December 8, 2016
Is it even accurate to say that I am grateful to a binding?
I had a tough time finding time to do any kind of artwork when my children were young. Bookbinding was especially hard. Cutting boards, working with bookcloth, making and gluing down decorative papers: it was all such an unmanagable production, but I absolutely missed making books. I just really like making books.
This was, like, twenty years ago. Joan Duff-Bohrer, an artist and friend who lived nearby had taken a workshop with Paulus Berensohn and had learned what he called a Coptic binding. When I saw this binding I immediately recognized it as something that I could actually fit into my life. With a stroke of great luck my friend Susan Joy Share was visiting the East from Alaska, and she came by and taught me this method of sewing books.
OMG. I realized that I could use anything I wanted for covers. Raw bookboard, sturdy papers, and boards wrapped in decorative papers were all possible to use and I could the sewing in stolen moments, put imy work down and pick it up at random times.
I taught workshops using this binding method just so I could buy more waxed linen threads (at about $17.00 a spool!)
I made book after book for any reason whatsoever. Books for my birthdays and Christmas presents. Books for my children’s scrapbooks and drawing books. Books just for the joy of making books. It was just so liberating to be able to have a book-in-progress all the time.
After awhile I started experimenting with different cords. I’d buy these glittery cords to do my sewing with.
I’d use raw boards and shoelaces for books, too. It was so much fun experimenting with all sorts of materials.
I promptly turned it into a book.
My favorite moments with this binding, though, was teaching it to my friend Judith in New Jersey. She desperately wanted to learn this stitch, but had failed miserably in figuring it out, even after taking two separate weekend workshops in Coptic binding. She lamented that the last time she had tried, she had inadvertently sewn the book to her sweater. By this time I understood this sewing method so thoroughly that I assured her that I could teach her this sequence of steps and it would only take fifteen minutes for her to get it. Well, it took twenty minutes, but she got it, she really understood how to do it, and she cried.
Yeah, I understood why she cried. Seems like a simple thing, but it can mean so much.
Just a few years ago I took a workshop up in Chestertown NY with Robert Walp, a bookbinder who teaches workshops in his Adirondack bindery. Chestertown is 75 miles from here, a doable day trip, at a time that I was restless to take a class. Robert showed an interesting way to sew the boards to the book block, and it was a pleasure to spend the day sewing with the three other participants. It was at Walp’s place that I met another thoroughly delightful bookbinder, Keith, who, as it turns out, lives, truly, just a few miles away from me, but who I had never met. But the reason I mention this workshop is that Robert Walp was decidedly against calling this stitch a Coptic binding. He had his reasons and they were good reasons, but they were the kind of reasons that would invalidate the names of French Toast, English muffins, or Guinea pigs, misnomers all. So, sometimes I call this stitch a Coptic Binding, sometimes I call it a link stitch, sometime just an exposed sewn binding, but whatever it is, I’m grateful to it. I just opened up so many possibilities and pleasures to me during a challenging time.
December 6, 2016
I used to carry around this really big sketch book when I lived in NYC.
The way I would get comfortable with a place was by drawing it.
For years I volunteered on day a week in the bookbindery located under the Watson Library in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. MMA is not very close to subway station. I usually would do the walk to take the subway back to Brooklyn, but this one day I was just so puckered out I thought I’d take the bus downtown.
I rarely took buses, so I didn’t know which was going where, but at 5:30 on a winter’s evening, with the typical ocean of buses heading downtown, I figured I could get on just any bus and chances were good I’d be able to get off near a subway station.
I got on the first bus that I saw. Walked on, paid my fare, nodded and smiled at the bus driver, found a seat and let my thoughts drift to thoughts of home. ..then it occurred me that I might have left my keys at the Met. This would be a Very Bad Thing.
I looked through my bag. No keys. Started taking things out of my bag. Still no keys. I started to panic. The Met would closed up by 6:00.
I rushed up, got off as the bus pulled to the next stop. Got to the sidewalk. Stopped. Checked my bag again before zooming back uptown. The keys were there (of course they were…). Sigh. Relief. But….
OH NO> in my hurry to get off the bus, after taking stuff out of my bag, I realized that MY SKETCHBOOK WAS STILL ON THE BUS. Now I had a reason to panic. I didn’t want to lose that sketchbook. I hailed a cab. At rush hour in NYC it was some kind of miracle that I could find a cab so fast. I told the cabby I had an unusual request – to which he responded by nearly throwing me out of the cab before I explained that I needed to find a bus, and yes, I would pay him. The game was on!
We were now getting close to 59th Street. There were just scores of buses on the street. I hadn’t paid attention to the bus I got on, but I remembered acknowledging the bus driver. Finally, I saw the bus driver from the cab. Jumped out (paid the cabby, with a tip) and rushed to get to a place where I could get on to the bus.
In my absence, someone had picked up my sketchbook, looked through it, and passed it on to someone else.
That person had looked through the book and shared it with another passenger. Who also kept it in circulation.
In fact, I think the sketchbook had circulated through the whole bus. How do I know this? I know this because the moment I stepped on to the bus and the passengers saw me…
December 5, 2016
Here’s something that can only be described as playful.
It’s four squares, which have been folded into eights, like an 8-cut pizza. I made this as a sample book when I was teaching the Book Arts at Bancroft series of classes at the Bancroft Library here in Salem. I would teach eight classes in the fall and eight more classes in the spring, to groups of 3rd and 4th graders. I did this for ten years. It was a really great program, funded by New York State Council on the Art Decentralization Program. No one was in charge of me so I did whatever projects I felt like doing with these kids. This was when my own children were as young as they come, so this book arts program kept me thinking about the arts at time when I would have otherwise been thinking only about laundry, meals and bedtime.
This way of folding squares and then just connecting them together is an idea I came across during a day that I passed at the Patents Office in NYC long ago, before the internet. I’d go up there now and then, into this great cavernous room on the west side of Manhattan and just looked through cool stuff. I’m pretty sure that this way of folding was in a folding toy section, patented by a woman from Israel. There were some great drawings with the patent (which I copied and probably still have).
When I did this with kids during my book arts workshop I was aware of one big obstacle: There are 64 distinct areas to decorate. Since the charm of this structure is finding all sorts of different configurations to display it in, it seemed to me that the patterns should be varied on each facet. But, 64? That’s a lot of designs. I had the kids for 90 minutes. Could they fill the papers? How could I facilitate this?
We spent the first 25 minutes making the structure. 65 minutes left. 64 areas to fill.
What I did was prepare 64 notecoards, each with a different design. The children sat in a big circle, each with a marking tool. Each note card had a different design suggestion on it. Kids were not bound by my suggestions, but they would have only about a minute to decorate one of the triangular areas, then they would pass their marker and note card to the person to their left and receive a new suggestion and marker.
I’m usually not so regimented with my classes, timing things in short intervals and making commands, but this time it was great fun.
So, got that? Four squares folded pizza-style and linked together and decorated. Then filled with designs.
December 4, 2016
(This is a book from my archives)
Years ago, when I lived on South 11th Street in Brookyn, I not only had a great view of the Williamsburg Bridge, I also had a good view of the building right across the street from me.
This boxed book is loosely based on the building across the street. It’s still there, a big, boxy building, with a big heavy door. Friends of mine still live there. There was a big loading dock in the front of the building. Sometimes we who lived in the building would gather on the steps in front on the building, and enjoy each other’s company.
Stairs dominate the buildings on South 11th Street. Open the doors of the box, and a stair-like structure peeks through.
This is a short book, four images long. I like structure and boxes and beautiful papers and drawing. I think I made this just because I wanted to work with these materials to make something.
I always wanted to spend more time making art, but the demands of getting by in NYC kept me too busy. One week I just decided to cancel everything, hole up in my loft, and make a book. This is that book. I already had the decorated papers on hand. I used to do paper marbling, so even the marbled papers are done by me. When I moved upstate, my studio wasn’t papermarbling-friendly so I stopped that form of paper decoration.
All of us who were living in these buildings on South 11th Street were living pretty much hand-to-mouth, figuring out how to make do with what we had. This is the window of someone who was venting their heating system out the window.
I did lots of drawings of the outsides of these building on South 11th. I used to ask friends to let me come draw in their living spaces when they weren’t home. This is a drawing with Craig’s cat.
My friends Kim and Joe in Manhattan used also let me come into their homes to draw, too. Before they were married, I was spending so much time drawing in their homes that they eventually told me that they had begun to question their decision to have given me keys. They told me this, though, only after receiving my wedding present to them, which was a book full of drawings of their apartment, their first of many increasingly more beautiful homes together. Hm, I wonder if they know where that book is. I’d like to see it again.
Here’s a view of the book of where I used to live, standing up in the kitchen of where I live now.