The 15th Annual Guild of Book Workers' Standards of Excellence Seminar was held this year at the Sheraton Capstone Inn on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa on September 28-30. Paula Gourley, aided by MFA Book Arts student volunteers who donned purple shirts, is to be commended for coordinating this successful event. Although the friendly and generous "purple shirts" were not allowed to change their clothes for three days, they were instrumental in dispensing information, directions and suggestions about local resources and restaurants, and in assisting the demonstrators when necessary.
This year's seminar was preceded by a guided tour of the UA MFA Program in the Book Arts facilities on the 5th floor of the Gorgas Library with a letterpress demonstration, and a keynote address given by Colin Franklin, who spoke about the titling of books. Following the talk, most participants followed the locals' advice to dine at the area's best restaurant, The Globe, in Northport, the next town over the bridge.
Eleven vendors exhibited and sold leather, paper, books, tools and supplies. The vendors' tables formed a circle around the coffee and pastry table where participants took breaks before, between and after the sessions in a frenzy of consumerism created by the unusual opportunity to purchase supplies and tools in person, as opposed to via mail order. A personal favorite were the exotic, inexpensive chicken feet skins with the look of lizard sold in three colors by Henk de Groot. Sally Martin displayed her beautiful handmade wooden presses (including miniatures), which are now being distributed through Bookbinders' Warehouse. Bookbinders' Warehouse also had an enticing selection of antique finishing tools and now stocks individual copies of the magazine Art et Metiers du Livre. John Jacobson of American Graphic Arts generously donated an antique-reproduction nipping press for the raffle and took orders for the popular working miniature metal nipping presses (originally promotional pieces sent to their biggest clients with a miniature book about the company inserted). Other vendors included the American Academy of Bookbinding, BookMakers International, Harmatan Leather, Hiromi Paper International, The Japanese Paper Place, Maziarczyk Paperworks, Shepherds Bookbinding, and TALAS.
The seminar took place Friday and Saturday with five presenters demonstrating their specialized topics twice daily in intense 3-hour sessions to rotating audiences. In this focused yet social setting, all of the presenters were approachable and open to questions, input and sharing their knowledge. Most importantly, each of the speakers had a sense of humor, a rare trait in the serious, introverted field that bookbinding can be. All demonstrations were videotaped and will be made available to Guild members. In the order that I saw the four demonstrations, a description follows:
The combination of Mr. Hyltoft's wonderful accent (very close to the Muppet's Swedish chef), his beret, sense of humor ("I will discuss millimeter binding, but you will learn Danish for free"), penchant for frugality, and the tv /video camera close-ups which were provided at all sessions, this demonstration, the first I attended, reminded me of a public television cooking show. The millimeter structure was created by Henrik Park, a fellow Dane, friend and mentor of Mr. Hyltoft, during World War II, a time when bookbinding materials were scarce and leather had to be used sparingly. As the name implies, only a few millimeters of leather or vellum show (including leather headbands), and proportion is integral to the style and design (titling, and limit to 3 colors). Despite his delightful accent, his explanations were clear and the examples he passed around at each step (a set of small Hans Christian Anderson books which he plans to give to his grandchildren), served as important visual aids.
Ms. Dubansky's informative, inspirational and impressively comprehensive slide lecture covered the many ways that books and art objects can be bound, ranging from Kinkos velo and spiral bindings to fine design bindings, with definitions and over one hundred examples of fasteners, pamphlets, paperbacks, case bindings, limp-vellum and paper case bindings, exposed sewing structures and spines, accordian folds and pleats, "unbound books", boxes, enclosures and containers, pop-ups, scented bindings, and an example from the "ax murderers' school of slipcases" (a metal box with sharp edges). Ms. Dubansky explained the pragmatics of what makes a binding successful or unsuccessful, the advantages and disadvantages of variations on traditional binding structures (e.g., versions of Japanese bindings with pages that don't open and thus cannot be read easily or at all), and the differences in approach between library and edition binders. I appreciated her expressed enthusiasm toward artists' books, unusual structures (such as two unopenable versions of a book aptly titled "Double Bind"), the pace at which she presented her slide lecture, and the numerous inspirational possibilities for binding limited editions which she displayed in a double screen side-by-side format.
A graduate of the Speedy Gonzales School of Edition Binding, at Dallas, Ms. Spitler demonstrated her innovative time saving tips for cost-effective, edition case binding, with explanations (and comprehensive handouts) of how she makes jigs from used lithography tins or cardboard laminated with clear packing tape, including her 6 basic designs: joint, parallel, right angle, three-sided, corner, and punching, and demonstrations of how to use them. She stressed the importance of set up and teamwork in assembly line production, how to shop for supplies at hardware stores and Home Depot, the value of keeping track of time for future bids, and creative ways to overcome problems. Truly in the spirit of the conference, which she stated several times within each session as "to share ideas and help each other", Ms. Spitler was open to trying suggestions from the others and incorporating them into her demonstrations.
In a relatively short period of time, Ms. Schlefer demonstrated eight you-could-do-this-at-home conservation techniques: a method for binding single sheets using folded Japanese tissue hinges, one-piece post binding with interior (hidden) hinges, paper pulp mending with a light box and a blender, humidifying and flattening paper with the Horton Humidifier designed by Carolyn Horton, vellum stretching with bulldog clips, fake-spine pamphlet binding, reattaching boards to leather bindings and how to make and use a practical low-tech "water pen" (an ingenious felt marker without ink) for tearing deckle edges. I came to this demonstration with no background in conservation, intimidated by the chemistry of it all, and came away with an amalgam of useful information, sort of an overview of conservation tips. One of her favorite suppliers is the humorous American Science and Surplus catalog (tel. 708-475-8440; fax: 708-864-1589 )
And now for something completely different...
To the oohs and aahs of the audience, with a British accent and comedic timing not unlike John Cleese, Mr. Mitchell performed this magical treatment to page edges effortlessly and instantly, with a dry sense of humor, clear explanations of every step involved, from scraping the edges, to how to handle loose gold leaf, to burnishing the edges to a mirror-like finish, gauffering with heated brass pointelle tools (for a "quilted toilet paper" effect), and the geology of the agates used to make the special burnishers, while telling amusing anecdotes of working for the Queen's library, blatantly displaying his lack of being impressed by Royalty. I think that like most public television cooking shows, he may have even made it look too easy...
The Friday night reception and banquet buffet dinner at the University Club made us all feel like Southern Belles descending the staircase, including Frank Mowery in his kilt. The buffet dinner was followed by a surprise sing along of corny renditions of "Amazing Paste" and "O Folio Mio", as rewritten by a proud Paula and accompanied by the band Partial to Mabel.
The business meeting and raffle officially concluded the Standards Seminar on Saturday evening. There were no losers at this year's raffle. Announcements were made of three new chapters that were formed before and during the seminar: the Rocky Mountain, California and Southeast Chapters. A discussion ensued regarding the feasibility, desirability and accessibility of electronically transmitting and distributing the membership directory.
Bill Minter then led a demonstration on "How to Adjust Your Jacques Board Shear" in the Bookbinding Studio.
Those who stayed the extra day on Sunday enjoyed a leisurely, self-guided tour of the Kentuck Craft Center in Northport, which houses a blacksmith forge, and the studios of a woodworker and a self-taught harpsichord-maker
The last social event of the information-packed weekend was the Sunday evening potluck hosted by Shari DeGraw, and it, like the rest of the weekend, was chock full of presentations, including two videos of San Francisco TV personalities John DeMerritt and Dominic Riley, and a song and expose on life after the UA Book Arts program by alumnus Mark Pollei. Marc Lamb, of the family-owned business Harmatan Leather, Ltd., presented the history and geography of the tanning process, passing around interesting, rarely-seen photographs of working conditions in Nigeria and samples of the various plants and materials used to tan leather. The potluck provided one last chance to mingle and individually discuss the interesting avenues and experiences that led each of us to the book world.
Most of us were lucky enough to leave town before the hurricane swept across that part of the country. In the end, the conference was an excellent opportunity to interact with other members of the book community, while learning a few binding skills along the way.