Michael Wilcox is a Canadian binder. He was born in Bristol, England in 1939. Michael began his training in 1955 as a forwarder at Edward Everard in Bristol. Then he moved to Toronto in 1962 with a five-year contract in the restoration department at the University of Toronto. During that time, he began to refine his skills and explore the freedom of designing his own bindings. He has never looked back. These days, he lives very simply in Ontario, making design bindings by commission.
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.
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:
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 DBOA, Marco 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.
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.
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).