Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 115
December 1997

Reports: 17th Standards of Excellence Seminar

Signa Houghteling Reports On The Pre-Conference Tours

After separate, optional excursions to the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art, or the publishing houses of Edwards Brothers and Thomson-Shor (Ann Arbor) during the day on Thursday, October 23, the Guild Of Book Workers 17th Annual Standards of Excellence Seminar officially opened with a 5:30 pm reception in the Clements Library on the University of Michigan campus.

Keynote speaker Jan van der Mark's talk, "Some Observations on Current Binding", was an intimate description of his introduction to the collecting of design bindings, accompanied by slides. After the lecture, seminar participants traveled by bus to the Slusser Gallery where a selection of the books pictured in the slides were on display. Forty-two bindings by American and European binders included work by Paul Bonet, Georges Leroux, Monique Mathieu, Jean de Gonet and Ivor Robinson and our own members Don Glaister, Frank Mowery, Tim Ely, Silvia Rennie and Jonathan Hammer.

"Fifteen Visions of Book Art", curated by Julia Miller, was on view at the University Museum of Art and included work by Pam Spitzmueller, Bill Drendel, Leyla Lau-Lamb, Pati Scobey, Lynne Avadenka, Susan Skarsgard, Wesley Tanner, and others.

On Sunday, October 26, there was an open house at the Bessenberg Bindery, the University of Michigan Library Conservation Lab, and the University Library Special Collections for those staying longer.

Signa Houghteling

Dominic Riley Reports On The Conference

What do the following have in common: the repair of wooden boards, long-stitch binding, blind tooling in the French style, and the manufacture and application of Japanese paper? Ask any of the one hundred and thirty-six visitors to Ann Arbor this October and they will tell you that they were all part of this year's GBW Standards of Excellence seminar.

The four-day event in this picturesque town was organized by Shannon Zachary and was a great success. The speakers, brought together by Monique Lallier, were well chosen and ideally complemented each other. The organization was smooth and the side-shows interesting. The food was good and so were the prizes. And throughout, Shannon's careful planning and attention to detail was in evidence everywhere.

Before the conference proper, several events took place, all of which I missed because I was stuck in Denver having missed the train (see Signa Houghteling's report on Thursday's events).

I arrived early on Friday, the first day of the presentations, and made it to the refreshments tent just in time. (The intermission nosh was particularly good this year, fresh fruit salad and chips and salsa attracting much notice.)

And so to work: first out of the gate was Dag Ernst Petersen, book conservator at the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbuettel, Germany. Dag's presentation was in two parts. Firstly, he showed the preparation of a wooden board for a German book from 1500. Of particular interest to me was the way he shaped the board using a file and rasp, not a plane, and, after drilling the holes for the cords, the way he burnished them with an awl to smooth them down. The hole for the double cords was made by drilling two small, overlapping holes which form a figure-of-eight shape, thus holding the cords more snugly than a single round hole.

Dag then showed several repairs to an old board-corners, cracks and breaks. He shared with us his method of using various shaped plugs, half the thickness of the board, to join the old wood to the new. Also useful to see was his rig-up of boards and clamps which bonds the new and old wood together, while applying pressure on all sides as the repair dries. He offered useful advice on the choice of wood for repair, the reasons for cross-graining some plugs, and his preference for PVA over animal glue. When it was all over, he very proudly showed us his girdle book.

Don Glaister, design binder and conservator at NEDCC in Massachusetts, in his presentation on gold tooling, described this most elusive of skills as part procedure, which can be taught, and part hand-eye coördination, which cannot. Given that we didn't all have ten years to spend together, Don set about demonstrating aspects of the former. French tooling differs in technique from English in that whereas English tooling involves one hit blind and one hit in gold, the French go in several times blind before laying on the gold. This is expeditious in that it eliminates error, and is facilitated by the use of the lettering palette, which the English do not traditionally use (imagine going in three times with every hand letter!). Blind tooling, Don explained, is the most important part of finishing-after a good impression is made the gold should be easy. What really came through in this presentation was Don's great ability to explain difficult processes with clarity and engagement; to demystify without over-simplifying. He completed the tooling of a title on a spine methodically, explaining in great detail what to look for at each step, handing round copies of the spine for our inspection. In the second half of the presentation, he showed how to build a design on a board using a few gouges, from the free-hand drawing to the paper template. A most instructive afternoon.

The banquet on Friday night was a fun affair, with a short slide presentation of members' work as a good accompaniment to a fine salmon dinner. After dessert, Bill Drendel, in his role as auctioneer, helped sell off some fine gifts. Highlights were a beautiful sewing frame, some finely printed books in sheets and two curious items, one being the secret of how Betsy Eldridge does her hair (which was fought over by Kitty Maryatt and Paula Gourley-I forget who won), and the other being another, darker secret-what a real Scotsman wears under his kilt. The Scotsman in question here was none other than Mr. Mowery, and although the bidding was fierce, the lucky winner was a lady who paid top dollar not to know. We shall have to wait till next year.

Saturday morning saw Pam Spitzmueller, head of conservation at the University of Iowa, wowing the crowd with some amazing insights into long-stitch binding. First, in an excellent slide presentation, she showed many examples from collections she has studied, explaining the chief differences between the Northern European (predominantly German) styles from the 14th and 15th centuries, to the later styles from Italy. Pam then demonstrated several kinds of long-stitch binding, including those which incorporate the link-stitch. On an easel she had placed drawings of each structure, over-layered with Mylar diagrams outlining the sewing pattern as it was built up. This was extremely instructive and much appreciated by the audience, who obviously were used to the frustration felt when trying to understand a verbal description of a sewing pattern. I should also mention that Pam's æsthetic sensibilities really helped to bring this presentation alive. Her choices of hand made case papers (many of them from Tim Barrett), colored threads and the overall blending of materials to the shape and form of the models she makes are an inspiration. After seeing Pam bring all of this together with meticulous planning and execution and some perfect jigs and templates, I felt inspired to inject it all into my own work.

In an interesting double presentation, Don Etherington, conservator at ICI in North Carolina, and Nancy Jacobi, proprietor of the Japanese Paper Place in Toronto shared with us their considerable knowledge of Japanese paper. Nancy has been visiting paper makers in Japan for years, and must be one of the few distributors who knows the process and the people so well. Her slide lecture was certainly the highlight of the conference. As bookworkers we often know less about the manufacture of the materials we use than we should, especially at a time when the old ways are changing so rapidly and the old papers, for example, are not necessarily what they may proclaim to be. Nancy showed the paper-making process from the harvesting of the plants to the trimming of the sheets.

Dispite the tremendous amount of paper still made by hand in Japan - for making sachets for powdered medicine, for example, or for cleaning ceremonial swords - the practice is on the decline. Nancy clearly seems to be on a mission to find the best traditional papers she can from an industry that is changing rapidly. She presented us all with a sample book of papers, and, based on her knowledge of their manufacture, explained which were suitable for conservation and which not.

Don Etherington is well-known for his pioneering work in the area of mending with Japanese tissue, and in his presentation he shared some new developments in his work, from some changes he has made to his (by now) widely used board reattachment, to a very sensitive rebacking with tissue lined with airplane linen. "Leather is on its way out" he boldly stated, referring to the greater number of applications that are being developed for Japanese paper in conservation and repair. Don also showed off his "guard-o-matic", a device for applying tissue repairs to sections quickly and accurately. That was a real treat.

After a productive AGM and a good nights rest, we took a tour of Ann Arbor. First to the Bessenberg Bindery, a handsome, airy shop downtown, then on to the U of M Special Collections Library, where some old treats were laid out for us to handle, and finally on to the U of M Conservation Lab, home of Shannon Zachary and Leyla Lau-Lamb, who showed us round their wonderful facility, designed by Maria Grandinetti.

Thanks to Shannon, and her team, to Monique, and to Karen Crisalli for making this year's seminar so much fun. Here's to next year in North Carolina.

Dominic Riley