Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student- Part 1

The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student: Why bookbinding? A discussion between a student and her mentor

Introduction: This series of posts was prompted by questions from Sarah Kim, a long-term work-study student of mine at Syracuse University Libraries who is now enrolled in the Bookbinding program of the North Bennet Street School in Boston, fulfilling a dream she’s had for some time. This is Part 1. See here for part 2 and part 3, part 4.

I (Sarah) was introduced to the bookbinding world when met Peter teaching book arts in one of my art classes. This led me to working the next six years at the Syracuse University Libraries’ Preservation Department repairing books. However, bookbinding was something I never considered pursuing because initially, I wanted to be a creative director or a graphic designer, or something of the like working in a creative field in the modern age. But I never found enjoyment working on a computer screen as I did working with my hands: folding paper, brushing glue, cutting book cloth and buckram with my olfa knife. And that is what lead me to North Bennet Street School, to give myself the best opportunity to learn and hone those hand skills.

It wasn’t until I started attending North Bennet Street School that I realized just how huge the realm of bookbinding is; a wide variety of materials and pastes and tools, reading materials, discovering a whole society of bookbinders much like how Harry first stepped into Diagon Alley... While I had an idea that bookbinding was something Peter does outside of working at the library, in which he did show some of the work he has been doing, it was still an intangible concept for me to grasp: Why does he make books? If books are now only mass-produced, does this make Peter an artist? Is this a hobby that people do? Is it still a thing for people to get apprenticeships? What happens afterwards? Why is the bookbinding program at NBSS two years? Is there really that much to learn about books and the different types of bindings? Questions I had brewing in the back of my mind, but not quite knowing how to ask, or knowing what exactly I was asking for, but never really asked until I was forced to ask these questions myself when I became a bookbinding student... So, to make up for the “lost time” a little bit, I’ve had the privilege of keeping regular correspondence with Peter to ask him these questions, and hopefully to continue to keep asking more questions.

The “interview” will be spread out over several posts, so check back regularly… This is Part 1.

Sarah: Let’s start off with some background information. While in college, what made you want to drop the idea of studying law and going into bookbinding? In other words, how did you end up in Germany?

When I started college (1981) there was a fair measure of pressure from some quarters of my family to study law… So, when I enrolled it was a history major in one of the top programs in the country. Based on AP credits, this would have put me on track to do a BA/MA in 3 years. Needless to say I got my hat handed to me and like many students had to reassess my options. So, switched majors to German Lit (I grew up speaking German, the kid of an itinerant art historian)... The thought of law school, however remained.

Like many students, I needed a work-study job, and being a faculty brat my parents knew the campus options well… So, “son, the library hires a lot of students… Shelving books is boring, but there’s this Englishman in the basement who has a book conservation program and manages preservation…” Sounded interesting, went down, talked to John Dean (talks about own training starting page 7), and got the job. That experience, and all the people who worked their changed my ideas, interests, and goals. This was a fully developed program with circulating collections repair and rehousing (my job, largely), rare book, and paper conservation. They also managed the library binding program that was substantial in those pre e-journal days…

John Dean - My first mentor from Johns Hopkins and later Cornell.
Martha Edgerton - my day-to-day supervisor who had
the unenviable task of keeping me focused on the job at hand...

Like Sarah, I was put to work learning how to repair the heavily used books from the circulating collections, make basic enclosures for brittle items, clean stacks, … Because of the nature of the program (Then a 7-year apprenticeship program in contrast to the MLS Columbia preservation and conservation program that had started around the same time), I was exposed to all levels of work, something that deeply intrigued me so that when I wasn’t training for bike racing or studying, I volunteered with the paper conservator and just watched. The director of the program, John Dean, encouraged this interest by inviting me to observe presenters brought in like Tini Miura, exposing me to other aspects of the field. Through these experiences I also became involved with the Baltimore Area Conservation Group (BACG) providing more networking opportunities. [John gave a great lecture on the history of conservation and his path - I was glad to invite him here to Syracuse.]

Despite some academic challenges, I managed to stay a semester ahead, and at the encouragement of John (and Frank Mowery at the Folger Shakespeare who I had also been introduced to) decided to intern in a conservation lab/bindery in Germany. Language and dual citizenship helped make that easy. I also helped that my sister’s godmother was a librarian there as well as one of my father’s first positions, and that the binder/conservator had done a fair bit of work for him over the years.
One can never start building networks (and discovering pre-existing ones) too early - start now if you haven’t and nurture them.
As often happens when one goes off to do interesting things, someone else mentions that a report or newsletter article would be great, and so it was with "Experiences at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum," which was followed up by an illustrated lecture after my return.  
Writing about and sharing experiences is a great way to think about and (re)process them, and it's only gotten easier in the online world. Who knows, you might even inspire others...
While in Nuremberg, I also began my compulsive reference collection building habit by buying my first manuals – Zeier’s Books, Boxes, and Portfolios, the Fritz Wiese books such as Der Bucheinband, and was first exposed to Ernst Collin’s Pressbengel (little did I know then…). I also greatly expanded my tool collection. Other takeaways, a notebook filled with (crude) sketches and things to follow-up on, and lots of photos (slides that need to be scanned). The Zeier and Wiese are still among my favorite manuals.
Start building your reference collections early, you'll never regret it, and despite the online offerings we have today the best resources are still in print. Ditto on acquiring the best tools you can (barely) afford. They'll last a lifetime if cared for.
The lab at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.
Herr Reinwald, my mentor, at the board shear.

Across the courtyard from the lab, the cover of the Codex Aureus Epternacensis.
One of my father's first publications was about it.

Box, bindings, and clamshell from internship in Nuremberg below… My first marbled papers, using oil and traditional watercolors - Nice to use them. Blank books, the gateway drug to ??? All these different projects, in addition to doing basic work like sewing, cutting materials, ... for regular lab workflow gave me a great introduction to binding in the German tradition, the bookbinding literature, but also the culture of work and society in general. Very different from the visits to see family, some was "better," some not. During that time I also lived in a Catholic boarding house where the main residents were apprentices in town for trade school. A melting pot.


My first millimeter (Edelpappband) binding

Draft for my father's last book... Sadly, never got published.

While there, I also got the scores for the LSAT that I took the day I was flying to Germany. I had the "out" I needed to convince my grandfather (a retired judge) that law school was off the table, and that I was pursuing the binding/conservation option. I then began pouring through the Branchenbücher (Yellow Pages) for binderies across Germany (but also not too far from relatives).

Returned home for Christmas (‘84), set up my first “Harry Potter” studio in the basement and under stairs… (picture below) to keep the skills up. Having all the good tools I acquired while in Nuremberg helped, too. So, had lots of fun practicing my marbling with oil paints (that I haven’t really done since) and paste papers. Making blank books and boxes as gifts (building expectations of the gift that keeps coming…) gave me lots of repetition. I was also grateful for the use of a board shear and guillotine a few blocks away at JHU to do all the cutting (again, keep nurturing your connections...). Still had to ride/race my bike and graduate, but carved out the time to start sending “application” letters and resume, all handwritten as the Germans expected it… Should have at least typed and xeroxed the resume bit…

In the end, I received 3 invitations to interview, all essentially asking me to come next week (and after their responses arrived by mail at my place), called them to reiterate which continent I lived on, and still managed to schedule the 3 interviews for 3 weeks hence so I could get flight and finish college. Thanks to senior “privilege” I was able to skip most finals and only needed to reschedule one. Week long trip went well, had offers from two, chose the one that spoke to me - in an artist’s colony, and packed up my life to start my apprenticeship 4 weeks after graduation…

Like Harry Potter under the stairs. Made the press and sewing frame...
I was very fortunate that throughout my time as a work-study student and during my internship to have had my interest in bookbinding interests nurtured and supported by those around me: my parents, John, Martha, Herr Reinwald. By humoring my never-ending questions, and allowing me to observe and push myself (often beyond my level of experience with the inevitable "failures"), they ignited a spark and led me to commit to bookbinding, book arts, and conservation.
To all in a situation like mine was, take advantage of any and all opportunities presented, seek out challenges, and don't be put off by the first (or second) "no." I am still in touch with almost all of my early teachers and mentors, and we are now peers. It is their example that helped show me the way, and in large part the joy of sharing it with others such as work-study students and interns. And, you'll need their letters of support sooner than you think...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Babette, Bärbel's long lost and secret older sister?

About a month ago I introduced Bärbel who had to leave school at the age of 13~14 following the death of her father, and go off to learn a trade so she could contribute to the household. Bärbel was the protagonist in Bärbels fröhliche Lehrzeit (Bärbel's Happy Apprenticeship) that I wrote about in Bookbinding as Chick Lit. This genre is known in German as Backfischromane, an interesting term. I had found the book by accident while surfing eBay... and ordered it on a whim, no researching the Author further in any detail. The story spoke for itself, and the illustrations were fun. After that post I received an email from a librarian colleague in Weimar who wrote to let me know that Felix Riemkasten had written an earlier version of the book in 1935... Well, now I was obligated to dig deeper if only to see what the differences were. After all, post-war Germany in 1953 was a very different time from Nazi Germany in 1935...

Babette bindet Bücher (Babette Binds Books) arrived early last week and provided a wonderful deja-vue experience. The 1953 story (Bärbel) was an almost identical word-for-word reprint with the same characters, but with a different illustrator (Lotte Oldenburg) than the 1935 story (Babette). Babette did however provide some differences that were interesting. The first was the choice of typeface in the 1935 story, an appropriately German fraktur. Makes for an interesting combination with the typefaces used on the cover... I did look through my Buchbinderlehrling to see if the book might have been reviewed or at least mentioned, but alas, no. Babette was described in Georg Ruppelt's Buchmenschen in Büchern (Book People in Books), 1997, accompanied by the frontispiece illustration.

Both books can be found via various online antiquarian platforms:

Cover | Einband

From the dedication below, I wonder if Lotti Kessler went on to become a bookbinder because of Babette's story...

Dedication | Widmung
Lotti Keßler
zum Geburtstag 1936
von ihrer Freundin
Lore Panzer.

The frontispiece and title page below show Babette in workshop with Meister Schwannecke and depict her as a the book-lover she is.

The 1953 story with Bärbel began with her being told by her mother that with the death of her father and the loss of income, that she would need to leave school to learn a trade and contribute to the household. We do not learn how the father died or other family details. These were, however, revealed in 1935's story about Babette... Babette's father was the local "city clerk" (Stadtsekretär, Beamter/Civil Servant) and went after his duties and responsibilities with great dedication. He was thinking of these on his way to hearth and home when he stepped into oncoming traffic on a slushy wintry day... He died instantly, a small consolation for his family... As the youngest of three she also had two brothers, one a student at university and the other a sailor. As a student, Babette was very bright and would certainly have followed her brother to a university - she wanted to become a teacher...

Babette cleaning the store room in her first days as an apprentice.
Babette muß in ihren ersten Lehrtagen den Lagerraum aufräumen.

More about Babette's family and the consequences from the death of her father...
Mehr über Babettes Familie und die Folgen vom Tode des Vaters...

Babette's mother spoke strongly about these consequences and the impact that they would have. Babette answered with "jawohl" and "jawohl Mutter...," I.e. "yes, ma'am! A good obedient child who knows her duties and responsibilities. The story itself is told very unpolitically, although duty and obedience (Pflicht und Gehorsam) could be interpreted that way, and probably should be in the context of 1935 when everything was politicized, including trades and education.

After this the story continues identically with only very minor variations for both Babette and Bärbel.

Coffee with her former teacher, note press under table.
Kaffee mit ihrer ehemaligen Lehrerin. Die Presse ist unter dem Tisch.

Babette gets to go dancing but is encouraged to wear gloves because of calluses...
Babette geht tanzen und wird geraten Handschuhe zu tragen wegen Hornhaut...

Babette sewing | Babette beim Heften

The cranky Journeyman's pants are glued to the stool as a prank, and torn out.
The other apprentice got sent to his apartment to grab a new pair...
Die Hose des fiesen Gesellen wird vom Lehrling an den Hocker geklebt.
Nach gelungenem Scherz muß Letzterer eine neue Hose holen.

At the exhibition | Bei der Ausstellung
The end | Ende

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Parchment from Salmon - Lachs Pergament

By now, everyone show know that I have a certain infatuation for working with fish leather. Part of the reason may be that it is so different and uncommon. A bigger reason may well be the connection to Ernst Collin and my project around his writings... I first wrote about the uses of fish in binding back in early 2014 - Something Fishy - Fish Leather for Binding - with subsequent posts showing my uses of the skins. Recently while looking through all my issues of Der Buchbinderlehrling (1927-43) I found a short article about "Fips" and the eel skin" in the volume for 1937. I've worked with eel leather (Very thin, but strong. Great for millimeter bindings), but this was the first article that described making parchment from a fish skin. The earlier articles were scant on the tanning/drying details. In his third year as an apprentice, "Fips" wanted to do something special for the binding on the Buchbinderlehrling he was going to enter into the annual bookbinding competition. So, he went next door to the fish monger and asked for a really big and fat eel, but without the meat, guts, bones... After some discussion, he got what he needed, scrubbed it clean in the courtyard of the shop (to the disgust of all), and tacked it to a board to "let the sun do the rest." It was that simple.

Inzwischen sollten alle wissen, daß ich so eine verspinnerte Vorliebe für die Verwendung von Fischleder... an Einbänden habe. Ein Grund mag sein, daß es so anders ist und von fast niemanden mehr verwendet wird. Der größere Grund mag die Verbindung zu Ernst Collin sein der bekanntlich einige Aufsätze über Fischleder in der Buchbinderei geschrieben hat. Ich habe über diese zuerst 2014 in dem Aufsatz Something Fishy - Fish Leather for Binding geschrieben mit weiteren Aufsätzen wo ich meine Anwendungen beschrieben habe. Neulich fand ich beim Durchblättern meiner Buchbinderlehrling Jahrgängen (1927-43) einen kurzen Aufsatz über "Fips" und die Aalhaut. Ich habe schon einig Male Aalhaut verwendet (sehr dünn, aber stark), ideal für Edelpappbände, aber dieser war der erste Aufsatz in dem beschrieben wurde wie aus Fischhaut Pergament gemacht wurde. In den meisten Aufsätzen die ich bis jetzt gesehen habe ging es eher ums Gerben, aber in allen Fällen mit wenigen Details. Als Lehrling im dritten Jahr wollte "Fips" sich etwas besonderes für seinen Einband vom Buchbinderlehrling für den jährlichen Lehrlingswettbewerb ausdenken. Aus verschiedenen Gründen kam er zur Aalhaut. Also, ab zum benachbarten Fischhändler. Ein ganz dicker sollte es sein, aber ohne Fleisch, Gräten, und Innereien... Die hat er von dem verdutztem Fischweib sogar kostenlos bekommen. Also zurück in den Betrieb um die Haut zu reinigen (zum Eckel aller) und aufzuspannen. So einfach war das.

"Fips" setting out his eel skin to dry in the sun.
"Fips" beim Aufspannen seiner Aalhäuten.

Judging by the picture in the article (above), perhaps the eels fattened themselves after the Battle of Jutland.

Dem Bild oben nach wurde sein Aal vielleicht von der Skagerrakschlacht so fett.

Friend and colleague Monica Langwe in Sweden sent me these pictures of fish parchment she had, so I now had a sense of what I was aiming towards. Nice to see the unique textures I was used to from working with fish leather in the parchment, too.

Meine Freundin und Kollegin Monica Langwe in Schweden schickte mir diese Bilder von Ihrer Fischpergmenthaut. Jetzt hatte ich eine Ahnung wie das Ganze aussehen sollte. Schön auch zu sehen, daß die eigenartige Oberflächenstruktur wie beim Leder erhalten ist.

Fish parchment detail | Fischpergament Detailansicht
View of overall skin | Gesamt Ansicht des Pergaments
So..., the other day my wife was pulling into a parking lot with our local seafood trucked parked in it. Among the mussels, clams, and scallops was a modest Atlantic salmon fillet with skin on. She knew about my crazy projects and wanted to provoke me into action. So, after eating clams and mussels, I got to work skinning the fish.

Also, vor einigen Tagen wurde das Auto meiner Frau in einen Parkplatz mit dem Laster vom Seefruchthändler versteuert... Unter den Muscheln und Jakobsmuscheln war auch eine bescheidene Seite atlantischen Lachs mit der Haut dran. Sie wusste von meinen verspinnerten Projekten und wollte mich sticheln... Also Muscheln gegessen, und dann ran die Arbeit den Lachs zu enthäuten...

Pulling the skin off.
Beim Enthäuten.

Almost done – I rewarded my helper with scraps of sashimi
Fast fertig –Meinen Helfer habe ich mit Sashimiresten gefüttert.

The skin being cleaned after removal.
Nach der Enthäutung fing die Reinigung an.

The skin was first washed and rinsed in very mild (useless) dish detergent
and water to remove oils and the scales that remained...
Die Haut wurde zuerst in sehr milder Geschirrspülseife und wasser gewaschen
zwecks entfettung und den Rest der Schuppen los zu bekommen.

Soaking for 2 days in kaolin clay to degrease further and aid in smell removal.
Die Haut wurde als nächstes für zwei Tage in einer Kaolin/Wasser Mischung gelegen
zwecks Entfettung und Geruchentfernung.

The skin stretched out to dry in the sun under tension, just like "Fips'" skin.
The Haut unter Spannung in die Sonne zwecks trocknung gelegt,
so wie "Fips" es auch gemacht hat.
In for the night, nice and taut. Will it pass the dog test, will Loki lick it?
Rein für die Nacht. Wird es das Schnüffeltest bestehen, wird Loki es lecken?

This morning I found several greasy spots that I cleaned, and then out in the sun it went again.

Heute Morgen einige fettige Stellen gefunden die ich gereinigt habe, dann wieder raus in die Sonne.

The finished parchment | Das fertige Pergament




Book Arts arts du livre Canada (Vol 10., Nr. 2, 2019)

"Fish Tales, experiments with fish skin for bookbinding
The New Bookbinder: Journal of Designer Bookbinders (2020)

"Random" Fish Leather Related Links:

    Saturday, April 1, 2017

    Stolpersteine - Stumbling Stones

    Three years ago today Stolpersteine were placed in Berlin for Ernst Collin and his wife Else. (Deutsch hier).

    The Stolpersteine for Else and Ernst Collin in 2015.

    Yesterday, the University of Kentucky held the UK Historic Preservation Symposium to Address Conflict, Violence and Preservation.
    “The event will explore the modern place of artifacts of the past that reflect a legacy of racial, religious, cultural or class-oriented conflict, and will ask whether we can learn the lessons these places offer if they are not present in the landscape,” said Doug Appler, assistant professor of historic preservation in the College of Design.
    Listen to Anne Thomas, coordinator of the Stolpersteine project that honors Holocaust victims throughout Europe speak here.

    More about Günter Demnig's Stolpersteine project on their site here.