The San Francisco Bay Area is a hotbed of book arts with a long-standing tradition of French-style binding. Historically, binding in the Northeast US owes more to the English and Germans. I’m not going to discuss dates, patterns of immigration and migration, or happenstance. The research has been done and written about by actual binder-scholars. I refer you to the index to the journal of the Guild of Bookworkers. These days, in San Francisco, you can get excellent training in both French and English binding methods from the many binders who reside and teach in the area.
The point is that in San Francisco there is an especially appreciative audience for exquisitely crafted fine art bindings such as the ones I brought to CODEX.
I saw so many bindings and spoke to so many binders in one day; it was sensory overload. It has taken me days to recover.
I started out in Somerville at Sheri’s place (Sheri is my editor), met Sonya Sheats in Cambridge, took the T with her to Boston to see La couleur du vent at NBSS. Sonya has a binding (which she doesn’t like) in the exhibit, but hadn’t had a chance to see it yet (more on that exhibit later). We ran into NBSS binding program director Jeff Altepeter on his way back from a coffee run for Dominic Riley, who was teaching at the school last week. We had arrived just in time for Dominic’s informal lecture about his life in fine art bookbinding. What a nice surprise! Sonya and I were allowed to sit in.
I visited Tini Miura a few weeks ago. We spent 3 hours talking. We probably could have spent 3 days. Or 3 weeks. I felt the same with Sonya Sheats, but this was a bit different. My dilemma, my reason for stalling, is that we immediately felt so comfortable together that our conversation got very, very personal very quickly. Much of what was said stays in the vault forever. Teasing out useable material about Tini’s experiences and thoughts on the art and craft of bookbinding has been difficult.
Tini is one of the greatest binders of the immediate post-war generation. She was born in Kiel, Germany in 1940. Kiel is a port city on the Baltic. It was a major naval base and ship building port for the German Reich. Therefore, the city suffered terrible bombing by the Allies during the war. About 80% of the city was destroyed. Quite naturally, Tini does not like to discuss the war except to say that the Marshall Plan allowed her to grow up quite differently from her husband, Einen. Einen is Japanese. His country did not have the benefit of four years of post-war economic support from the United States and other relatively unscathed nations.
This wasn’t meant to be a history lesson, but it’s important to me. Tini is the only binder I’ve met whose formative years were spent in this context. It’s a melancholy thought that, without two world wars, Tini would probably not have been able to study in Paris with some of the great French masters. I think that two wars dramatically thinned the male population of potential binders in Europe, leaving a little more room for women to be taken seriously.
So how did Tini become a designer bookbinder? How did she get to the point where she could study in Paris with these legendary binders? Tini was lucky in many ways, but the most important was the encouragement and insight of her father. While Tini originally wanted to be an archeologist and was (and still is) deeply interested in mythology, she decided that she wanted to go to art school and be a book illustrator. She had always drawn and painted and had a
great love of literature. Sounds like a plan, right? Her father, an art teacher, saw things a bit differently. Being a book illustrator is a wonderful goal, but he thought Tini should know how a book is put together first if she wanted to work in that field. He thought she should first learn what goes into making a book: she should learn to bind. This was a very unusual, even controversial, suggestion. A well-educated young woman from a family of intellectuals should go to university, not a trade school. Her grandfather was especially upset about the plan. Tini liked the idea, though. She enjoyed working with her hands.
The program was quite rigorous. It was ages before the students were permitted to bind a book from start to finish. Prior to that, each step was practiced over and over again until mastered. Possibly this is the source of Tini’s attention to every detail of craftsmanship (we really need a better word for this – craftsperson just sounds stupid). Bench time was alternated with history of the book and visits to great libraries. FINALLY, Tini and her cohort were allowed to put everything they had learned together and actually bind their own books. When Tini looked at her completed book, she knew that this was it: her medium as an artist was bookbinding.
The world of bookbinding is lucky she made that decision. Tini has lived in 7 countries. She has taught in many more. She is one of the founders and a faculty member (1993-2003) of the American Academy of Bookbinding. She has published several books (of which I own two) and there is another to come, on her bindings since 1990. I can’t wait to see it.