Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 116
February 1998


Jean G. Kropper. Handmade Books and Cards. Davis Publications, Inc. (50 Portland St., Worcester, MA 01608-2013; 800-533-2847; fax: 508-753-3834). 148 pp. Hard cover, $24.95. Available from the publisher.

Reviewed by Michael Burke

Creative art form and technical craft are more complementary than suggested in the preface to Handmade Books and Cards. An introduction to bookarts need not survey the craft of bookbinding. This lavishly illustrated book is fun to read and contains something of everything for its readers, even a little health and safety.

The subjects range from polymer plates to girdle books, and this may have proven a bit too ambitious for such a slim volume. It might have been preferable to extend the coverage of basic techniques, which are more rewarding for beginners, such as an expanded section on pop-up structures.

The layout is easy to follow and so pleasing to the eye that it entices the reader to browse back and forth. The book is flowing over with full color pictures of wonderful examples of bookarts from around the world. The instructions for particular techniques are accompanied by clear line drawings, and these are presented as sequential diagrams.

Perhaps the text lost some of its clarity as it was condensed further and further in order to fit the chosen format. For example, the section on paper calls the weights of papers misleading without clarifying the situation. It could be stated simply that basic book paper weights are calculated from larger sheets than weights of cover papers. Instead the reader is told to "Select a paper with the correct weight (or thickness) for the book's use and size". And so we should.

Monona Rossol. The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide. Allworth Press (10 East 23nd Street, New York, NY 10010). 1994 edition. 343 pp. $19.95. ISBN 1-880559-18-8.

Reviewed by Sophia K. Jordan, Head of Preservation & Conservation, University Libraries, University of Notre Dame.

Monona Rossol is well-known among those of us concerned with hazardous materials in the lab, the studio, or the workshop. Her work on health and safety issues spans a variety of disciplines from the theater arts to photography, ceramics, and the teaching of arts and crafts to school children. As a leading industrial hygienist and advocate for safety in the arts, her works are frequently cited, and she is frequently called upon to evaluate workshop situations. The present volume, "revised and updated" from the 1991 first edition, received the 1996 Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award from the Association of College & Research Libraries, a recognition which signals for this reviewer the inherent relevance for colleges and libraries of the concerns Rossol discusses. For those of us who are teachers, practitioners, or administrators of art and crafts programs, this volume is a must read.

Generally, the two editions are more alike than different. Sections I: The Regulated Art World, and III: Precautions for Individual Media, are virtually unchanged. Section II: Artist's Raw Materials, has notable additions but a few inconsistencies. For example, Chapter 3, Table 1: Threshold Limit Value-Time Weighted Averages of Common Substances, omits acetone from the list of gases and vapors and manganese from the list of fumes or dusts; manganese is also absent in Table 9: TLV-TW for metals, in Chapter 11. Are these editorial errors, author oversight, or something more significant? Rossol offers no explanation for this change. The omission of acetone is especially disconcerting.

Chapter 5, Identifying Hazardous Materials, pages 42 through 44, records the change in the definition of toxicity, as well as the move from a voluntary labeling program (ASTM D-4236) to a federally mandated program initiated by the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act (LHAMA).

Chapter 7, on Ventilation, unchanged from the first edition, would have benefitted by significant expansion. Specifically, Rossol's description of exhaust systems, while adequate, lacks the technical information that is characteristically offered elsewhere throughout the book. Indeed, Michael McCann's, Health Hazards Manual for Artists (4th edition, Lyons and Burford Publishers, 1994) offers a better synopsis and comparison of systems, their weaknesses and strengths, and their applications. This chapter also lacks any mention of the range of face velocities recommended for specific tasks or for toxicity levels. While adequate airflow rates cannot be generalized and factors such as booth design, type of work, and the object being treated are critical considerations, a more thorough discussion of these issues would have been welcomed.

As in the first edition, Table 5: Common Solvents and their Hazards, found in Chapter 9, is a useful table made that much better by re-editing and by additional solvents. While essentially the same material, Chapter 30: Classroom Safety, received a face-lift and focuses more explicitly on responsibilities and judgments about the appropriateness of certain materials for school arts and crafts programs. An additional appendix by way of a glossary of definitions and basic formulas has been added and improves the volume's readability and utility. Lists of suppliers and organizational addresses have been updated throughout.

The changes are good and sharpen an already easy to read and much referenced resource. But I remain perplexed with this edition, as I did with the first, by the absence of a section devoted to the book arts. For those of us working in this area, the lacuna among the list of other arts and crafts is glaring. I kept asking myself what is it about the book arts that explain their absence. Indeed, the division of health and safety issues by art form is one of the characteristics which makes this volume particularly useful. The book artist, however, must maneuver through leather to dyes to pigments, from glues to solvents, in order to construct a sense of this craft's inherent hazard and safety issues. Rossol's volume allows one to do this, yet it would have been helpful as well as consistent for book artists to have had "a section of one's own". Many things a book artist does do not involve the hazardous materials and chemicals Rossol describes, but to avoid them all, one would have to make a concerted effort or accept limitations on the level of one's engagement.

More importantly, however, there are many colleges and libraries engaged in a form of book art which includes book and paper repair. Such programs include a variety of hazardous materials, equipment, and chemicals described in Rossol's volume. While formal programs in book and paper conservation now exist, many book repair technicians in public, school and college libraries, employ individuals who have learned their craft not by formal education but by apprenticeship or by trial and error. These individuals, practitioners, and administrators would specifically benefit from such a separate section. Perhaps in the next edition.

Since 1994, the World Wide Web has become home to several sites which provide information on art hazards and safety. Information on the web is somewhat less well organized than Rossol's handy volume, yet the web provides currency that a printed publication cannot. Indeed, Rossol has her own website ACTS (Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety, <>). As valuable as currency is, it cannot substitute for the ready reference and ease of maneuverability across chapters and tables. Moreover, reference books of this kind bring together a difficult mixture of technical and practical information which makes them essential to the artist and craftsperson. They enable the non-technician to develop informed behaviors and practices with regard to the proper use and storage of the elements and materials of our craft. Rossol's second edition is as valuable as her first, and I highly recommend the volume to any teacher, practitioner, or administrator engaged in arts and crafts programs.