Journal Centennial Issue // Deborah Evetts

North American Bookbinders

by Deborah Evetts

This article is based on remarks presented at the 2006 Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence Seminar, celebrating the Guild's centennial, and is meant to represent the state of the Guild and the book arts at that time.

Deborah Evetts was for many years the book conservator at the Pierpont Morgan Library. Her career combines not only her work on the treasure at the Morgan Library but fine binding, designing, conservation and consultation for major institutions and prominent private collectors, teaching, and lecturing. Her binding designs have been used by the Reader's Digest and Limited Editions Club, and she inaugurated the Smithsonian Institution’s Ancient Crafts Revived series with her marbling workshops.

In 1978 the exhibition Hand Bookbinding Today, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, focused attention on bindings from all over the world, and it gave me the idea of putting together a slide presentation on the work of North American bookbinders.

I wanted to showcase what was going on in the United States and Canada, and by continually updating the presentation, help myself and my fellow binders find a market for our work. Unfortunately the project proved too time-consuming, and after giving the talk about five times, I put it away until Betsy Palmer Eldridge asked me to reprise it for the Guild of Book Workers’ centennial anniversary gathering. The original presentation was arranged by grouping the binders according to their training background—French, German, British, and mixed—but I now realize that, with the exception of the immigrants like myself, most American binders have profited from receiving training from all three national traditions, so I have rearranged the binders alphabetically. Please remember that although I use the present tense, I am talking about the way things were in the period 1979 to 1983. 

Benjamin & Deborah Alterman work very closely together as the owners and proprietors of the Married Metal Press (MM), paper mill, and bindery. Between them they have studied all the crafts that go into book making. Deborah, an artist with a degree in library science, used her wood engraving and printmaking skills to illustrate the MM press books; Benjamin spent several years as a woodworker before learning bookbinding from Laura Young. He also worked as a printer and studies papermaking, enameling, stained glass, silversmithing, and sculpture. They collaborate very closely on each project, sharing the artistic and manual work. The Billy Budd exhibition was their brainchild, for which they did the research, design, and illustration; made the paper; printed the limited edition; and then commissioned fifteen bindings. Not content with the work involved thus far, they further arranged and organized a prolonged exhibition schedule, traveling with it, setting it up, and lecturing on it at each new location.  

Charles Brandt studied with Peter Fahey, Barbara Hiller, and at Ascona, Switzerland. After running the bindery at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, he set up and ran a conservation lab for the Manitoba Provincial Government in Canada.  

David Brock attended his first bookbinding class with Gary Frost at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1977. He served a six-year apprenticeship with Kerr and Anthony Bookbinders in Chicago before going to the Library of Congress as a rare books conservator.

Gabrielle Butler, after earning a BA in English literature at the University of Cincinnati, moved to England to attend the Guildford College of Technology and studied for a diploma in fine bookbinding and restoration. Remaining in the UK for twelve years, she combined freelance binding and restoration with part-time teaching at various colleges and institutions, finishing up as senior lecturer in bookbinding at Croydon College of Art and Design. 

Lage Carlson studied with Pauline Johnson at the University of Washington, earning a BFA degree, and further studied with Anne Kayle and Stella Patri. 

Gerard Charriere was born in Switzerland, one of fourteen children. After working first in a bakery and then in an engineering shop, he discovered bookbinding. He went to art school in Basel, continued his studied at the Lycee Technique Estienne in Paris, then came to America in 1968. 

Sarah Creighton has a BA in printmaking from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, and worked in graphics before becoming a bookbinder. She studied with David Bourbeau, Grey Parrot, Arno Werner, and Hugo Peller before opening her own bindery in Easthampton. 

Joe D’Ambrosio’s studies took him to the American Academy of Art and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He later worked with a paper conservator from the Art Institute. He was largely self-taught by examining the old books he took apart, as well as from textbooks. He has been printing, illustrating, and binding his own books since 1970, usually in editions of from 50 to 200.

Lisa Dubois studied with Simon Roy and Pierre Poussier and took numerous workshops. She has her own bindery in Montreal.

Fritz and Trudi Eberhardt studied with Ignatz Wiemeler at the Academy of Graphic Arts, Leipzig, and at the School of Arts and Crafts, Offenbach. They set up their bindery in Pennsylvania in 1956.

Annegret Hunter-Elsenbach studied fine art and painting at the universities of Bremen and Hamburg before coming to Canada in 1976, where she took classes with Emery Evans.

Mark Esser worked at the Newberry Library before apprenticing with Bill Anthony, first in Chicago and then at the University of Iowa. For ten years he was the bookbinding instructor at the North Bennet Street School, in Boston, and one of his students, Martha Fitzpatrick, was my last assistant at the Morgan Library.

Don Etherington trained in England, worked for the BBC Music Library, taught in the British Art School system, and worked with Roger Powell and Peter Waters. After the disastrous Florence flood of 1966 he was involved with the rescue effort. He came to the US and worked at the Library of Congress from 1976 to 1979, and the Humanities Research Center, at the University of Texas at Austin, from 1980 to 1988. He then moved to North Carolina as vice president of Information Conservation, Inc.

Gary Frost earned his MA degree in fine art from the Art Institute of Chicago and learned bookbinding from Paul Banks at the Newberry Library. (Paul was trained by Gerhard Gerlach, Laura Young, and Caroline Horton). We tend to associate Gary with conservation more than fine bindings, but he has ventured into design binding.

Louise Genest-Cote trained in Montreal with Monique Lallier. In 1980 she apprenticed with Carolyn Horton for a year and took some classes with me.

Peter Geraty began work at the Unicorn Press, in Greensboro, NC, where he worked as a typographer, printer, and binder. He moved to Boston to manage the Harcourt Bindery before opening his own bindery in Easthampton.

Don Glaister trained as an artist, and has a Master’s degree in painting and sculpture from San Jose State University. He trained with Barbara Hiller in San Francisco and with Roger Aunault in Paris. He often collaborates with his wife, the calligrapher Susanne Moore.

Gale Herrick, another Californian binder, studied with Peter Fahey and Barbara Hiller, and was a founding member and the first president of the Hand Bookbinders of California.

Connie Hunter trained with Barbara Hiller and Don Glaister, and since 1983 has herself been a teacher of bookbinding.

Bob Inge comes from Dallas, where he attended Southern Methodist University, graduating with a BA. He trained with Horace Teddlie and took workshops from James Brockman and me. From 1979 to 1981 he was conservator at the Dallas Public Library.

Carol Joyce has her master’s degree in art history. She became interested in bookbinding in Florence, and studied at the Bibliotheca Nationale before returning to the United States to work for Carolyn Horton. She attended Bernard Middleton’s two-week course.

Jamie Kamph came from a history and English background, and, after that, publishing. She says, “I was lured into bookbinding by a conversation we had and demonstration by you.” She trained with Hope Weil, who told me Jamie was the best pupil she ever had.

Daniel Kelm’s first career was as a chemist, but in 1978 he got involved in bookbinding and worked at the Tantalus Bindery, Harcourt Bindery, and Thistle Bindery, among others. Now he has his own workshop and teaching facility, which he calls the Wide Awake Garage (in honor of his grandfather, who had garages of that name in Buffalo, Minnesota) and the Garage Annex School for Book Arts in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

Scott Kellar trained at the Monastery Hill Bindery, the Newberry Library, and with Bill Anthony, first in Chicago and then at the University of Iowa.

Monique Lallier trained with Simone Roy in Montreal, Roger Arnoult in Paris, and Hugo Peller in Switzerland. She also spent time working with Hugo Peller.

Bruce Levy grew up in New York City and worked as a commercial photographer in both New York and San Francisco. He got his first taste of bookbinding at Capricornus under Anne Kayle. He also studied and worked with Max Adjarian for four years before setting up the Da Vinci Bindery. After eight years of self-employment, he became senior conservator at the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas.

Frank Mowery spent six years in Germany studying binding with Kurt Londonburg, and conservation, paper conservation, and printing with various other teachers. When he returned to the US in 1976, he worked for a short time at the Huntington Library in California before accepting the position as head of conservation at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. He is a past president of the Guild of Book Workers.

Joe Newman had a degree in fine arts. He apprenticed at the Harcourt Bindery for four years, worked at the Northeast Document Conservation Center for four years, and then opened Pride’s Crossing Bindery.

Stella Patri began binding as a second career in 1958 when she attended Peter Fahey’s classes. In 1960 she traveled to Rome and London to continue her studies. Returning to San Francisco, she set up shop working on books from the special collections of the University of California, San Francisco.

Don Rash trained with Fritz and Trudi Eberhard for eight years, then he worked at Swarthmore College Library until he set up on his own doing edition work and fine bindings.

Eleanor Ramsey studied with Barbara Hiller and Stella Patri and attended many workshops.

Silvia Rennie, Swiss by birth and British by marriage, came to the US in 1967. She studied with Hugo Peller and now lives in a French convent.

Jan Sobota came to the US in 1984 from Czechoslovakia. He graduated from the School of Applied Arts in Prague, and after three years in the army began working as a designer and conservator. He told me that in the 1930s, two of the best known Czech binders had studied abroad: Antonin Malik at Sangorski & Sutcliffe in London, and Otto Blazek with Pierre Legrain in Paris.

Jeanie Sack studied with Barbara Hiller and took many of the workshops offered by the Hand Bookbinders of California.

Don Sanders attended the University of Texas Fine Arts program. The first twenty years of his working life were spent in publishing and selling. He trained with the Swiss binder Ernest Brunner and took courses with Don Etherington, Bernard Middleton, Tini Mura, and James Brockman.

Joanne Sonnichsen had a degree in art and design from Stanford University. She took up bookbinding in order to produce a book on stamps and ballooning compiled from columns she wrote for Ballooning magazine, and became hooked on binding as a result. She trained with Don Glaister for six years before setting up on her own. She was an active member and former president of the Hand Bookbinders of California, and bindings editor for Fine Print.

Pam Spitzmueller says, “On a trip to the British Library, I saw displayed many books as mute yet intriguing artifacts, survivors from centuries past and from all over the world. They were inspiring because of their current inability to give up their knowledge. It has become a secret.” (See the Guild of Book Workers exhibition catalogue 80 Years Later).

Julie Stackpole began her binding career helping me when I was working on her stepfather’s library in Nantucket. She went on to study with Posy Gerlach and afterwards to attended courses in Ascona, Switzerland; the Camberwell School of Art, London; and to work with Roger Powell for one summer.

Ruth Stein began binding in 1940 when she took courses in Toronto. Later she studied with Paul Banks and Elizabeth Corcoran at the Riverside Church in New York. Since 1967 she has spent a month each year in Florence at the Bibliotheca Nationale helping to restore the books damaged in the 1966 flood. She has her own bindery and is a faithful attendee of the workshops offered by the New York chapter of the Guild.

Jean Stephenson trained as a painter and illustrator and is an accomplished commercial artist. She came to bookbinding when she met Catherine Stanescu, and worked with her until Catherine closed down her studio.

Chris Takacs has a BA in English from Ohio University and studied bookbinding with Jan Sobota.

Claire Van Vliet received her MFA from San Diego College and has taught art and the book arts for twenty years as an assistant professor and visiting lecturer, while simultaneously running the Janus Press.

Laura Wait studied art history at Columbia, then got her bookbinding training in England at Croydon College of Art and Design. She now lives and works in Denver.

Arno Werner began his three-year apprenticeship in 1913, after which he worked in Europe until coming to the US in 1925. He worked for three years in New York sweatshops before returning to Germany to get married; he then came back to New York, where he worked until 1937. During his second stay in New York he met Gerhard Gerlach, at whose urging he returned yet again to Germany to study with Ignatz Wiemeler for a year. This was a critical step for Arno, and one that helped turn him into the master binder he was soon to become. Arno’s bindings epitomize the austere German tradition.

Michael Wilcox served a six-year apprenticeship in the cities of Bristol and Bath. He immigrated to Canada and opened his own workshop in Ontario in 1969.

What is the future of bookbinding design? It is now acceptable to make books in any shape, from any material, decorating them with anything that comes to hand, so we can expect to be surprised, delighted, shocked. Many of the practitioners who create these bindings pay their rent by working as conservators, which brings them in daily contact with the wonderful legacy of the past.

I believe the traditional type of bindings will continue to be made. Making books the traditional way is good training that enables the binder to manipulate the materials for artists’ book creations. Chaucer said, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” If someone takes the time to learn the craft, their bindings or artist’s books will have a quality that speak to future generations, and that quality of craftsmanship will outlast the fashions and fads of each succeeding year.