Tag Archives: bookbinding history

2018 Historical Book Structures Practicum: Demonstrating, Draw Knives, and Paring Tawed Skins

I recently finished teaching a month long workshop on historic bindings for the Library and Archives Conservation Education Consortium of Buffalo State University, New York University, and the Winterthur/ University of Delaware. LACE for short. Seven MA students in conservation completed six historic models from the 15th to the 20th centuries.

This year it was hosted by The Winterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation and took place in the first year student classroom, which is a really great space to teach in. The room has individual work stations for the students, as well as a group area with moveable work tables for lectures, ppt’s, discussion, and demonstrations.

One configuration of the classroom.

It is important that the students can be comfortable and close enough to observe details during demonstrations. In this configuration, students could sit to watch and take notes, and I could stand, which is how I like to work. Having a task light would have made it ideal.

Edge of a bookblock cut with a drawknife. Photo Nicole Alvarado.

For our late Gothic model, some of the students wanted to try out a drawknife instead of a plough for edge cutting. Nicole Alvarado worked the edge in the above image. We found it quite difficult it is to achieve an edge that looked like historic examples. We had to start with the sides of the bookblock in order to shave it down. The resulting edges did not look like the example depicted in Fig. 9.14 from J.A. Szirmai’s The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding or on a first first folio of Shakespeare.

The edges on the Shakespeare and in Szirmai were presumably cut with a skewed and sliding stroke of a drawknife, with one stroke at a time advancing a significant amount through the book. It is easy to imagine this when looking at the images. We found it impossible to replicate this, though. Was our drawknife too small, the blade angle too obtuse, modern paper too hard, or our arms too weak?  A combination of all of these? Or was a different tool used? In both of these examples, each chop could have been caused by an aze or adze, in order to penetrate so far through the thickness of the bookblock. Time for more experimentation!

Paring and scraping a tawed skin with a round knife. Photo Karissa Muratore.

In bookbinding, usually vegetable tanned goat is the easiest leather to pare, followed by vegetable tanned calf, then tawed goat or calf. Tawed pig the most difficult. Tawed skins are quite abrasive, and quickly dull any knife. Karissa Muratore did a wonderful job of paring an alum tawed calfskin for her Gothic Model binding. Although tawed pigskin would have been traditional, all of the major bookbinding leather producers are no longer offering them, citing difficulty in obtaining quality raw skins.

Karissa’s image illustrates how a rounded blade knife can be used for edge paring (note the pieces in the foreground) and scraping (note the shavings in the background). Scraping is a safe, but slow way to even a skin out, as well as thin the spine and headcap area. I think that 15th century binders would have received the skins the appropriate thickness overall from the tanner, and only had to edge pare.

This late Gothic binding — clasps, alum tawed skin, wooden boards, double cord sewing —  is a satisfying final project, combining bookbinding, woodworking and metalworking skills.

By the end of the month, the students were more than happy to demonstrate what they learned about safe, professional, and thoughtful tool use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books and Representations of Books on Display at The Cloisters Museum

The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in upper Manhattan, quite near my studio. In fact, I think I might be able to see it, if I climbed up on my bench and peeked out the upper left corner of my window. Northern Manhattan is quite different from the rest of the city. It is where the Dutch purchased the island from the Native Americans and there is still even a farmhouse located on Broadway dating to 1784, which is now a museum.

The Cloisters was built (assembled?) in 1938, and consists of four medieval buildings imported from Europe. It is located inside the 66 acres of Fort Tryon park. There are also beautiful gardens, including a nice garden featuring plants used for making dyes and paints. Looking across the Hudson River, there is a stunning view of the Palisades of New Jersey which John D. Rockefeller so admired he purchased 12 miles of shoreline to preserve the naturalistic view from the park.

The Cloisters is not only my favorite museum, but it has my favorite painting,  The Merode Alterpiece. Note to the impecunious: although the Met recommends a $25 entrance fee, you can pay whatever you wish.

In April of 2015, I decided to photograph 34 actual books and works of art which contain representations of books which were on display. This was also a great chance to try a lot of handheld, low light photography with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7, which is proving to be the second best camera I’ve ever owned. There are higher resolution images for most of these on the Met site, searchable by accession number.

If anyone would like to visit my studio, we could take a short detour to the Cloisters and look at the works, discussing what we can — and can’t — learn from looking at representations of books in art. Or you can can use this as a virtual or self guided tour.

BOOKS AND REPRESENTATIONS OF BOOKS ON DISPLAY IN APRIL, 2015,

AT THE CLOISTERS MUSEUM, NYC

This virtual tour starts on the main level in the Late Gothic Hall, and follows a counterclockwise path around the Cuxa Cloister, then jumps to the Gothic chapel, Glass Gallery and the Treasury on the lower level.

LATE GOTHIC HALL

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Antiphonal, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, Italian, 1467-70 (60.165)

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Detail, Altarpiece with Christ…, Carrara marble, Andrea de Giona, Italian, 1434 (62.128a-i)

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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)

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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)

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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)

MERODE ROOM

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Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish,  ca. 1377-1444 (56.70a-c) http://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/cl/web-large/DP273206.jpg. This painting is a hyper real jewel.

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Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish, ca. 1377-1444 (56.70a-c)

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Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish, ca. 1377-1444  (56.70a-c) Ok, these are not books, but the next best thing: TOOLS! He is building two mousetraps.

BOPPARD ROOM

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Detail, Paschal Candlestick, Paint on wood, Spanish, Castile-Leon, ca. 1450-1500 (44.63.1a,b)

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The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C., (1973.348)

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Detail, The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C., (1973.348) Quite likely the most accurately depicted book in the entire collection. It is hard to believe this was once painted, and even harder to believe how someone could scrape the paint off! The detail in the position of the hand, the throw-up and drape of the book, and the anguish in the face is unforgettable.

UNICORN TAPESTRIES ROOM

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Book of Hours, Published by Thielman Kerver, Paris,1504 (20.53.3)

EARLY GOTHIC HALL

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Detail, Enthroned Virgin and Child, Paint on maple, Spanish, ca. 1280-1300 (53.67)

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Saint Martin with the Virgin, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, French, 1245-48 (37.173.2,.5)

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Detail, Legend of Saint Germain of Paris, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, Franch, ca. 1245-47 (1973.262.1)

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Detail, Enthroned Virgin and Child, Paint on birch with glass, French, ca. 1130-40 (47.101.15)

SAINT GUILHEM CLOISTER

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Detail, The Annunciation, Carrara marble, Italian, ca. 1180-1200 (60.140)

FUENTIDUENA CHAPEL

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Detail, The Adoration of the Magi, Limestone, Spanish, ca. 1175-1200 (3077.8)

LOWER LEVEL, GOTHIC CHAPEL

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Detail, Saint Margaret of Antioch, Limestone with paint, Catalan, ca. 1330-40 (47.101.13a)

GLASS GALLERY

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Detail, Three Scenes from the Infancy of Christ, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, Austrian, ca. 1390 (36.39.1a)

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Detail, Tomb of Ermengol VII, Count of Urgell, Limestone with traces of paint, Catalan, ca. 1300-1350 (28.95.a-i)

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Annunciation, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South German, ca. 1480-1500 (1985.244)

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Detail, St. Lambrecht of Maastricht, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1510-20 (32.24.48)

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Souls Tormented in Hell, Adapted from Dieric Bouts, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1500-1510 (1990.119.2) BOOK BURNING!

 

 

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Saint Peter with a Heraldic Shield, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1520 (12.137.6)

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Annunciation, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1500-1510 (1972.245.1)

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Detail, Saint John on Patmos with Apocalyptic Visions, Manner of Dierick Vellert, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, Antwerp? ca. 1520-30 (32.24.65)

 

 

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Saint Jerome in his Study, Style of the Pseudo-Ortkens, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, Brussels, ca. 1520 (1998.304.3)

TREASURY

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Detail, Bishiop of Assisi Giving a Palm to Saint Clare, Oil, gold and silver on wood, German, ca. 1360 (1984.343) It appears to be a sewn, but unbound book? A wrapper?

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Detail, Reliquary Plaque with Christ Blessing, Walrus ivory, German, ca. 1200 (65.65.174)

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Detail, Diptych with the Coronation of the Virgin and the Last Judgment, Elephand Ivory, French, ca. 1260-70 (1970.324.7a)

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Detail, Plaque with Saint John the Evangelist, Elephant ivory, Carolingian, early 9th C. (1977.421) The inscription reads “The word of John soars to heaven like an eagle.” It looks like the eagle is carrying a small book. The plaque may have once been from a book cover.

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Plaque with the Crucifixion and the Holy Women at the Sepulchre, Elephant ivory, Carolingian, ca. 870 (1974.266) Likely a central decoration for the front board of a Gospel book.

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Detail, Evangelists Mark and Luke, Gilded copper and glass, French, ca. 1220-30 (2012.70.1,2)

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The Cloisters Apocalypse, Tempera and ink on parchment, French, ca. 1330 (68.174) It is telling that the binding materials are not listed at all. For the Met, a book is the text and images..

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The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreus, Tempera and ink on parchment, French, ca. 1324-28 (54.1.2) This book was recently beautifully rebound by Maria Fredericks in shaped mat board and alum tawed skin. Note the similarities in the opening and the end band between the book in the Merode Alterpiece and Three Scenes from the Infancy of Christ stained glass (36.39.1a)

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The Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, French, before 1349 (69.86)

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The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, French, 1405-1408/9 (54.1.1a or b) Again, recently rebound by Maria Fredericks into two volumes.

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Detail, Thirty Five Panels with Scenes from the life of Christ, Oak, French, early 16th C. (50.147.1) It appears the book is partially damaged.

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Detail, Thirty Five Panels with Scenes from the life of Christ, Oak, French, early 16th C. (50.147.7)