Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bookbinding at Black Mountain College

I have been doing research on Black Mountain College for an artist's book I am working on. Black Mountain College was an experimental college near Asheville, NC that existed from 1933-1956. During its brief existence, it became a nexus for experimental art and literature on the east coast. I was interested to see that bookbinding was one of the courses offered. BMC also had its own print shop which produced both publications for the college as well as creative works by resident writers and visiting artists. The above pictures are books that were rebound at Black Mountain (photos from the book The Arts at Black Mountain College by Mary Emma Harris). Johanna Jalowetz was the bookbinding teacher. I was surprised and somewhat delighted to see the very coarse fabrics used to rebind these books--burlap and a rough cotton along with decorative paste papers to cover the boards. Here is a description of the bookbinding class from a student, Bill Treichler:

"For an evening activity I went to Mrs. Jalowetz’s bookbinding class. She taught us how to rebind badly worn books from the library by showing us how to take a sewn book completely apart, make necessary repairs, and then reassemble the book. We learned how to fix pages with tears using paste along the torn edges, not cellophane tape. We sewed sets of pages, signatures, as we assembled them in a bookbinder’s rack, then clamped them tightly together and glued a strip of mesh fabric along the spine. The board covers were replaced if they had bent corners or worn coverings. When the covers were ready, the book core was placed in the middle between the two sides and the edges of the binding fabric pasted to the cover boards. Lastly, end papers were cut and pasted on the inside of the cover to hide the binding fabric and make everything neat.

Mrs. Jalowetz also taught us to make covered portfolios and boxes for holding photographs or letters. She not only showed us how to do the work but she also always applauded our efforts."

Excerpt from the Black Mountain College Project

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Nag Hammadi

Two weeks ago I assisted with a workshop at the Garage Annex School for Book Arts. The instructor was Julia Miller and during the workshop we constructed a model of Nag Hammadi Codex IX. The Nag Hammadi codices are the earliest surviving books in codex form with their covers intact. They were found in Egypt and are a collection of Gnostic writings from the 4th century. Each of the eleven surviving codices has a similar structure, but all have subtle and beautiful unique details. We completed one model and a sample card showing some of the leather attachments found in each of the eleven. Julia Miller has visited Egypt to view the codices in person and has done extensive research on the subject. Her knowledge is phenomenal and she is a great teacher. Now I just need to get out my copy of Philip K. Dick's Valis and re-read his sci-fi take on the Nag Hammadi codices.