Robert Wu and Tini Miura

Signed oleograph from my copy of My World of Bibliophile Binding
Signed oleograph from my copy of My World of Bibliophile Binding

I am now the proud owner of a signed copy of Tini Miura’s book My World of Bibliophile Binding (yes, the copy I linked to at Oak Knoll in my first Robert Wu post—I couldn’t resist), and have been lucky enough to examine a couple of her bindings in person. I also recently read Pamela Train Leutz’s interview with Tini in The Thread That Binds, which took place in September 2005, shortly after Robert’s time training with Tini at her home studio.

Now I understand what Robert wrote to me about the influence Tini has had on his life and work. In fact, for Robert, I believe that life and work are exactly the same thing.

I discovered that Tini Miura was teaching at American Academy of Bookbinding. Upon application, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of the “Tini Miura Scholarship.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a one time only endowment, the recipient selected personally by Master Designer Binder Tini Miura. This enabled me to study at AAB in the summer of 2004.

I didn’t get to meet Tini herself that summer, as she has retired from teaching at the school. So I first started with another great designer binder, Monique Lallier [stay tuned for more on Monique Lallier]. At the school, the director showed me a design binding made by Tini herself. When I first held a design binding made by Tini, it was a magical moment. It spoke to me deeply. I told myself that I had to meet this person who, by then, had become a mysterious and goddess-like celebrity in my mind.

Later the next year, I went to Tini’s home in California and made a daring proposal to her. I would like to spend more than one month of private training with her to learn everything she wrote in her book. She agreed. I am very fortunate to have had my family’s support to do this. All this time, I was in my final thesis year of completing my master’s degree in Architecture! To be honest, I don’t know how I did it, but I remember I didn’t want to finish architecture school as I had already had 8 years of studying architecture (both bachelor and masters degree). Tini told me that I had to finish school and get the degree. So I completed my master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Toronto.

Now, looking back, I am glad that I finished my degree. Architecture taught me the skills to do design well. With strong technical training from Tini, I have all the skills I need to produce the best design bindings I can do. Hopefully, they will be like the bindings I saw in Alastair Duncan’s book!

It was through Tini Miura that I learned what it takes to be a complete bookbinder/artist. Tini is also known for incorporating her paper marbling with her bindings. By the time I began studying with Tini, I was already doing paper marbling, but when I saw Tini’s marbling work as graphic art, it really fueled my interests in developing my own marbling as art. Not a lot of bookbinders can design, marble, and bind like Tini. So she has always been my role model.

Japanese Wisteria

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
Water
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
Fables
Fables