Sonya Sheats

Sonya is French, but was raised primarily in the United States. Sonya became a bookbinder almost by accident. While working in her college library, a friend in the preservation department gave her a little tour. Thus, she became vaguely aware of binding, preservation, and conservation. After finishing college in the United States, she and her now husband decided to spend 4 months in Brittany. Casting about for an activity where they would be speaking French only, they managed to enroll in an over-subscribed two-week-long bookbinding course with Anne Vion, a well-known binder and teacher. Sonya was smitten. When the course was over, Anne asked Sonya to continue her studies. Working intensely side-by-side with Anne for the rest of her stay in France allowed Sonya to complete the requirements for the French diploma for bookbinding. It is my understanding that, in France, one cannot practice as a professional bookbinder without this certificate.

Sonya returned to France every summer to continue as Anne’s apprentice. During those ten years she was also teaching elementary school art (and, of course, binding on the side) A one-year sabbatical from teaching allowed Sonya to spend more time with Anne and study with master binders all over France and Belgium, learning new skills, honing her craft, and experimenting with unusual binding materials.

For more details, Erin Fletcher did a wonderful series on Sonya in her blog A Flash of the Hand.

Sonya is now a full-time binder. She teaches small classes (her bindery is tiny) and also teaches once a year at North Bennet Street School. I recently spent an afternoon with Sonya in her bindery, and observed some of her teaching at NBSS.

Sheats binderySonya at NBSS

I don’t think I could possibly spend enough time talking with Sonya and looking at her work. As far as I can tell, her training and work are so different from other bookbinders practicing in The Americas. As gorgeous as they are in photos, there are only hints of the true beauty and craftsmanship of her work. The subtlety of the materials and binding structures are apparent only in person.

Sonya is not only an extremely talented and accomplished binder, but she is also really fun. We had a truly hilarious conversation translating binding terms she knows only in French and correlating bookbinder-to-bookseller vocabulary. There was a lot of pointing, laughing, and note taking. Fortunately, I can read a colophon in French and can usually make my way through a French booksellers’ bibliographic description. Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with certain binding vocabulary in English; forget about French! I learned how to say airbrush in French: aérographe. We still have to work on leathers. How do you say ostrich shin in French?

Here is a sample of the wide variety of styles in which Sonya binds:

Sheats-PaperRad full Sheats-brevaire Sheats-vent

Oi tudo bom, Brasil? (Whassup, Brazil?)

Brazilian flagI got sidetracked by Brazil.  I was just beginning to talk about teaching lineage, but an exhibition catalog caught my eye:  Latin American Book Arts (1995)  at The Center for Book Arts in NYC.

Brazil is a huge country. But sixteen out of 38 exhibiting book artists from Brazil? That seems like a lot. Is there a substantial book arts community? Where do the binders train? Is it at Associação Brasileira de Encadernação e Restauro  (ABER)? They definitely sponsor competitions. A member of DBOAMarco Pedrosa, won first prize in 2009. Also take a look at Marco’s prize-winning binding in the 2013 Biennales Mondiales de la Reliure d’Art competition.

After poking around online exhibits, I found several other Brazilian binders. Initially, I was trying to track down some of the binders represented in the 1995 CBA exhibit:

  • Cora Bocayuva de Mesquita
  • Beatriz Ferreira Leal
  • Claudia Rezende Minerbo
  • Monica Schoenacker

I googled them all thoroughly — I am, after all, an information professional — and managed to trace only one of the four. This binding by Beatriz Ferreira Leal is in the 1996 of L’association Les Amis de la Reliure d’Art du Canada (ARA) exhibition.

Beatriz Ferreira Leal

ARA has several exhibits online. The 1996 exhibit included work by three other Brazilian binders:

  • Cristina Costa Viana
  • Isabel Corrêa de Lago
  • Marisa Garcia de Souza

These three binders founded an atelier called Palmarium Encadermaçōes de Arte in 1997. Since 2005 it has been run by Cristina Costa Viana (now Cristina Viana Tenenbaum) and two others: Ilona Wemeck and  Isabel Sewaybricker.

Cristina Costa Viana
Cristina Costa Viana
Isabel Corrêa de Lago has her own atelier.
Isabel Corrêa de Lago has her own atelier.
Marisa Garcia de Souza was among the founders of ABER in 1988, and is currently the Vice-Chair and on the faculty of that institution.
Marisa Garcia de Souza was among the founders of ABER in 1988, and is currently the Vice-Chair and on the faculty of that institution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out a lovely binding by Cristina Viana Tenenbaum in the 2012 Nobel Museum exhibit, the first Nobel binding competition open to all binders, regardless of country of origin.

Also shown in the online exhibit is a binding by the delightful Sonya Sheats (I’m a fan, so more about her later).

Treasures at The Strand, Part 1

Lucky, lucky me!

One of the problems with being a native New Yorker is that I take amazing cultural resources for granted. Not only do I live in a city with great collections of fine bindings, but I also have the bookstore of legend: The Strand. I am embarrassed to admit that I’d never been there before.

With my new obsession, The Strand is the obvious place to go. I recently lost track of time (quite a lot of time) in their Books on Books section. It’s only one aisle in their miles and miles of stacks, but it is a delicious treasure trove of book geek goodness. The number of fantastic books they manage to pack into that small space is just short of miraculous. Off I went with a list of books I saw on their website.

This is the wrong approach. At The Strand, serendipity is your best friend.

The stacks are a goldmine. I am in love. I creep on the floor; I climb higher than prudent. I discard my list. My pile of books is large. Way too large. I forget that I am not building a library of Books on Books. I refocus and reshelve (you’re welcome). I depart with two treasures, both of which turn out to be even better than I imagined. I spent $15.

One of my treasures
Laid in was a price list

The Guild of Book Workers was founded in 1906, so the exhibit was in 1981. I read this baby cover to cover. It’s a trove of information and images. The first half of the exhibit is a retrospective of the best work of Guild members prior to 1975. The number of women binders represented blows my mind. I’ve never heard of most of these binders.

The second half is contemporary work, by Guild members, executed after 1975 and never before shown in a major exhibition. There are 124 entries, not all of them are bindings. Some of the bindings are truly gorgeous. Some should have never seen the light of day. I’m beginning to realize that is par for most competitions.

I’m particularly charmed by a binding by Polly Lada-Mocarski (more on her later) and an early Donald Glaister (more on him later).

Bliss, Carman. Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics. London, Chatto & Windus, 1930 Full white alum-tawed pigskin with pigskin hinges and gold sewn headbands. Gold tooled. Green and light burgundy feather onlays. Tope edge gilt. Yellow calf doublures and cream laid endpapers. Signed: P. L.-M. [ca. 1960] 7.75 x 4.5 inches
Polly Lada-Mocarski
Bliss, Carman. Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics. London, Chatto & Windus, 1930
Full white alum-tawed pigskin with pigskin hinges and gold sewn headbands. Gold tooled. Green and light burgundy feather onlays. Top edge gilt. Yellow calf doublures and cream laid endpapers.
Signed: P. L.-M. [ca. 1960] 7.75 x 4.5 inches.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsommer Nights Dreame. San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1955 Full purple French Levant with tight back, levant hinges, and purple and gold sewn headbands. Gold and palladium tooled. Top edge gilt. Hand-painted silk doublures. Bound in 1980. 11.5 x 9.25 inches.
Donald Glaister
Shakespeare, William. A Midsommer Nights Dreame. San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1955
Full purple French Levant with tight back, levant hinges, and purple and gold sewn headbands. Gold and palladium tooled. Top edge gilt. Hand-painted silk doublures. Bound in 1980. 11.5 x 9.25 inches.