My Day in Bindings, Part 1

September 10th was like an orgy of bindings.

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.

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Continue reading “My Day in Bindings, Part 1”

Chez Neale Albert

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:

Michael Wilcox Brush Up Your Shakespeare
Michael Wilcox
Brush Up Your Shakespeare
James Reid-Cunningham Plays of Shakespeare, London, 1825
James Reid-Cunningham
Plays of Shakespeare, London, 1825

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]:

Gatsby

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?