Roy’s Food Repair

This hilarious skit is from “The New Show” and featured the late John Candy.

Thanks to the awesome Mark Anderson, The Elizabeth Terry Seaks Senior Furniture Conservator at the Winterthur/ University of Delaware Art Conservation Program, for sharing this with me.

The humor is spot on, including the all-to-common need to explain why hand work is so expensive,  even on cheap machine-made items. And don’t miss the masking tape scene near the end.

Do Tools Matter When Making Historic Book Structures?

I made this reproduction 18th century French wooden straightedge. Does using it to make a historic bookbinding model *really* affect the process or outcome? Am I heading down the road of wearing a faux French craftsman costume while I do this?

Skillful use of hand tools often depends on their embodiment. They literally become become extensions of our consciousness and body.  We think through them in use, not about them. Don Idhe’s example of driving a car is useful. We don’t have to pay conscious attention to where we are on the road. We just drive. The car is a complex tool that has become embodied. We constantly unconsciously adjust to keeping it on the road. In bookbinding, paring leather is a similar unconscious complex activity. If you are interested in this kind of thing,  Don Idhe’s Technology and The Lifeworld is a exceedingly readable philosophy of technology.

All craft activities have a greater or lesser degree of embodiment, it accounts for some of their joy, relaxation and pleasure. We get out of ourselves for a while.  People often remark on how a tool fits their hand, or is an extension of it, and that it disappears in use. And how time quickly disappears when engaged by using it.

In teaching historic bookbinding structures, however, that these ingrained habits can be counterproductive when trying to recreate, or at least understand in detail, the nuances of earlier techniques.  This is one reason for using historic and reproduction tools. They can help take us out of the familiar, and challange our ingrained craft skills.  They force us to rethink our relationship to a particular tool, and by extension our relationship with the object being crafted. It is all too easy to slip into 21st century work habits when trying to construct a 16th century Gothic binding.

Using historic tools may or may not be the easiest way to do a particular task. When conserving a book there are many other considerations, including the safety of the original artifact, so many historic tools and techniques are not appropriate. And of course, the skill, experience and ability of the conservator is a significant factor. But by in large, the traditional tools of hand bookbinding have not been mechanized because they are an efficient and accurate way of working.

Possibly the most important aspect of using historic tools, or reproductions, is they aid in interpreting historic techniques. Binding a book in an historic style, even inexpertly, helps us understand deeply how older books were made. And isn’t this type of knowledge at the core of any book conservation treatment?

Bookbinder’s Apron?

Someone — not me! — converted a standard WWII M-1937 Canvas Field Cooking Outfit Bag into an apron. When not used as an apron, the tools store in the appropriately labeled pockets. Although I can’t condone altering historical artifacts, this is a pretty cool idea.

Someone should make a Bookbinder’s Apron/ Tool Roll. What are the essential bookbinding tools?

Currently my most used tools are: two 1″ Princeton Brush Co. Gesso brushes, two #8 Princeton Brush Co. flat hog bristle brushes, a Delrin Hera, a large Jim Croft elk bone folder, a Green River Shop knife, a Japanese water brush, a 5″ Mundial scissors, Dumont and Sons #2a and #5 tweezers, a M2 Paring knife, a Pentel .7mm mechanical pencil, a thick steelcraft 12″ tempered ruler, an NT A-300GR snap-off knife, a Caselli Micro-spatula, a Delrin folder, and a 6″ Stevens dividers.

Add an adjustable neck, side-ties long enough to knot in front, and you have your first sale right here!

 

 

Strong-backed and Neat-bound

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-10-39-07-pm

Andrews, William Loring. Bibliopegy in the United States and Kindred Subjects. New York: Dodd Mead and Co., 1902, x.

It is well worth spending some time with the illustrations in Loring’s Bibliopegy. The online version gives a sense of them, but can’t capture the detail found in the book. Some are printed with two or more plates, one for the leather and one to reproduce the gold tooling. Others are photogravure. All are spectacular.

The text is sometimes of interest, especially Loring’s “explication” of the bookbinding section in Hazen’s 1837 Panaroma. He considered it the first treatise on American Bookbinding, although we now know most of it is recycled from earlier English Books of Trades. Even Nicholson’s 1856 Manual of the Art of Bookbinding, now generally considered the first American Bookbinding manual, is largely based on earlier English sources.  As Sid Huttner notes in the Garland reprint introduction, “Little (one is tempted to say, if any) of Nicholson’s text came first from his own pen”.

Bibliopegy is a nineteenth century term for bookbinding. I like the way it sounds. A Guild of Bibliopegists? Or too pretentious?

Loring’s book is beautiful and neatly bound. But the paper case structure doesn’t have a joint groove and most copies I’ve seen, including mine, are tearing at the head and tail. The cover boards hit the thick spine piece, creating a levering action that tears the covering paper. Are the stakes for the binding higher when the book is about bookbinding? Can this bibliopegist admit a weakly backed book is still desirable?

My copy. Each time the book is opened the cover paper splits a little more. The gold tooled line to the right on the printed red one hides the join of the three separate pieces of paper between the spine and the boards Andrews, William Loring. Bibliopegy in the United States and Kindred Subjects. New York: Dodd Mead and Co., 1902,

Conserving a Nineteenth Century Family Photo Album is Quite Boring Until You Notice an Image of Someone Dressed as a Chicken, Wearing Ice Skates, and Dancing

Private Collection. The back:  James Inglis / Photographer / Montreal.

 

Laura Cunningham, Assistant Conservator, Economic Development & Culture, Museums & Heritage Services, City of Toronto, found some other dancing chicken images from the same shoot:

 

And she found another skater on the same backdrop:

http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=MP-1978.134.1&zoomify=true&Lang=1&imageID=154314

And the same image I saw in this composite image, middle of the lower left quarter:

http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/large.php?accessnumber=MP-0000.210&zoomify=true&Lang=1&imageID=150544

 

Thanks Laura!

Almost Vantablack: The Second Blackest Paint on Earth

A recent thread on the Book-Arts Listserv introduced me to Vantablack  the blackest paint ever made, absorbing 99.96% of light. Unfortunately, the artist Anish Kapoor has licenced exclusive rights to use it for artwork. Fortunately, Stuart Semple at Culture Hustle is making a similar product, though it is not quite as black. So everyone else in the world will have to settle for the second blackest paint on earth.

It is easy to get paint from Semple: my order arrived from England in about 10 days, and the price and shipping are at cost according to Semple, around 25 bucks.

To test, I compared it with some of my usual Golden Acrylic Carbon Blacks. I squeezed a large dollop, then using a new dry brush for each one dragged it down in one stroke on Arches Watercolor paper.

L – R:  Stuart Semple’s Black, Golden Fluid Acrylic Carbon Black, Regular Golden Carbon Black, and Golden Airbrush Carbon Black.

In this image, with little reflected light, they don’t look all that different. But in real life Stuart Semple’s Black is significantly more matt, almost indistinguishable from a pure finely ground pigment.  The surface is non-friable but oils from fingers can remain the surface, making it look less black. Even where the paint was thick, it cracked and remains matt, unlike the thick areas of the Golden Fluid that show a reflection from their glossy surface. The paint comes in a bottle and has a viscosity similar to the Golden Fluid Acrylic, though more heavily pigmented.

L – R: Stuart Semple’s Black, Golden Fluid Acrylic Carbon Black, Regular Golden Carbon Black, and Golden Airbrush Carbon Black. Specular light.

When viewed with specular light, the difference is amazing, even in the image. Areas where the Golden paint is thin, there is still a slight sheen from the acrylic medium, making it look less black. Semple’s Black is quite similar to the AIC PhD Target black on the far right.

The only bad news is that Semple doesn’t reveal what the binder is, what the pigment is, what the color coordinates are, or how much light it absorbs.

However, this is a cool project which uses the sale of art materials as a artistic statement. It could be interpreted as disgust against the gluttony of the 1% by targeting a single pig, Anish Kapoor. By selling it at cost it is also a comment on the history of precious materials in art interpreted as value.  It is similar to a Banksy prank, an artist who is interested in interactional art outside the white cube; art which intersects with the real world in unexpected and exciting ways. Semple investigates the weird intersections of materials/ capital/ art, then reinserts this back into the making of art, ouroboros like.

But will the fact this is a functional and useful product preclude it from being considered as “Art”? This question interests me quite a bit, as I am thinking about some toolart projects which straddle these deeply delineated and difficult to cross boundaries.

#ShareTheBlack

Vesalius, Sixteenth Century German Bookbinding Thread and Dissection Tools

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543, 235. Source: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_Pg_235.jpg

While looking at the surgical tools in De Humani Corporis, I ran across an interesting bit of information from a Cambridge University Online Exhibition. The image is huge, and can be examined in detail. In the text, Vesalius mentions that either silk threads or bookbinder’s threads could be used to prepare a cadaver. In his opinion, German bookbinding thread is the best quality, since it is stronger, thinner, and more well-twisted than thread from other countries. I haven’t noticed this about German 16th C. sewing thread (in large part due to the inflexible spines, see the post below) but it is certainly true for their typically tightly cabled sewing supports. One takeaway is that the thread bookbinders used was the best quality available. Vesalius also describes heating a needle  in order to bend it into a “C” or parenthesis shape, a practice bookbinders still perform today. I’m assuming these bent needles, labeled “N” are stuck in bookbinding thread wrapped up in a bun shape.  This is likely the earliest image of bookbinding thread.

Anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the binding of books in human skin, has a lurid and enduring fascination. Here; however, we have the cadaver fabricated using a bookbinding material and borrowed or shared tools: Bibliodermic anthropegy???

***

More tools appear on the title page of this book, where a man is stropping or sharpening his razor under the dissection table. The portrait of Vesalius also contains a partially hidden razor lying on the table as he holds body parts of a cadaver. In this case, the razor represents his practical knowledge and experience. His intellectual and theoretical prowess is symbolized by the inkwell and manuscript page on the table behind arm.

The Cambridge exhibition considers that these are ordinary tools, altered by Vesalius, a testament to his manual dexterity. He didn’t need “fancy” instruments, but could use commonly available ones. I wonder about this interpretation, though. Given how many tools even today are shared — and altered — by many crafts, I wonder how many specialist instruments were made only for surgeons. There is no mention of this kind of specialization in J.B. Himsworth’s 1953 The Story of Cutlery, Although it is an excellent resource, it is far from comprehensive.

 

Detail: Title page, Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543. Source:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_TitlePg.jpg

 

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 1543, xii. Source:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/Images/1200_pixels/Vesalius_Portrait.jpg