Author Archives: Jeff Peachey

Colophon Book Arts Supply Reopens With an Online Store: An Interview With Mary Uthuppuru

One aspect of the bookbinding, book conservation and book arts scene that I especially enjoy is its community. People get into this archaic field mainly because they love books and bookbinding. While it is all too easy to shop from the salesmen at the Walmart/ Amazon of the bookbinding supply world, it is worthwhile to search out and purchase supplies from smaller specialized vendors — who are often trained bookbinders — and who can provide first hand information about their products. Because of their knowledge, bookbinder/vendors are often innovators in the field, which also should be supported. And they usually care about the long term survival of bookbinding as as art and craft, not just making money from selling stuff, which is important to me.

Colophon Book Arts Supply is one of these specialized shops, and was recently purchased by Mary Uthuppuru. Mary began her career as a conservation technician at the Lilly Library, and in 2010, became a full time book artist and book binder working under the name Spring Leaf Press at her home studio in Bloomington, Indiana. She creates artist books, bindings, boxes, and prints inspired by science, literature and nature. Mary is ecstatic to bring her experience to this new role as the owner of Colophon.

Mary Uthuppuru, the ecstatic new owner of Colophon.

Mary kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her background and interests.

 

1)  How did you get interested in book arts/ book conservation. Who were your mentors?

I found my way to the book arts during my Art History undergraduate days at Indiana University. Yara Cluver teaches a class about artist books which was my first interaction with the concept of book as artwork. However, I didn’t “catch the bug” until I began working for Jim Canary, head of conservation, at the Lilly Library. I was pursuing a masters in Library Science with a concentration in Special Collections when I obtained a student position in the lab. Jim was one of my first mentors, as I know he has been for countless others. Under Jim’s guidance, I began to learn the intricacies of conservation and developed an appreciation for all aspects of the book arts as well as a respect for the history from which it all comes. It doesn’t hurt that all of this happened within one of the finest Special Collections Libraries in the world!

Andrea Peterson is another mentor for me though she wouldn’t necessarily think so. I have drawn heavily from her experience as a professional artist in the way that she assimilates the demands of a production papermaker and artist while working with her family to run a dynamic home life. Andrea is more than generous with her honest guidance and openness about her own successes and failures which has influenced the decisions I’ve made over the last few years in my own pursuits.

Now, Nancy Morains is mentoring me through the process of running a retail business. Throughout this transition, Nancy has generously given guidance on every aspect of running Colophon. She has always made herself available to answer any questions I have and I anticipate our relationship growing even stronger over time. I am so thankful for the generosity of the people I’ve been lucky to meet during my development so far. They all seemed to have popped up at just the right time with their advice or example.

2)  What is your favorite bookbinding tool? Why?

It is hard to choose, but I think it is safe to say that my favorite and most used tool is the 9mm metal handled Olfa knife with snap off carbon blades. I use it all of the time and for cutting, there is no alternative. It cuts with precision but is also a work horse when it comes to cutting through binder’s board by hand. Plus, it fits in my pocket…with its blade retracted of course.

3)  What is your favorite book structure?

This is a tough question for me but I love books that open without a fight.  There is nothing better than a well sewn text block that allows pages to open easily but feels sturdy in your hands. I have recently been exploring the millimeter binding and it has a huge appeal to me. This binding has a sewn text block, which I love doing, and the binding comes together in such a way as to allow for limitless customization and design options. It is an elegant binding!

4)  How did you decide to take on the role as owner of Colophon, which has such a long history as a quality retail store that is based actual users, rather than a large corporate business. How do you feel your experience as a bookbinder and working in conservation impacts your business?

Like every other professional decision so far, timing had a big influence as well as life circumstance. I have been working as a private practice bookbinder and book artist for almost seven years now. Working towards my own objectives has been a privilege, but I was looking for a new endeavor to help with financial stability. When I heard Nancy was looking to find a new owner in pursuit of her retirement, I was thrilled with the idea. I would be able to continue to work at home, be in charge of my own schedule, and attend the events I love to go to every year. After talking about it with Nancy as well as other vendors in our field, I pursued the idea with seriousness and began seeking advice from professionals in Bloomington. I kept pursuing it and people kept helping me move forward! After some time, there didn’t seem to be a reason why I shouldn’t. Both Nancy and I agree that it just seems to fit.

The reason I even considered such a big undertaking was because of the nature of the store. It really does have a long history and the way that Nancy has fostered this community around the items she carries is nothing short of inspirational. Anyone talking with Nancy during a show immediately connects with her genuine nature; it has certainly show her uniqueness. It is her ability to connect with people that then turn into longtime customers that made me want to be a part of Colophon’s history. I value the one on one connection where people, both store owner and customer, have the chance to talk about the specifics of our trade and discover things that would benefit the larger community. It is a place of sharing that our field relies on. After all, the book arts is all in the details.

As for my experience, my difficulty in saying no to any new skill has already served me well and will continue to do so. My exploration throughout bookbinding as well as conservation has made me familiar with most of the supplies Nancy has carried and will provide me insight into the supplies I may want to carry in the future. Knowing about the various disciplines in our field gives me a chance to speak from experience in using the supplies in the shop. This makes it possible for me to advise people who aren’t quite sure about what they are looking for or to help people who have a problem to solve and just need the right solution. I love this kind of problem solving and the more I talk to people, the more I learn along the way.

5)  You spend a lot of time giving back to the book arts community, currently as a recent volunteer as (programs chair of Midwest chapter) of the Guild of Bookworkers. How do you juggle maintaining an active bindery, volunteering, and working as a retailer of supplies?  Do there various “hats” you wear mutually reinforcing, or are there potential conflicts of interest?

Having so much going on is tough. It was hard for me to say “no” to any opportunity when I first got started so I’ve had to learn how to manage my time in a way that would still allow me to meet my goals. It has all been a lesson in prioritizing jobs that have due dates and figuring out when I am most productive for each thing. For example, I am sharper with writing and computer work in the mornings, while the afternoons and evenings are better for bench work. But this is specific to me and ultimately, I have had to do things ungracefully till I figured that out.

For a time, having all of these things in my life were really beneficial. As a new-to-the-field bookbinder, I needed to connect with our community and the best way to do that was to take on the volunteer position as Programs Chair. I met everyone in my chapter through the events I organized and that extended to the national level. However, I held that position for 5 years and after a time it was clear that I needed to really focus on my private endeavors for a while so I stepped down from that role last year. That being said, I have replaced that volunteer role with some that are local to Bloomington.

Adding an online retail store will add a level of complication to my ability to schedule a multitude of responsibilities, but as I am discovering now, it just means that I have to be more selective with what I take on. The benefit of this restriction is that I can see more quickly what is worthwhile to me. Also, I am constantly reading about people and companies that find new ways to keep their work and life flowing smoothly.

6)  What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in the book arts?

It was difficult for me to find my place within the limitless directions you can take in our field; there are just so many options. The most important factor in my development so far have been the people in our field. I would highly encourage a beginner to become involved with an organization that best represents their goals. Groups like the Guild of Book Workers are an unlimited resource when it comes to practical instruction or advice about the direction of your career. Besides, the people involved in organizations like this are the ones hiring people! So who better than them to go to for guidance!

7)  What products that Colophon currently sells are your personal favorites? What are unique to colophon?

For tools, I mentioned before the 9mm Olfa knife complete with the black carbon blades (those are key). That knife comes in two sizes, but I reach for the smaller of the two more frequently. I also love the Japanese screw punch with each of its 9 bits. It’s a classic that cuts perfect little holes in anything from from paper to book board to thin wood veneer.

As for materials, I can’t help but continue to collect the small colored Londonderry linen thread spools; there are so many colors to choose from! I’ve also been drawn into the duo and Dubletta cloths for both book and box making. The colors are stunning and as far as I know, they are unique to Colophon.

This list could be much longer, but for the sake of brevity those are the highlights to me!

8)  What are your future plans for Colophon? Will you try to develop the business into a teaching facility as others are attempting?

I will continue to develop the new website into a resource for the shop and the community. The shopping cart and online credit card payment feature is a big upgrade, but I will also continue to add photographs that help online shopping for tactile materials. Along the same lines, videos will appear showing people how to use some of the more mysterious tools.

Nancy had a section of the website that included resources for people looking to learn and I would like to expand that as well.

As for teaching, I love the idea of developing Colophon into a teaching resource. I have been doing some teaching myself over the last few years so it seems right to have Colophon develop in that direction though it might be a year or so before that comes to fruition. Currently, the shop is running from my house as well as a storage facility. Down the road though, I envision a physical space where the store will be centralized and people can come to take workshops as well as pick up orders in person.

9)  Are there potential new products or other developments we can look forward to?

I hope to fill out a few areas of the shop, specifically adhesives and bookbinding tools. There are a few things that would be valuable to have available alongside the other great stock, like conservation adhesives, and I will announce the new items on social media and listservs.

I’ve had great feedback from colleagues as to what types of things they are looking for. It is really helpful to get this kind of feedback so that I can anticipate what gaps there are in the shop that I may not have seen myself. I am always happy to take suggestions as to what items people would like to see available. If it makes sense to carry it and is feasible, I will do what I can to make it happen.

Finally, Colophon is now on social media! This is an area that I hope to develop alongside the website in order to keep shop items and announcements visible. Check out our twitter and Instagram feeds @colphonbookarts to stay up to date on new products, updates, and happenings.

 

***

 

I personally use a number of Colophon products. Two of my favorite are the Garniture linen cords and the colored Londonderry thread.

The Garniture cord Colophon sells is perfect for Gothic style historical models.

I use the Londonderry linen thread all the time. It comes in a variety of sizes.

There are many other Colophon products to list that I use on a regular basis, including quarter-sawn white oak book boards, Eska binders board, Rohhalbleinen book cloth, Brillianta book cloth, C&D linen cord, the Londonderry lacing thread (I love the softness of this thread!) and of course the Colophon Best Linen sewing thread.

Best of luck with your new venture Mary! I wish you and Colophon Book Arts continued success!

 

The Czeck Edge Ruler Stop

I purchased the Czeck Edge ruler stop about two months ago and keep finding more and more uses for it. It costs around $35 and clamps onto almost any ruler easily and securely.

In addition to a ruler stop, it is accurate enough to convert a ruler into a double square. Although marketed to woodworkers, bookbinders will also find it quite useful. The non-rusting anodized aluminum is slightly more compatible with binders boards, leather, paper and cloth than a hardened steel Starrett double square.

This tool is useful in circumstances where your dividers are not large enough, for example when centering a label in the middle of a bookboard.  It can be used for measuring a book without relying on quantification for boxmaking: simply set the stop for the measurement of the book, then transfer the distance with a knife to your board. It could be used for laying out tooling. I’m sure there are many more uses.

The small (3.75 x 1 x .5 inch with the knob) size is appropriate for books. This is a handy little tool at a reasonable price. Czeck it out! Sorry!

Here I am using it to position the catch plates when mounting clasps.

Artascope. The Machine That Makes Ideas

As readers of this blog may have surmised, I spend a lot of time looking through flea markets, junk shops and antique malls. Often it is just for the fun of looking at lots of random material culture, sometimes it is a search for inspiration from an obsolete tool or machine, and sometimes it is the thrill of finding a rare bird in the wild.

My Collection. Daily’s “Perfect Stroke” Brushes and Supplies, Catalog # 15. Front cover.

A couple weeks ago I scored big on a $3 investment. This seems to be the only known copy of this particular catalog. Worldcat only lists #3, #11, and #17. No copies of catalog #15 are available on ABE or other online sites. I’m guessing my #15 copy is from 1929.

Trade catalogs are very useful. They provide information and context about specific tools or techniques.  They often have detailed illustrations and textual descriptions of unusual tools. For example, there is an incredibly cool folding palette knife with an ebony handle on page 51. And only $1.35! If I could only go back in time .  Technical information often abounds. For example showcard brushes were pure red sable, while lettering brushes were grey camel hair.

 

My Collection. Daily’s “Perfect Stroke” Brushes and Supplies, Catalog # 15. Page 24.

One tool in particular caught my eye: the Artascope.

The Artascope is described as an “idea-machine”.

The kaleidoscope on-line book mentions it is constructed with a 4 Point Mandala or 45 degree 2-mirror system which generates the internal image. I can’t quite wrap my head around this. The inclusion of it in a professional sign painters catalog is at odds with the general current classification of this early kaleidoscope as a toy. Contextual evidence from the literature adds to our understanding of this odd little machine, which was at least co-marketed to professional artists.

“Sometimes you may feel stale, but your Artascope never does. It never fails to produce.”

 

Upcoming Workshop: 18th Century French Binding at The Georgia Archives, November 6-10, 2017

Eighteenth century French binding models made in Historic Book Structures for Conservators 2017 workshop.

 

Late 18th Century French Binding Structure
Date: November 6-10, 2017
Location: The Georgia Archives in Morrow, Georgia

This workshop will focus on reconstructing a typical 18th century full leather French binding by comparing and contrasting three 18th century technical descriptions, examining extant bindings and using historic tools.

In some respects, this structure is the end of 1,200 years of utilitarian leather binding; fifty years later, the cloth case becomes the dominant inexpensive rigid board structure. The making of the book is very organic and does not rely on numeric measuring. This class is a hands-on explication of historic written texts. We will try to understand how and why these books were made the way they were made — then model as many aspects as possible — all the while acknowledging our inaccuracies and incomplete understanding.

Techniques to be learned:
-Using a beating hammer to beat the textblock before sewing
-Sewing on thin raised single cords
-Lacing in slips into handmade pasteboards in a typical three hole pattern
-Beating the boards
-Trimming all three edges with a plough in-boards while using trindles for the foreedge
-Coloring the edges with vermillion
-Applying vellum transverse spine liners
-Sewing endbands on rolled paper cores
-Paring and covering in full calfskin
-Marbling, pastewashing, and burnishing the leather
-Applying simple blind tooled decoration

Reproductions of 18th century French tools, constructed from plates in Diderot’s Encylopedie (1751-1780) will be available for use. Participants will learn to use and maintain a plough and investigate the problems in translating written descriptions of bookbinding into the construction of a model. Extensive notations (in English) on Gauffecourt’s Traite de la Relieure des Livres (1763) and Dudin’s L’Art du Relieur-doreur de Livres (1772) will be provided.

Basic bookbinding skills are a prerequisite, but this class can serve as an introduction to leather paring. Discussions will include treatment decision making for this particular structure in relation to institutions and private clients. This class is open to all levels of experience: pre-program students, technicians, and mid-career conservators who desire a full week at the bench. Ideally, a variety of participant experience levels will result in an invigorating exchange of information on binding techniques, institutional protocols, and treatment approaches. Students should bring basic bookbinding tools.

A review of this workshop from 2016 by Constant Lem, Book Conservator at the National Library of the Netherlands: <https://jeffpeachey.com/2017/02/07/review-of-18th-century-french-bookbinding-workshop/&gt;

To apply, applicants must submit a resume and brief, one-paragraph statement of intent. Prospective students should outline educational hopes for this class, and review their background in book conservation, bookbinding, or other crafts.

Fee: $700 and a $100 materials fee

Application deadline: September 15, 2017

Send applications to: Kim Norman:  Kim <dot> Norman <at> usg <dot> edu
Include any questions about the facilities, hotels, or transportation (Morrow is close to Atlanta). For questions about the class: Jeff Peachey: jeffrey <dot> peachey <at> gmail <dot> com

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!