Usually, my husband is my captive audience when I want to talk about design binding. He nods and smiles, and says that it is nice to see me so animated. He’s very sweet. What a pleasure it was then, to jabber with someone who actually wants to talk about the subject!
I spent about three hours with Neale. He is so generous with his time and his books. The bindings are absolutely wonderful. He showed me so many, some by binders whose work I’d seen online or in exhibit catalogs, but some who were completely new to me. I could hardly believe that I was holding books that most people have never seen and, even when exhibited, will not be able to hold and examine closely. I am very, very lucky.
Neale told me many stories of binders of the past. He showed me his favorite binding, and a book bound by that binder’s son, now in his 90s, using the tools inherited from his father. We talked about commissioning bindings. He believes, when commissioning a binding, one should issue no instructions: the binder is the artist. It works. He has commissioned hundreds of bindings and has only once been disappointed enough to call the binder. That is an excellent recommendation for letting a binder do whatever he or she wants. We also talked about patience. It takes as long as it takes. I’m trying to learn patience. It’s not my best trick.
The afternoon went by so fast. I could have spent half an hour with each book, examining the design and execution of each, but I wanted to make the most of my time with Neale. I had fun trying to play guess-the-binder. I nailed Jim Reid-Cunningham, Del Hood, Hannah Brown, Paul Delrue, Alain Taral, and Jan Sabota, but I really don’t know the range of styles of most binders well enough to guess. I was just lucky with those. They were stylistically close enough to other works I’d seen recently. My binding crushes on Hannah Brown, Del Hood, and Alain Taral are firmly in place (yes, I know none of them work in the Americas, but who cares?). So many binders, not just those listed above, have a degree of finesse that just doesn’t translate in photographs, no matter how good.
In an afternoon of highlights, looking at around 30 interpretations of the same text was an incredible experience. The text was one that Neale had published in miniature format: the music and lyrics to Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the musical “Kiss Me Kate.” I love that scene in the movie, and it fits right in with Neale’s lighthearted love of Shakespeare. We ended up sitting on the floor of his library among piles of boxes, each one containing a jewel of a binding. It really was a little piece of heaven.
I was so absorbed that I took no notes and managed to take only two pictures: