German Fine Binding At Telluride
June 16 - 27 1997
In addition to its established core courses in traditional French design binding, the American Academy of Bookbinding offered this June a two-week program in the tradition of fine German binding. John Franklin Mowery taught the ten full-day classes.
The course required the students to complete at least one full-leather binding with an embossed design on both covers and the spine, as well as a silk-lined and leather-edged slipcase for the book. The Academy's open-bindery policy allowed the students to work after hours and over the weekend, and made it possible for all of them to complete their projects. Some of the participants also bound a second full-leather book during the course.
The books bound for course credit were selected by the binders themselves. They ranged broadly from formal treatments of Eric Gill's Four Gospels to autograph journals, and even included a blank landscape book. Two students bound volumes of poetry in English translation, one a recent edition of historic Japanese women poets, the other an 18th century edition of Mozarab songs. One particularly striking product was a non-verbal story of a symbolic house evolving over more than a hundred pages of airbrushed atmospherics.
The students were equally diverse in their backgrounds. This fully subscribed course included conservators from institutional libraries in Indiana and New York, two professional binders from Canada, two book artists from Wisconsin, and three independent binders from the Rocky Mountain states.
Frank's approach to the training emphasized the importance of using methods that leave both the book and its binder free of tension. His deep familiarity with important archives enabled him to demonstrate to the class historic book structures that work well and really survive. His long experience as a book builder allowed him to share, as well, many simple techniques that make routine procedures less complicated. His enthusiasm and helpfulness also made it possible for some of the students to exceed the planned course content and customize their books with extracurricular flourishes such as raised cords and special edge treatment.
The Academy's generous supply policies and good equipment allowed all nine students to proceed with their projects without the delays one would expect to confront in a frontier outpost as remote as Telluride. The AAB also keeps on hand a well chosen selection of binding tools and materials that can be purchased inexpensively.
The attractions of the Academy's location added other extraordinary dimensions to this training experience. Telluride is a beautiful small town full of good restaurants and galleries. It is set amidst stunning mountains at the foot of endless hiking trails through forests of aspen and spruce. When students took time to look up from their benches they saw waterfalls and glaciers and fathomless blue skies. The families that accompanied the participants amused themselves rafting local rivers, mountain climbing, fishing, lolling at nearby pools, and just inhaling the high mountain air. the course also coincided with the famous four-day-long Planet Bluegrass festival, and many of the binders freed themselves of their tensions at lively performances by Taj Mahal, Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and countless other unbookish musicians.
The AAB staff also outdid themselves this year accommodating the binders with thoughtful extras such as perpetual snacks, excursions to mountain retreats, and an outing to the area's best hot springs and Mexican restaurant.
For the bookbinders at Telluride this summer the American Academy provided a working vacation far from life as they usually know it. Where else could they have ever pursued the refinement of their craft in an historic building, the Silver Bell, that for more than half a century served the "sporting house" needs of Wild West miners?