FREE ONLINE EVENT: Cary Summer Research Fellowship Roundtable, December 15, 12-1 ET

Image courtesy The Cary Graphic Arts Collection, RIT, 2020.

If the idea of spending a month at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection of Rochester Institute of Technology — home to the incomparable Bernard C. Middleton Collection of Books on Bookbinding — quickens your pulse and makes your hands sweat, first you should wash your hands before even thinking about handling these rare materials.

Then, you should find out more about a fellowship opportunity during this upcoming roundtable discussion. I’ll briefly discuss Edward Walker’s The Art of Book-Binding…, 1850.

Each summer, the Cary Graphic Arts Collection hosts a scholar for a one-month summer research fellowship. Join us to learn more about this unique research opportunity as applications are due on January 15th. Curator Steven Galbraith will provide information and join former Cary Fellows Dori Griffin, Jeff Peachey, Shani Avni, and Robert Gordon-Fogelson for a casual discussion, who will share some of their experiences and exciting discoveries.

December 15, 2020, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm ET. Zoom

Register here at least 24 hours in advance. Open to all.

When did Guillotines for Bookbinding Start?

1834 Patent Model of a “Paper Trimmer”. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/patent-models-graphic-arts?page=1

Here is another gem from the Smithsonian Graphic Arts Model Collection, a very early — though not the first — guillotine for books or paper. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the US Patent Office in 1836, so this model is the only remaining record. Visually, it looks much more like the neck cutting variety rather than ones for book or paper cutting. The massive blade operates by gravity rather than a lever or flywheel; again, like the non-book styles. Similar to all the early guillotines is that the blade operates straight up and down.

It’s always a dangerous game to cite the earliest book you have seen that contains this or that evidence, since it often gets superseded. Nevertheless, the earliest book I have seen that contains incontrovertible guillotine marks (thanks to a very damaged blade) is this Harper’s publisher’s cloth binding from 1834 of “The Works of Mrs. Sherwood”. The machine had a clamp and operated straight up and down. The curvature to the marks resulted from tightly clamping and distorting the unbeaten bookblock when cutting, a feature which the patent model above lacks, and when it is released it springs back into its resting shape.

If you have earlier evidence let me know!

The Craft of Nailing

Nick Lindsay was a poet, carpenter, boatbuilder, union organizer, playwright, translator of Gullah oral history, and raconteur. He died earlier this year. A chronology of his amazing life is here. I was lucky to have studied poetry with him in the 80s, and he left a huge imprint on my life. Rest In Power, Nick!

During a Goshen College Mennonite Church sermon in the 70s or 80s, Nick Lindsay told a story about watching and a roofing nailer at work, steadily zig-zagging up a roof. It was not something many of us had thought about at the time. He could hear the Craft of nailing in the sound of nails firmly hit and driven flush with three well-placed blows.

Words, wood — everything , really — he infused with Craft. Three was the most powerful number in his cosmology, imbued with numinous power; “thrice is true” as Lewis Carrol earlier said. I interpreted his conception of Craft as similarly tripartite: understanding the nature of a material worked, knowing the tools to shape it, and skillfully performing the of technique of making.

Nick’s workshops were a masterclass in teaching. He would always have us close our eyes when a fellow student read their poem aloud, to help the audience enter into the world the poet crafted. Poems were an aural dreamscape for him. He often talked about dreams, once where his famous poet father Vachel Lindsay’s death mask was placed on him. Where did Vachel stop and Nick start? Nick often sang and chanted Vachel’s poetry, mixing it up with his own. It troubled some people, but, in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Craft was something bigger than himself.

I don’t drive that many nails these days, but when I do Nick comes to mind. And I strive to drive the them home in three sweet blows. 

A version of this remembrance originally appeared in the Center for Mennonite Writing Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2020.