The Complex of All of These

Ten years ago this June I had recently quit my conservation job at Columbia University to be an artist-in-residence at Women’s Studio Workshop, an amazing place in a quiet town about two hours north of Manhattan. I had proposed an artist’s book based on work from my last year in college, the only thing I still like, really, and in the end I made thirty five copies of a book called The Complex of All of These, with handmade paper covering over a bradel binding, hand-sewn tiny endbands with etchings and letterpress inside. It was the kind of thing that invites obnoxious clichés in trying to write about it, but the whole experience of living and working in this gorgeous old studio, having interns to help me, exploring the historic towns nearby, making fast friends with many of the people who work there, and ultimately producing an edition I was really proud of was really just a critical one for me. The book is now in amazing collections like the Library of Congress and many university libraries.

While I was at WSW and in love with everything I took so many pictures that I started making a stop-motion animation of the whole process, which was originally on YouTube with music I can’t use anymore, and a lot of people have asked after it since it disappeared from the platform so I’ve re-uploaded it silent for now! If any music people out there have something I can use instead, I’d be grateful.

Bookbinding According to Diderot

On Thursday I made my usual pilgrimage north, only this time to Dartmouth College for a class on 18th century French binding before going to Women's Studio, and this time with two little babies the size of lemons inside. We wound our way up and tried not to be homesick. It's hard to put a finger on it but the road is different, the signs are different, the trees are different, the temperature is definitely different. It smells like summer and it smells like New England. Dartmouth looks like what my child self thought college would look like, before I went to MICA and Columbia and West Dean. 

In two days, ten of us (three from Yale, three from Dartmouth, three independent binders, & I) made models of mid- to late-18th century French trade bindings like the ones below. The style is recognizable from a mile away:  mid-brown calf, sponged or sprinkled, at least five raised bands, a characteristically-tooled spine, red edges, French curl marbling in yellow, red, and blue. Not that there aren't variations but one so often sees exactly this pattern. Structural features include a double comb lining, at least in theory; a particular lacing pattern; rounding, backing, and cutting in boards; sewing down the gutter of the marbled pastedown/flyleaf. "Always," I say, opening one of the example books and not finding any sewing. "Always," I say, reaching for another, shutting it just as fast. "Always!" I say, finally finding one that followed the rules. 

(I took a few pictures in the beginning, before I got too distracted and forgot to take more, so the rest of the "during" images will have to wait until someone else passes some on.)

For textblocks, I adapted an 1827 binding manual helpfully digitized by Google. Most of us have enough blank bindings to last a lifetime of thoughtful journaling and it really looks the part when the insides match the outsides, even if on bright white machine-made paper. I opted for the shorter and fatter of the 1820s options, Manuel Complet du Relieur, but there is also an amazing one in the form of a "didactic poem" if anyone wants to practice their 19th c. French binding rhymes. A few colleagues wanted copies to bind on their own, not being able to make it to the workshop, so I had some extras printed and will offer them here for sale soon along with notes on how to put it all together.

The marbling is the most beautiful marbling, from The Marbler's Apprentice—hand-ground pigments, lovely colors that don't sit heavy on the surface like acrylics. Pergamena sent the leather, which they managed to split to super super thin. I always think when covering of the first skin I ever bound with, which I picked out based on color and grain without Maureen around—turned out it was, according to her, the thickest, toughest goat that ever did live, and I spent the better part of a day paring it. It was a revelation when I learned about splitting machines. 

Somehow in only two days we sewed on raised cords; laced on boards; rounded and backed; scraped, burnished, and lined the spines; plowed; edge-colored; endbanded; pared; covered; and sprinkled. The only thing left is to put down the ends, which needed open drying time so had to be done at home in order for people to travel efficiently. (Bonus points for titling, tooling, and polishing at home, which I have all intention to do and probably won't.) And we still had time for bagels & ice cream.

New (top) and old (bottom). Don't mind the generous sprinkles on mine! 

Tools of the Trade, Part II: Weights

Starting the new year out right with some new tools: these are blocks of Monotype type metal, left over from my letterpress days. They're just the right size and weight for paper repairs, with a few modifications: a coating of Paraloid B-72 in acetone to prevent the soft lead rubbing off on hands or objects, and a thick felt pad on the bottom to cushion the object and absorb moisture. (The felt is also recycled, an old etching cushion from my printmaking days that I knew would come in handy... seven years later.) When I worked at Columbia we all had really nice sets of thick glass rectangles, slightly bigger than this, with rounded edges and corresponding felts—but apparently the glass guy vastly underestimated what a pain it would be to round all those edges, and said he would never make them again. 

These join my small collection of type weights, which are little boxes filled with damaged lead type that can't be used anymore for printing. The white one was the first one I made, and has a thin foam base (stupid, once I thought of using felt, but I've never gotten around to changing it), and the grey ones have thin felt (old sizing catchers!). For these thin was okay, because the box is flat, but it needed to be thicker for the Monotype weights, which are pretty uneven on the bottom.

There are some much bigger versions of these, made with old sash weights in them, but they're in use now so I can't move them to get a photo. Same idea, but bigger, and in purple buckram! Finally some thick Perspex strips, useful for light weight. These are about a foot long; smaller is useful as well.