A report to the New South Wales Guild of Craft Bookbinders, August 1997, by John Newland, President.
The NSW Guild has been in correspondence with the US Guild of Book Workers for some time and prior to departure for North America, I had expressed a desire not only to take in the various sights and to study some of the railway systems but also to meet some of their Guild officers during our tour of USA, Canada and Alaska. It should be mentioned that this year is the 90th anniversary of the US Guild of Book Workers which has some nine chapters across the nation. Arrangements were therefore made with Margaret Johnson, the GBW's Newsletter editor, for us to meet the New York Chapter, the Hand Bookbinders of California in San Francisco and the California Chapter in Los Angeles. Additionally, a visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC was also arranged.
Other US Guild Chapters and individuals also extended invitations to us but unfortunately it was not possible to accept these during our all too short tour. The US Guild Chapters were most interested to learn about the NSW Guild (and other Australian guilds), its origin and establishment, the composition of its membership, about the types of work done by members. I brought some 35 slides to illustrate the NSW Guild's workshop, members' bindings submitted for the Fisher Library exhibition and another 15 slides of Suzy Braun's bindings to show. In short, these were well received and I wish to share these experiences with the NSW Guild.
We commenced our tour with the New York Chapter, meeting with Solveig Schumann, Chapter President, with assistance from Ursula Mitra and several others. It was not possible to convene in the Arts Center so the meeting was held in Solveig's apartment situated in East Village, Manhattan, in a tree-lined street. Solveig has a ground-floor apartment (in a three-storied building) with the added advantage of having a backyard! This is not the usual New York City scene. I thought that I was in a Sydney inner-city suburban location instead. The audience comprised about 12 people, some of whom brought examples of their work to the meeting.
Next day, one of their members, Ted Cohn, showed us some of the Manhattan sights, including the circle boat tour of the Hudson and East Rivers, Macy's Store, the subway rail system and the New York Public Library where an exhibition of books mostly from the British Library and Oxford, UK was on display - Let there be light: William Tyndale and the Making of the English Bible...
We traveled the next day on the New Jersey Coast Train from Penn Station to visit Karen Crisalli of the Bookbinder's Warehouse in Keyport, NJ. Karen is President of the GBW and she was there to meet us at the railway station. Prior to going to her office, she showed us around Matawan and Keyport, which comprises mostly of quiet residential houses with well-kept gardens set on large blocks of land and small businesses, just an hour's journey by train from the hustle and noise of Manhattan. Karen's business trades by mail order in a great selection of bookbinding leathers, tools, papers, other materials and text books but not in boards nor adhesives (PVA tends to breakdown in their very cold winters). Karen travels frequently overseas to purchase materials for her stock. She is also a great movie "buff" and she enjoyed several of the recent Australian-made films. It was a delight being with Karen that day in the warm spring sunshine and it was all too soon for her to take us back to the railway station for the return to Manhattan.
After our stay in Manhattan, we departed on the Amtrak Metroliner for Washington, DC....[and] our appointment with the Folger Shakespeare Library where we met Frank Mowery, Chief of their Conservation Department and a former President for five years of the GBW.(1)
Frank showed us the conservation department which undertakes a variety of complex restoration works which demand a very sophisticated knowledge requiring some advanced scientific equipment. Water for washing has first been de-ionized! We were also given a tour of the library stack which is housed in the underground vault.
Frank is also a bookbinder of great renown. He showed us his binding of Shakespeare's Sonnets which he did for the 60th anniversary of the Folger. The binding has 14 raised bands on the covers and spines being the 14 lines for a sonnet, the lengths of the bands positioned in accordance with the sonnet rhyming pattern of the line-endings and semi-precious small red and white stones (2) on each band being for the rhythm (or metre, or scan-iambic pentameter?) and gold tooled with a title letter positioned on each raised band and hollow on the spine.
After some weeks of touring Canada and Alaska, we returned to USA arriving at San Francisco and made contact with Margaret Johnson. We rendezvoused at the San Francisco Public Library where there were two exhibitions: one by the Pacific Center for Book Arts and the other of 25 Gold-Tooled Bindings executed by internationally famous binders of Bernard Middleton's Recollections published by Oak Knoll Press. San Francisco was the only other place outside of the UK where these bindings were to be exhibited and I was there for it! (3) Among the binders were two from the Southern Hemisphere: Michael O'Brien of New Zealand and John Tonkin of the ACT. Congratulations to you both! An illustrated catalogue of the exhibition (limited edition of 400 copies) is in the NSW Guild's library.
We were then met by Sandra Good, President of the Hand Bookbinders of California, and Margaret Johnson, Secretary, and after a short tour of Fort Point and the Presidio near the Golden Gate Bridge, they took us to the Center for the Book located near the SOMA area (meaning South of Market Street, which was once a depressed area and has recently been cleaned-up and revitalized to provide for better community uses). The Center is well fitted out with binding equipment and work areas and a good gathering of members were present for my address followed by dinner at Margaret's house.
Next day, we were invited to inspect Sandra's bindery, as well as those of members Dominic Riley and John DeMerritt. Sandra's bindery is located at San Anselmo on the northern side of Oakland Bay and is a pleasant hour's ride on the Larkspur ferry from the Market Street Pier. Sandra does a variety of restoration work and her bindery is well fitted out for the purpose; with one great difference - the heavy-weighted equipment is situated on the floor and not on bench tops because of the possibility of earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault is only a few kilometers away! We did not see Dominic's nor John's binderies as Dominic's car refused to start, so we perused Sandra's husband Michael's Fine and Rare Bookshop instead. Needless to say, our Quantas jumbo had some kilograms of extra weight of books to carry home on the return flight!
We eventually returned to Los Angeles where Mel Kavin of Kater-Crafts and the California Chapter of GBW awaited me. Mel arranged for us to meet Thomas Lange, Curator of Early Printed Books and Bindings of the Huntington Library in San Marino....
Tom showed us the conservation department whose main task is for the repair of various books due to their usage. We then proceeded into the vaults to inspect the rare books and bindings which are stored there. The storage arrangement is quite unique; shelving is structurally inter-connected all round and fitted with doors so that in the event of earthquake, books are retained in their places on the shelves and are not thrown onto the floor in a mess. The collection also contained a section on transport and railways of which I recognized quite a few of the titles. Inspection of the conservation department and the book vaults was a great treat for me as these areas of the Huntington are not generally available for public access. Since added to their collection is a copy of my book The Boondah-Burrinjuck Railway...
We returned to Mel's business, Kater-Crafts, located in Pico Rivera, which is a large commercial bookbinding complex employing some 70 to 80 personnel handling all types of work..... Some hand binding and restoration is also undertaken. Mel is also a collector of fine bindings and of miniature bindings which are displayed around his office and staff room. Later that evening, I gave my address together with slides to the California Chapter.
I had not meant this account to be as lengthy as this, but we were shown such a great number of things of the most interesting nature. Rae and I were made most welcome at all these meetings and I wish to record our most grateful thanks to all the people concerned during our visit to America.
1) Frank was President of GBW from 1985 until 1994.
2) The jewels on Sonnets, which was shown in the Guild show Fine Printers Finely Bound Too, are 56 diamonds and 3 rubies
3) Twenty-Five Gold-Tooled Bindings was also shown at the Rochester Institute of Technology in March 1997.