Robert Wu (but not my cats)

Thanks to a very generous gift from a friend, I was introduced to the art of Robert Wu of Marbled Graphics™ .  I have Robert’s graphics in every room of my apartment. I won’t be posting pictures of my apartment, though. It’s a slippery slope. First, my apartment, and next thing you know, I’ll be posting pictures of my cats. There are more than enough pictures of cats on the internet.

You can see some of Robert’s marbled paper art here and purchase it here.

Very shortly after receiving this wonderful gift, I discovered that Robert is also an accomplished bookbinder. Since the founding of Designer Bookbinders of America (2011), of which Robert is a member, I’ve been following his career with great interest.

Robert’s most recent achievement is a commission by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, for a binding of George Barbier and Francois Louis Schmied’s Personnages de Comedie (Paris, 1922).

George Barbier and Francois Louis Schmied's Personnages de Comedie (Paris, 1922)
George Barbier and Francois Louis Schmied’s Personnages de Comedie (Paris, 1922)

It is currently on display in the Fisher Library’s exhibit: “Chevalier du Bracelet” George Barbier and His illustrated Works. Another Robert Wu binding, on loan from the Royal Ontario Museum, is also featured in the exhibit.

Le Roman de la Momie, illustrated by George Barbier
Le Roman de la Momie, illustrated by George Barbier

Check out this guided tour of the exhibit, narrated by the curator, Arthur Smith.

Please do not be under the misapprehension that appreciation of Robert’s binding is limited to Ontario. Robert has twice earned the great honor of his bindings being selected for the traveling exhibits of the triennial Designer Bookbinders International Competition.

Designer Bookbinders International Competition 2009
Designer Bookbinders International Competition 2009
Designer Bookbinders International Competition 2012
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Designer Bookbinders International Competition 2012

Robert also has many private commissions which, of course, do not get published on his website.

One of Robert’s specialties is miniatures. I hope Robert will forgive me for not writing much about this aspect of his work. I have written enough about minis for the moment. However, it is necessary to mention Robert’s love of all things tiny and made of paper, in order to understand why and how Robert became a designer bookbinder.

Recently, Robert and I have been corresponding via email. I have so many questions for designer binders. Robert is a good sport and agreed to be my first victim. What I received was completely unexpected. Robert wrote such a passionate off-the-cuff essay about his introduction to and training in the art of designer binding that I am forced (with his kind permission) to excerpt some of it here. This is how Robert describes his introduction to bookbinding:

I discovered bookbinding initially through ORIGAMI! I have always been interested in paper folding and one day (back in high school), I discovered at a bookstore a diagram of folding a sheet of paper into a multi-page miniature book. I was intrigued and it fascinated me. Then I realized that I couldn’t write much in it, so I went back to the bookstore and found a manual on bookbinding basics. At that time, the basic bookbinding manual looked very complicated to me, but I decided to give it a try. So I started making my first properly bound books in miniature format when I was in high school, and I was hooked. I think within a few years of making my miniature books, I discovered the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG) in Toronto. I started taking workshops in bookbinding because I wanted to make better miniature books.

We are really fortunate here in Toronto to have CBBAG, as it offers a really solid foundation for bookbinding and book arts. During my early university years, I was taking many different workshops at CBBAG. One of the instructors introduced us to a bookbinding manual in CBBAG library called My World of Bibliophile Binding written by Tini Miura. I think it was through Tini’s works and writing in the book that I was first introduced to the concept of design binding: bookbinding as art. Then, I discovered another book called Art Nouveau and Art Deco Bookbinding by Alastair Duncan. It was this book that sealed my fate as a designer bookbinder, and I decided to get advanced training in bookbinding so I could do exactly what I saw in the books.

Robert has much more to say about his training, inspiration, and challenges as a binder, but this post is long enough. Part two coming soon.

Guest Book for Toronto Public Library
Guest Book for Toronto Public Library

Impatience and Eggshells

Is there such a thing as a book emergency? Other than fire and flood, I often try to tell myself there is not. It is merely someone’s impatience. It’s a useful thing for me to keep in mind. I should use it as my mantra. But I already have one.

This time, however, it was my impatience. It took two ENTIRE weeks for me to receive my copy of the The Neale M. Albert Collection of Miniature Designer Bindings. I even called the bookstore because they were off their usual timeline.

Finally it arrived!

Tom Grill takes MUCH better photos than I do.

I saw, in person, many of the bindings in the catalog. I did not have descriptions of the bindings at the time, just binder’s name and title of the book (and not always that). One of the bindings I tried to photograph was by Paul Delrue. When I came across it in the catalog, it gave me a giggle. The description states, among other details, that the binding was French sewn by “Gavin Povey.” Ahem. I believe the cataloger meant Gavin Dovey who, I happen to know, worked with Paul Delrue for a bit before coming to the US.

It’s all very nice that I got a laugh out of the Gavin typo, but I was left with the question: what is French sewing?

Turning to my ABC:

Chain stitch: A sewing stitch which catches up previous sewing threads but is not sewn to a support, also called unsupported sewing. Used in Coptic, Ethiopian, Near Eastern and Islamic binding and in France in the 16th century (called French sewing). Machine sewing is a type of chain stitch sewing.

chain stitch

No supports. That sounds like a good choice when binding a book slightly less than 3″ x 3″.

As I read through the catalog, another binding caught my eye. It is, I think, a very unusual technique, but I have seen it before. When I saw who the binder was, I knew why. It was a very delicate Mark Cockram binding, with panels of crushed and laquered eggshell. Guess whose first teacher was Mark Cockram, back in the days when they both lived in Lincoln? None other than current resident of the USA, Gavin Dovey (or should I say Povey?).

Several years ago, Gavin made something rather clever using eggshell panels. He describes the process briefly here [click the image]:


On her blog, Jana Pullman has a very detailed description of an eggshell panel project she did in 2010.

Anyone else experimenting with eggshell panels?

Have More Fun

Working out teaching genealogies is a pain in the ass (can I say that?) It’s complicated, time consuming, and boring to write about. I’ve gone astray already! Mea culpa.

I want to write about books and binders and beauty and technique. To that end, I’m hoping to return to The Grolier Club shortly, because…
I have been given permission to handle the Neale Albert Collection miniatures! I will get to hold those babies, very gently, and really look at them. Maybe I should bring a loupe. I will definitely bring a real camera. Soon, I hope to get my hands on normal size books, but with over 200 designer bindings by dozens of binders virtually at my doorstep, I’m pretty excited about the minis. Some of the binders, like Gabrielle Fox, specialize in miniatures, but most do not. I really look forward to looking at those little beauties; feeling the textures, learning about the delicacy and finesse required to bind at that scale.

Here is some more eye candy.

Gabrielle Fox Borders
Gabrielle Fox
Jan Sabota The Rose Trilogy  (Rebecca Press)
Jan Sabota
The Rose Trilogy
(Rebecca Press)
Louise Genest Erte Maquettes  (Rebecca Press)
Louise Genest
Erte Maquettes
(Rebecca Press)
Jamie Kamph The Seasons  (Jonathan von Phitzer Press)
Jamie Kamph
The Seasons
(Jonathan von Phitzer Press)