Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 110
February 1997

L.A., Olé!
Guild of Book Workers' Standards of Excellence Seminar, Pasadena, California
October 17-19, 1996

The 16th Annual Guild of Book Workers' Standards of Excellence in Hand Bookbinding Seminar was held at the Pasadena Hilton in Southern California on October 17 through 19, 1996.

This year's seminar was preceded by a bus trip to the Kater-Crafts Bookbinders bindery and Huntington Library and Art Gallery's conservation laboratory which were reported on in the December issue of the Newsletter. The text of Tom Lange's talk on the books from the Club Bindery now in the Huntington Library appears in this issue.

An unprecedented eighteen (18) vendors displayed and sold leather, decorative paper, instruction books, various tools, equipment and supplies. The vendors' tables were cleverly placed in the same room as 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 this year was the Spanish Moss handmade papers, which look interspersed with seaweed cobwebs and green dragonfly wings, made by Cal Ling. I also noticed several people buying inexpensive triangular horns, little guitar picks on steroids actually, to add to one's box of bone folders and miniature spatulas. Other vendors included the Alecto Historical Editions (London, England), American Academy of Bookbinding (Telluride, CO), Bookbinder's Warehouse (Keyport, NJ), BookMakers International Ltd. (Riverdale, MD), Cal Ling Paperworks (Chico, CA), Harmatan Leather Ltd. (Higham Ferrers, England), Hiromi Paper International Inc. (Marina del Rey, CA), Ian Harkness (marbled papers), Inden Witten Hasewint (Z. H. de Groot of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, with his usual assortment of unusual skins, including chicken feet, dyed salmon, stingrays and Mexican fish), The Japanese Paper Place (Quebec, Canada), Kwikprint Manufacturing Co., Inc. (Jacksonville, FL), L.A. Book Arts, Inc. (Los Angeles, CA), Lehmann Bindery (San Diego, CA), Pastepaper Patterns by Claire Maziarczyk (Schodack Landing, NY), Rising Sun Fabrics (Dallas, TX ), Shepherds Bookbinders (London, England), and TALAS (New York, NY).

The seminar took place Friday and Saturday with four 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. Wonderfully detailed handouts accompanied the demonstrations this year. All demonstrations were videotaped and will be made available to Guild members. In the order that I saw the four demonstrations, a description follows:

Jan Sobota, "Cuir Ciselé or Leather Schnitt"
Cuir ciselé is an ancient technique of "destroying" leather that dates back to the Middle Ages and was not limited to books, except during 1350-1500 in Middle Europe. The presentation began with a slide show displaying examples of historical models using this cut leather technique. Mr. Sobota theorizes that bookbinders originally commissioned traveling leather workers to perform this technique on their books, and then began doing simple schnitts themselves to save money. Interestingly, all cuir ciselé bindings "mirrored the text", until about 1500, when the technique disappeared from bookbinding. There is evidence that the last book with a cut leather design was from Prague in 1526. In the late 19th and early 20th century, examples in Germany resurfaced, with very abstract designs having nothing to do with the context of the book. Later, the French art nouveau movement added new techniques and named it "cuir ciselé" (although Mr. Sobota still prefers the German term leather "schnitt") and did reflect the text on book cover designs. Mr. Sobota began learning this technique as a "poor student" in 1954, "because it only requires the use of 3 or 4 tools which are cheap, and the technique is simple". One knife, a needle, a modeling tool, and a rawhide hammer; "that's all what you need and your imagination and [a] piece of [calf] leather". Mr. Sobota buys most of his supplies from Tandy.

He demonstrated the "time consuming" technique from beginning to end: transferring the design from tracing paper to the leather, applying wheat paste to keep the texture from flattening out, then widening the cut lines and punching. He admitted that some cuir ciselé designs are ugly.

His slide show included touching photos of the house his daughter has bought for Jan and his wife in the Czech Republic, where they will live above their bookbinding studio, shop and gallery, and hopefully offer summer workshops.

Richard Horton, "Opening Up Photo Album Possibilities"
Mr. Horton demonstrated eight (8) styles of pages which he has developed to encapsulate photographs or old ephemera. His "window-mat effect" pages work well in various structures including concertina (best for small to medium small format) and a modular structure with large hinges which lies flat when opened. With his primary goal of protecting the photos or objects from atmospheric pollutants such as dust, light, humidity and handling, most objects were previously encased in mylar before insertion into his very seriously titled "album innovation" (or "A.I.") numbers 1 through 8. Using pH neutral paper, which is fairly stiff and supportive, he made sample pages with cream-colored 100% rag 10 point and 20 point library bristol and brown "c cloth" for hinges, and PVA diluted with a bit of water as adhesive. Mr. Horton displayed a wonderful assortment of old French postcards and sepia-toned photos inserted into his sample pages. He used cardboard jigs, and suggested having the paper for the album pages die-cut to shorten the time required to make the album pages, and oversewing to save money.

On the table were an example of his "economy album" (which he estimates costs approximately $135 and includes a variety of his "innovation" pages) and sample miniature bindings, next to a great old plastic Kool-Aid container filled with PVA. Feedback from his demonstrations at the Standards will be useful for a detailed book he plans to publish in the next year.

Louise Genest, "Exposed Spine Binding"
Exposed spine bindings can have exposed sewing but do not necessarily have to. In a rushed three hours, Ms. Genest (pronounced "zhuh-NAY") demonstrated a multiple section full leather binding with a full exposed spine. This structure demands that the entire design be well thought out beforehand. Since once the text block is sewn, that's it; the edge decoration and tooling must be done first. She incorporates the headbands into the sewing of the text block.

Ms. Genest has a wonderful way of using body language, almost an interpretive dance, to illustrate book structures. Her demo included paring leather, sewing, rounding and backing, preparing the boards for leather, attaching the boards, lacing in - essentially every step involved in producing a full leather exposed spine binding, which she estimates takes her 30 hours to complete (as opposed to her estimate of 24 hours for a regular full leather binding). She incorporated her teaching techniques, how she teaches her students, into the demo, insisting on perfection. ("If you say to yourself, 'That's good enough', no, it's not, because you are trying to convince yourself that you can pass your judgment and you don't learn to be more precise and to train your eye"; she suggested thinking of your role model, and what his/her reaction would be if you showed him/her your work.) Ms. Genest uses linen thread because "linen is intelligent" with its long fiber which adds tension and strength, and "vachette" (teenage calf) leather which has been aniline dyed (she buys it from Norro in Brussels) and which is strong and easy for beginners to work with. In fact, she believes this structure is good for students, because you can see your mistakes with sewing, packing, etc., and learn what you need to work on. "The secret is in the sewing," she said. She uses a "packed in sewing", which is less forgiving, with a maximum swell of 30% to avoid putting too much stress on the book. She chooses the boards after rounding and backing; so that the boards match the book block.

With leather guards and Japanese paper concertinas, this style of binding is incredibly beautiful, and opens up ideas for design away from the traditional "triptych" (back cover, spine, front cover) which Ms. Genest, a conservator from Montreal, finds a bit "boring". Wanting the structure to be part of her design bindings, she was inspired to develop (or reinvent) this labor-intensive technique which also appears to be extremely strong and surprisingly protective of the text block.

Terry Buckley, "Demonstration of Dyeing & Staining Leather"
Unfortunately, the only man who knows the traditional technique, according to Buckley, is a 59 year old Englishman with "an attitude problem" who is unwilling to share his technique of tree calfing (applied to an individual book) and tree calf marbling (applied to an entire skin). The desired effect is a leather-covered book with a front cover stained in the shape of a tree. Terry Buckley has been experimenting with this almost lost technique (which is surprisingly done after a book has been bound; that is, to the boards that are attached) while teaching bookbinding at the London College of Printing. (He encourages experimentation and mentioned that some of his students have even airbrushed designs onto leather.)

Mr. Buckley also demonstrated how to dye leather with water stains and spirit stains, forming a kind of resist with paste, and how to create a Cambridge panel with cardboard jigs and speckling (using a small toothbrush or a large primitive broom made of birch branches), opening up design possibilities for leather covered books.

Having had some trouble in the morning session (blaming the damp weather and the uncomfortable hot lights used to videotape the presentation), he ended his fourth demo with his best yet example of tree calfing.

Although Mr. Buckley had to overcome a few silly translation problems from British to American English in everyone's urgency to know where every presenter buys his/her supplies, he was casual and approachable, and told a few anecdotes, including the story of where he learned his lesson to ask first what your client likes or wants in a particular binding.

The Friday night reception and banquet buffet dinner were held in a large room in the Hilton. During the "Mexican Fiesta L.A." - I mean, "Olé" - meal, Mel Kavin presented his friend, Monsignor Weber, who oddly enough did not discuss being an archivist, bibliophile and miniature book collector, as expected, but instead told a string of jokes. Dinner was followed by GBW's first Annual Auction, with Bill Drendel of Chicago acting as auctioneer. Approximately $2,000 was raised by the items donated for the successful silent and live auctions, which included, among other things, blank books bound by GBW members, a gold tooling cushion with knife and gold leaf, and collections of instruction books on binding.

The business meeting and raffle officially concluded the Standards Seminar on Saturday evening. After the meeting that evening, Vance Studley kindly opened his immaculate letterpress studio with Porsche red painted nipping presses and other accents (thanks to a nearby auto body shop), in an old town Pasadena alleyway. On display were an impressive array of Vandercooks, some rare, and shelves full of interesting, colorful books printed and bound by current and former design students of the Art Center.

Those who stayed for the brunch on Sunday at the Hilton, sponsored by Hewit's and Bookbinder's Warehouse, met with David Lanning, a Director of the J. Hewit and Sons Ltd. Tannery, who showed slides of a typical bookbinding leather tannery and talked about how leather is made.

As usual, the conference was an excellent opportunity to interact with other members of the book community from around the world, while learning a few binding skills along the way and see how more experienced binders work.

Reported by Nysa Wong Kline, San Francisco, CA