Saturday, February 24, 2024

Dietmar Klein - The Passing of my Meister

It was with sadness that I took notice today of the passing of Dietmar Klein 10/14/1943 - 2/22/2024), the bookbinding Meister I apprenticed under, in posts shared on social media. As almost always happens in moments like this, one reflects on the impact of that person on ones life, and in this case career. 

Working in the Conservation and Preservation as a work-study student while at Johns Hopkins and then interning at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg inspired me to embrace bookbinding and conservation as a career. As my time as a college student was winding down, I escaped campus (and some exams) to interview at the three binderies in Germany that responded to my query about apprenticing. Ones of those was the Kunstbuchbinderei Dietmar Klein located in Künstlersiedlung Halfmannshof, an artists' colony in the heart of Germany's industrial heartland of the Ruhr Valley. that alone was enough to entice me to accept their offer to apprentice. I described the adventure of getting there, and my experiences as an apprentice in "The Ponderings of a Bookbinding Student- Part 2".

Me between my Meister Dietmar Klein and his wife Regina Klein
at my Lossprechung in July of 1987. The Lossprechung marked
the successful completion of my apprenticeship. Frau Klein would
receive her Meister shortly after.

I came into this apprenticeship older than the average apprentice at the time, with direct experiences in the field, and from a different culture (even though I was German, I grew up and studied in the US). While these experiences, especially working in binding and conservation helped me hit the ground faster, they could also be a kind of liability as I was not the clean slate that one often desires with apprentices, leading to friction. But, as I was often reminded, "the apprentice is always in the wrong, the Meister in the right, and on the off chance the apprentice might have been right, they were still in the wrong." As someone else told me, "Lehrjahre sind keine Herrenjahre" ( "Learning years are not earning years" i.e. one starts on the very bottom rung in every respect ). Having the proclivities to get ahead of myself didn't help either. In something I came to regret later, my apprenticeship was shortened from 3 years to 2 based on those previous experiences. I also only experienced 1 year of Berufsschule (trade school) rather than 3 based on my age and education. It was what it was, as we say today. 

The whole crew in my final year: Me, the other apprentice Nicole,
the Meister, and the Gesellin (soon to be Meisterin).
Photo: Ruhr Nachrichten, 9 December,1986.

In the end, I passed my Gesellenprüfung (journeyman's' exam) and was given this advice from the Meister - "now you can set about to prove that you are better than your exam results, a better situation than turning out to be a disappointment after". A long career in various roles has taught me that this is so very right. As an apprentice I focused on the essentials of the work, but was exposed to so much more in those special jobs that came into the shop. Our bread and butter was large batches of 100+ journal volumes/week that we bound for regional municipal, corporate, medical, legal libraries. We also did repair and rebind work for individuals, as well as special commissions such as presentation bindings, guest books, fine bindings, and restoration work. As an apprentice, I was regularly tasked with contributing to that work as my experiences allowed including disbinding, sewing, forwarding, ... Gold tooling and finishing were not part of that, but in a small shop like ours with 3-4 people doing the work, there was ample opportunity to "steal with the eyes" by observing and keeping notes. 

The skill that I came to most appreciate was the ability to "work", by which I mean the ability to look at a job (1 volume or 100), see what was needed, organize that work, and complete it without losing track of the process. Through that repetition I also learned to internalize so many processes that they became second nature. I could think about the next step (or other projects and things) while working on what was at hand and didn't need to think about how to fold that end sheet, sew that book, make those cases, stamp titles, ... It also allowed me to focus on the details. While my work as an apprentice was essentially library binding by hand, those organizational skills scaled up for special collections conservation work and everything in between. Even now, when I no longer bind or conserve in my day job (and I haven't done any binding in a year and a half) those experiences allow me to jump right back in, albeit at a slower pace (for lots of reasons).

The Meister in his happy place doing gold finishing.

Following my apprenticeship I headed to Ascona, then back to the US and lost touch with the Kleins. On my "honeymoon" in Germany as I was driving between relatives, I saw the exit that lead to the Halfmannshof where the Kunstbuchbinderei was. It had been 7.5 years since I left, and I was filled with a sense of apprehension as I pulled up into the parking lot and looked towards the bindery. I got out of the car and my wife and I walked in. The Kleins were surprised to see me again and we had a good long visit. Showing the bindery to my wife brought back many memories, and when we left we promised each other to keep in touch - we still are.

Kleins visiting me at Syracuse University Libraries in 2009.
They were on a big USA trip ...
Note the Bonefolder caps we are all wearing.

In 2009, the Kleins visited me in Syracuse on their way across the USA. It was very good to see them again, and to show them the Conservation and Preservation program I was leading at Syracuse University Libraries, the kinds of work we did for the special and circulating collections, and tell them how my experiences with them helped shape me and to develop the skills I needed to complete and mange the work, as well as teach students and work-study students.

Thank you Herr Klein for all that you taught me. You helped me become who I am (and prove that I was better than my apprenticeship grade).

His family are in my thoughts.

Rest in peace | Ruhe in Frieden

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Prodigal Binding Returns

Once upon a time, isn't that the way most tales start, I organized my first national traveling exhibition for the Guild of Book Workers. That was the 10/'92 - 3/'94 traveling Fine Printers Finely Bound Too (Download @ 13MB). Organizing and shepherding that exhibit were an adventure, especially as I had never undertaken anything like that before ... Lots of teachable moments. 

Due to unfortunate circumstances, I also ended up designing the catalog by myself with a VERY tight deadline (HAD to be published by the opening), and had no experience doing that sort of work beyond those as high school yearbook editor a little over 12 years earlier. Fortunately, I had an excellent photographer. The rest was up to me. I worked with what I knew, namely WordPerfect 5.0 and the very limited typefaces I had available. Those were the days. Choices were informed by what I was infatuated with at the time. Not everyone was happy, but it was out on time. Again, a learning experience.

Cover to the printed catalog of Fine Printers Finely Bound Too.
(Download @ 13MB)

One of the things I made sure of was that there were plenty of copies in sheets. Binders crave books in sheets, and there were many wonderful works for inspiration within those pages. and then set about binding 2 copies in 1993. The one on the top one was for me, the bottom one a commission from the then Guild president. The technique described is what in German is referred to as the Franzband, THE fine binding structure for full-leather bindings. He presented on the technique at the 1990 Guild of Bookbinders' Standards, so read his Journal article, "The Logic and Techniques of German Bookbinding", and see the presentation handout here.

Fine Printers Finely Bound, Too. The Guild of Book Workers, New York, 1992.
Sewn on 3 frayed out cords; gray "zig-zag" endsheets and sewn red leather joint; graphite top edge; red and gray endbands. Covered in full chagrin leather with multicolored onlays in black, gray and sharkskin. Tooled in gold and blind. 24 x 16 x 1.5cm. Bound 1993.

Fine Printers Finely Bound, Too. The Guild of Book Workers, New York, 1992. Commissioned copy.
Sewn on 3 frayed out cords; gray "zig-zag" endsheets and sewn red leather joint; graphite top edge; red and gray endbands. Covered in full chagrin leather with multicolored onlays in black, gray and shark skin. Tooled in gold and blind. 24 x 16 x 1.5cm. Bound 1993.

When she retired and sold off her business, that copy disappeared for years before reappearing at an auctioneer where I got outbid. 

The first auction after eBay. I got outbid ...

It then reappeared on a dealer site for A LOT of $$. I was flattered, but yikes ... 

Dealer listing. I was flattered ...

Then they retired and off their stock and this book went to another auctioneer. 

The final auction ...
Probably could have gotten it for less, but pizza dude rang the bell, so "hail Mary" bid it was.

This time I was successful and the prodigal book returned home to be with its sibling.

Both, reunited after over 30 years ...

And, because he couldn't help himself, Fritz Otto took a close look at it. The textured shark leather onlays intrigued him...

"Interesting texture on this shark leather, and you did ok binding it ..."