-Cunningham, conservator at the Boston Athenaeum retreatability) expressed by the use of proven materials with long-term stability, sound structure, and a skillful and respectful expression of craft married to innovation in structure and design. It is the latter which seems to touch the most sensitive nerve with concerns about “appropriateness.” Conservator Chela Metzger writes, “most conservation treatment discusses “appropriateness” or even used the word sympathy when describing a treatment goal. The original old part must meet and mingle with a “non original” new part. The meeting and the mingling must work well at every level. But this appropriateness and sympathy are hard to sum up. Appropriate to the text subject matter? Appropriate for the text paper qualities? Appropriate to the text time period? Appropriate for the owner of the text at the time of the binding?”

As Abbott says, “why can’t we make really, sound, conservation bindings, with a bit of structural ingenuity and a sensitive aesthetic too?” This theme was also echoed in a side-discussion at the Guild of Book Workers 2011 Standards of Excellence Seminar. That discussion featured several conservators and binders working in the US, both with cultural heritage collections and as binders in general. <http://bonefolderextras.blogspot.com/2011/10/discussion-of-tomorrows-past-at-guild.html>.

While the response to this Bind-O-Rama was lower than we hoped, we were very pleased to see conservators and binders take up the challenge. In reviewing the entries we asked “what treatments would disqualify entries from this exhibit? Ones that immediately strike one as hurtful to the text. Ones that do not use stable materials? Ones that require damaging the text to remove it from the new binding. Fortunately we found no evidence that disqualified entries, however we do encourage those interested to see that it is not about traditional “design bindings” or “restoration” but sympathetically innovative conservationally sound bindings.

We hope that binders and conservators will adhere to the highest standards of conservation materials and structure while keeping an open mind and willingness to consider the aesthetic and structural options for rebinding. A large part of that will be an ongoing civil dialog in which conservators continue to stress and share their best practices and we all pragmatically consider the options for rebinding a given book in full consideration of its value and historic significance whatever that may (or may not) be. Writes Abbott, “I do hope that in the future, books bound in this way will be as accepted as every other binding style,” and “I think it could become the most exciting and challenging concept that has come out of the world of bookbinding for a long time.”

Comments by Kathy Abbott of Tomorrow's Past and The Bonefolder editorial staff.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bound for Glory, the Book Artistry of Richard Minsky

A review by Miriam Schaer

Richard Minsky, foreword by Betty Bright. The Book Art of Richard Minsky, George Braziller, Inc., NY 2011. ISBN 10: 0807616060; ISBN 13: 9780807616062 (hardcover), 136pp, $34.95

It’s no exaggeration to say that Richard Minsky’s bindery is also his soapbox. Across a nearly half-century career, and counting, Minsky has produced a steady flow of bound volumes infused with anger, wit and passion. Expertly crafted, they transform workmanship into artistry by the ideas they embody and the propulsive energy of their maker.

Along the way, Minsky also became Johnny Appleseed to a growing community of people and organizations devoted to book arts, a term Minsky, himself, is credited with coining. In 1974, he founded the non-profit Center for Book Arts in New York, an organization of which (full disclosure) I am a long-time member, and the model for many other centers for the arts of the book.

A natural evangelist, Minsky has taught book art classes, curated book art exhibits, exhibited his own book arts, contributed to book art scholarship, challenged art world orthodoxies, outraged traditionalists, and founded (online) a Book Art Museum. The Book Art of Richard Minsky arrives as a timely, handsome, well-deserved retrospective of his most interesting, most photogenic works.

The Bound and the Beautiful

Book Art in America author Betty Bright sets the stage with a crisp introduction and clarifies the distinction between “art books” and “book arts” which, after Minsky, should nevermore be confused. Following Bright, Minsky himself takes over as tour guide to the Minsky oeuvre. A long section engagingly recounts his early years before tapering off into short takes on individual projects, most notably The Bill of Rights. Notes on additional works follow, anticlimactically ending with a CV.

Completed in the shadow of 9/11 and the ensuing threats to civil liberties, Minsky’s The Bill of Rights consists of 10 volumes, one for each of the first 10 amendments to the constitution. The work’s overall tenor can be seen in its treatment of the Second Amendment, concerning the right to bear arms. The amendment is represented by a Minsky-bound edition of Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat by Morris Dees and James Corcoran, its cover enhanced by such interior quotes as “America is quickly moving into a long dark night of police state tyranny.” Other amendments are similarly treated. The series is angry and impassioned.

Members of the Center for Book Arts will be familiar with pieces of the Minsky saga, as it’s long been absorbed into the Center’s creation myth: his boyhood in Queens, his discovery of letterpress printing in junior high, the death of both parents at early ages, his close relationships with his grandmother and sister. All this had an enormous impact on Minsky, and imprinted on him the importance of living at full throttle.

Other parts of the story will be less familiar: how he studied fencing and sang in the Brooklyn College choir, loved music and dance, applied for a job at the CIA to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam (hey, it was the Sixties), graduated with an economics degree, withdrew his CIA application, and transferred to Brown University to begin graduate studies in economics. (Believe me, this is not how most people become book artists.)

At Brown, he discovered the university bookbinder and bindery, which he duplicated in his tiny dorm room. The romance was on. Economics became a girlfriend left behind. But not entirely, and Minsky acquired an MA in the subject before transferring, under scholarship, to the New School in Manhattan, where he credits Prof. Horace Kallen’s Philosophy of Art course with changing him “from a bookbinder to a book artist.”

Weary of Nixonian America, Minsky headed to Europe in 1971. He visited master bookbinders, binderies and book conservators, and performed with a traveling folk-rock band, before returning to Queens where, with a loan from the Small Business Administration, he opened a bindery and book repair shop. His formal career had begun.

Those who have known, studied or worked with Minsky will be unable to read of these events without hearing his voice. Those newly encountering Minsky will find his voice an easy companion, and wish only there were more of what in London is referred to as the naughtier bits.

Épater la Bourgeoisie

The Minsky works that receive the most attention share a progressive sensibility and a commitment to civil rights. Volumes like Chemistry in Warfare (1993), with its gas-mask cover; George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (2003-2006), a prescient take on the surveillance society; and The Bill of Rights, bristle like leather-bound agitprop with the metaphors of outrage. Minsky’s desire for action traces back to his family. Both parents moved in political circles. His father created The Religious News Service to promote religious tolerance, and his mother worked for the Anti Defamation League and with the League of Women Voters. Minsky, himself, performed for a time with an anti-Vietnam performance troupe.

At the time they were first exhibited, many Minsky bindings were characterized as outrageous or scandalous, but chiefly within the conservative world of bookbinders. Always interested in pushing boundaries, Minsky doesn’t seem to have thought twice about binding Thomas Pettigrew’s A History of Egyptian Mummies (1973) in linen strips, as if mummifying the book itself, without the owner’s permission. Fortunately, he loved it.

Minsky adorned The Birds of North America (1975), submitted to a Guild of Book Workers exhibition at Yale, with pheasant skin, so the first thing the reader sees is a dead bird on the cover. This reportedly caused a conservator to scream on opening the package. Looking at the book now, it’s hard to see what the fuss was about, especially in light of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde-fueled career. Among the interesting aspects of Minsky’s work is his attraction to unorthodox materials, such as the rat skins he tanned and applied to Patti Smith’s Babel (1979), and the mystery skin covering Barton Lidicé Beneš’ The Dog Bite (1970).

Personally, I find The Geography of Hunger (1988), creepier than the rest. The edge of the binding, embedded with teeth, creates a mouth on the fore edge that makes it look as if the book could bite off one’s finger. Bits of food labels on the outer edges, make one feel the book has already chewed up a meal and is about to spit it back out.

Many Minsky books are off-the-shelf editions re-bound from his perspective. Usually strategic about the books he binds, he often selected hot-button titles and subjects along with binding materials certain to engage readers in a dialog about their content. Minsky decorated George Plimpton’s Fireworks: A History and Celebration (1992) with live fireworks and a box of matches; The Biological Time Bomb (1988) with explosives, batteries, electrical tape and a timer; and Nineteen Eighty-four with a miniature hidden video camera and embedded LED monitor so the reader sees on the cover his or her own image staring back above the warning “Big Brother is Watching You.”

Many volumes were bound deliberately to provoke or make a statement about important issues. For Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America’s Freedoms in Politics, Religion and Our Private Lives (1988), Minsky foil-stamped on Nigerian goatskin a picture of himself as a TV preacher surrounded by the flames of Hell. Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals (1988) sports a hypodermic needle, crack caps and a phosphorescent death head.

When Minsky develops a book from scratch ­ writing, illustrating and binding both the covers and their content ­ the subject is often sex. In Minsky in London (1980), the artist’s sex life shares the stage with instructions on tanning rat skins. Minsky in Bed (1988) explores the former subject further, continuing a long tradition of artists and writers who have harvested their exploits as artistic fodder, from Casanova and Henry Miller to Tracy Emin’s tent installation, Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963-1995.

Minsky’s twist was to do it in the style of incunabula. Sculpted brass knobs, called bosses, shaped as a copulating couple, protect Minsky in Bed‘s leather covers from coming in contact with any reading surface, while handcuffs chain the whole apparatus to a brass bed rail. Other Minsky projects stretch the very idea of a book. He bound Erica Jong’s Sappho’s Leap: A Novel (2003) in the form of a scroll, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Philosophy of Umbrellas (2008) as a Tyvek umbrella to commemorate the late Judith Hoffberg, editor and publisher of Umbrella, long an important resource for information about artists’ books.

At heart, however, Minsky is a traditionalist. His works include numerous traditional bindings, like the ones for Cook’s Voyages (1968) and Tom Phillips’ translation of Dante’s Inferno (1980), as well as many blank books and guest books bound in exotic leathers with Art Deco and other historically inspired cover designs. And nearly all his books use traditional codices, even when attached to a bed, an electric chair, barbed wire, or linen wrappings. The form of the codex, even if not fully intact, is almost always recognizable.

Minsky has also called attention to earlier era’s bindings with compendia like American Decorated Publishers’ Bindings 1872-1929 (3 volumes, 2006-2010) and The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930 (2010), which revived interest in a number of important book cover designers. Many were women, who were encouraged to find employment creating designs for book covers and other objects of the new industrial age, and who have otherwise been written out of the history of the decorative arts of the period. Their stories are an important addition to the history of artists’ books, and publishing.

The Book Art of Richard Minsky deserves a place on every book arts shelf. It brings us up to date with, and up close to, the career, still active, of an essential book artist. The photographs are clear, bright, inclusive and abundant. Minsky’s vision is no less.




Miriam Schaer (www.miriamschaer.com) is a practicing book artist based in Brooklyn, New York, and a Lecturer in the Interdisciplinary MFA Program in Book and Paper at Columbia College Chicago. She can be contacted at mschaer@colum.edu.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Journal of Dora Damage

Belinda Starling. The Journal of Dora Damage. London: Bloomsbury, 2007. 464 pages. ISBN 1596913363. Out of print but available.

Reviewed by John Nove

[In light of recent conversations on Book_Arts-L about anthropodermic bibliopegy a sneak-peak at a review to be published in the upcoming issue of The Bonefolder – in production now. To read the thread, click on the link and the "view by topic..." ]

 A chance meeting with an English woman over dinner on a remote Scottish isle last summer led to the mention of her friend Belinda Starling, recently deceased, who was the author of a novel that, as a bookbinder, she was sure I’d find interesting. No other details were shared, but a week after she left the island a parcel arrived via the Royal Mail containing the paperback version of The Journal of Dora Damage. The several blurbs on the back cover included one from the French women’s magazine Marie Claire (“a riveting tale of bookbinding and Victorian pornography”) and another from The Guardian which proclaimed the book a “scrupulously researched racy tale”.

I immediately began reading it and was transported into the Lambeth district of London in the mid-19th century with all its bleakness, despair and poverty – a very Dickensian setting whose sights, smells and tastes Starling expertly captured. The story’s narrator is twenty-something Dora Damage, a binder’s daughter, then binder’s wife, who sets out to support her severely arthritic husband Peter and their epileptic young daughter Lucinda by taking over the family business at a time when women were seldom permitted to perform other than menial bindery tasks (=sewing). Her options are few – make an attempt at successfully running the bindery or debtors’ prison for the entire family. So with her husband’s verbal guidance and the forwarding assistance of his young apprentice she sets out to resurrect Damages Bindery under the disapproving gaze of her neighbors.

Salvation appears in the form of Sir Jocelyn Knightly, an Africa explorer, physician, bibliophile and exoticist. Attracted by her unusual tooling and choice of cover materials, Knightly and his group of friends, the Noble Savages, likely modeled after Sir Richard Burton and his Kama Shastra Society, begin to provide commissions – along with morphine for Peter, an experimental therapy for Lucinda, and for Dora, entry into an unimagined netherworld of Victorian smut. Courtesy of Lady Knightly, Dora is also sent Din, a freed slave from Virginia, to become her apprentice (and she his!) after Peter dies.

The novel plunges deeper and deeper into the realms of vice, racism and pornography while providing what seem to be accurate details of the day-to-day operation of her bindery and the local tanneries. Dora finally draws the line at the degree of depravity to which she is willing to close her eyes. (For me the line would have been drawn sooner –some of the material in this book, based on well-researched Victorian predilections, is strong stuff.) With all the information she has, however, and the police closing in on their ‘business’, the Savages declare her expendable, and as a fitting termination to their relationship kidnap her and tattoo their logo onto her buttocks, planning to eventually use her skin (vegetable-tanned, we assume) on yet another one of their nefarious volumes. (“The perfect quarto, you said? Mrs. Damage’s arse, I’m afraid, will cover little more than an octavo, and a crown octavo at that.”)

Good finally prevails, as it usually does in these Victorian novels – and their Masterpiece Theatre versions. Dora, Lucinda (now free of epilepsy), and Mrs. Knightly and her newborn half-black son move off to Gravesend as a family. Dora then uses some of newly-acquired wealth to create a support organization for women binders that by 1917 evolves into the Society of Women in the Bookbinding and Printing Trades.

In recent years I’ve seldom devoured a book as voraciously as I did this one. Its depiction of Victorian bindery life, together with its intrigue and malignant darkness – overshadowed by the fortitude of Dora herself – lead me not only to recommend it strongly but to also suggest that it might make an ideal (if somewhat unusual) ‘set book’ for a binding competition.



John Nove is a bookbinder working for private and institutional clients in western Massachusetts. He graduated from the North Bennet Street School and opened the Grey Seal Bindery, named to honor the selkies he hears singing from his summer cottage on the Scottish island of Papa Westray in Orkney. He can be reached at <nove.john@gmail.com>.

Of the Bookbinder, 1761


 (From The Parent’s and Guardian’s Directory, and The Youth’s Guide in the Choice of a Profession or Trade by Joseph Collyer, Esq.,  London, 1761)

Discovered and submitted to The Bonefolder by John Nove.

The Bookbinder’s Workshop from Diderot & D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, France, 1751 and 1766

Of this business there are several sorts, as the calves leather binder, the vellum, and the sheep’s leather binder.

The boy intended to be a calves leather binder, ought to be both strong and pretty ingenious in order to become perfect master of the several branches of the art of binding books in calf. But no extraordinary education is necessary; reading, writing, and a little arithmetic being sufficient. This trade requires strength to beat the sheets smooth with a heavy hammer, and ingenuity in gilding and neatly lettering the back, as well as in beautifully marbling the edges of the leaves; but this last is part of the art known to few of the trade, and those make an extraordinary advantage of it.

Was willst du Werden?: Bilder aus dem Handwerkerleben. Berlin: Winckelmann + Söhne,1880.
Complete book, 16 images online here.


The vellum binder is chiefly employed in binding shop books in vellum or parchment; he also rules paper for the account-books. His is the most profitable branch of binding both for the master and journeyman.

The binder in sheep is chiefly employed in binding of school books, and little books in gilt paper for children and requires no genius. 

The calves leather binder may set up a master with about 50 l. and his journeymen have seldom more than 12 s. a week, except they are very curious and uncommon hands, and are employed by a master distinguished by the neatness of his work. The vellum binder may become master with even less money; or get 15 or 18 s.a week working as a journeyman. The sheep binder may begin trade for himself with about 30 l. but the journeyman can can seldom earn more than 10 s. a week. All these branches take about 10 l. with an apprentice.



John Nove is a bookbinder working for private and institutional clients in western Massachusetts. He graduated from the North Bennet Street School and opened the Grey Seal Bindery, named to honor the selkies he hears singing from his summer cottage on the Scottish island of Papa Westray in Orkney. He can be reached at <nove.john@gmail.com>.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Discussion of Tomorrow's Past at the Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence Seminar, 2011

Welcome to this discussion of the issues surrounding the Tomorrow's Past movement and the Bonefolder's Bind-O-Rama 2011 - Artistically Reversible: Where Conservation and Art Meet in which we invited binders and conservators to explore the movement's tenets of providing new, conservationally sound clothes to old books. For more context please see the article in The Bonefolder, Vol 7, by Charles Gledhill, the Tomorrow's Past web pages, and this post at the Riverlark blog entitled Old wine in new bottles.

This discussion on Friday, October 7 was organized by Karen Hanmer, bookbinder and book artist from Chicago, to take advantage of the presence of many interested parties at the Guild of Book Workers annual Standards of Excellence Seminar being held at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel. The discussion was started by Karen who (re)introduced Tomorrow's Past, and the concerns that were being voiced by some about its ethical implications. These concepts were also discussed by Barbara Appelbaum in her paper from the 2011 AIC annual meeting entitled Conservation in the 21th Century; Will a 20th Century Code of Ethics Suffice?

Also present were: Eric Alstrom, collections conservator at Michigan State University Library; Anna Embree of the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama; Deborah Howe, collections conservator at Darmouth College Library; Chela Metzger, senior conservator of library collections at the Winterthur Museum; Suzy Morgan, conservator in private practice via Skype from Chicago; Nancy Nitzberg,  conservator in private practice in the Philadelphia area; James Reid_Cunningham, conservator at the Boston Athenaeum; Peter Verheyen, head of conservation and preservation at Syracuse University Library; Stephanie Wolff, conservation technician at Dartmouth College Library

These participants represent binders and conservators from variety of training and work backgrounds. We hope you will find this discussion thought provoking and welcome discussion of your comments and concerns.

Download the mp3 audio file of this discussion 

Edit 11/14/2011 Kevin Drieger on his Library Preservation 2 blog shares his thoughts continues to the discussion in a post entitled Finding the Conservator in Conservation>.
While I think the idea of the invisible conservator is impossible and wrong and should not be a goal, I also do not advocate for a conservator’s self-expression free-for-all. This issue of how much of our selves do we put in our work must always be held in thoughtful and professional tension.

The author, the binder, the seller, the conservator, and the reader are all part of the community that creates and interprets our written cultural heritage. Understanding who these various members are only helps deepen our understanding of this heritage.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Entry Form for Bind-O-Rama 2011 - Artistically Reversible: Where Conservation and Art Meet

Welcome to the SUBMISSION / ENTRY form for the 2011 Bonefolder Bind-O-Rama that demonstrates the intersection of conservation and the art of the book. We challenged binders and conservators to think about their work in different ways and to create compelling new work that applies “non-destructive and completely reversible book structures.” Since 2003, the Tomorrow’s Past movement (See The Bonefolder, Vol. 7, 2011) has led the way with work that demonstrates a high regard for the integrity of the original object, the application of current conservation best practices, and an innovative interpretation of book structure and aesthetics resulting in work that is lasting and fresh.

The integrity of the original is a key value of this movement, and stresses that books are not rebound or interpreted simply for the sake of doing so. Books of significance as artifacts with key elements of the binding in treatable condition or requiring simpler treatments are not appropriate candidates for this kind of treatment. Suitable books would be those that may have boards or other elements missing, have been previously repaired/rebound and showing the negative effects of those treatments, or whose original structures may have caused the breakdown of the binding in the first place. All treatments completed for this Bind-O-Rama must conform to current best practices in conservation, be reversible, and ultimately “do no harm.” This is NOT an altered book event. In contrast to past Bind-O-Ramas this event will be juried by the members of The Bonefolder’s board who are themselves trained conservators and active in the field. Kathy Abbott, a member of the Tomorrow’s Past movement will also participate as juror.

Images must be sent to bonefolder@philobiblon.com as separate attachments. Included must be at least two, no more than 5 images of treatment including before, in-process, and completed. Specifications: Minimum 640 x 480 pixels @ 72dpi, jpg file format of your book. Files must be named as binder's name-1.jpg... (e.g. verheyen-1.jpg, verheyen-2.jpg)

Full details with images illustrating the process can be found at http://bonefolderextras.blogspot.com/2011/02/bind-o-rama-2011-artistically.html.

Additional examples can be found by Suzy Morgan, Gaylord Intern in the Conservation Lab at Syracuse University Library. In her posts she discusses the book she treated and some of the "ethical" questions. Take a look at these links: http://digitalcellulose.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/internship-report-month-1-part-2-now-with-more-coffee/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/suzypictures/sets/72157627145298417.

Another example is the work of James Reid-Cunningham, conservator at the Boston Athenaeum. His treatment is at http://www.reid-cunningham.com/Design%20Bindings/insectarchitectu.html.

Karen Hanmer's example is at http://www.karenhanmer.com/gallery/piece.php?gallery=newwork&p=Walter_Crane.



IF you have conceptual questions about what this is about, please do not be afraid to ask by sending an email to bonefolder@philobiblon.com.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Index to The Bonefolder, Volumes 1 - 7, 2004 - 2011 now online

An index to Volumes 1 - 7, 2004 - 2011 is now online at the main Bonefolder website.The index is due to the efforts of Samantha Quell, longtime Bonefolder reader and currently a student in the MLS program at the State University of New York at Buffalo.Thank you Samanatha!


Click cover to read.