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Bookbinding tradition attracts enthusiasts

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sometimes, fans are not only binding the books but making the paper as well.
DALLAS (AP) -- Revolutionary War re-enactor DeLea Sayers already has an unusual hobby.
He recently stumbled across another one when he decided to record his rebellious activity in an 18th-century-style journal. Unable to find authentic books from the era, Sayers decided to make his own and discovered the intricate world of bookbinding.
"Nobody made any that were historically correct," said Sayers, surrounded by binding tools and machines -- including a guillotine for paper -- in a workshop at the Craft Guild of Dallas.
Sayers thought he could "grab a book" and teach himself about bookbinding, but soon learned otherwise. He discovered a small but growing subculture of master binders employing a range of ancient and painstaking techniques in workshops around the country.
Amateurs and professionals rebind books and build them from scratch -- sometimes even making the paper for pages -- and often submit their work to international competitions. The national Guild of Bookworkers has an estimated 900 members.
"It probably isn't the first thing that comes to people's minds, but it is definitely growing in popularity," said Sarah Nicholls, program director at the Center for Book Arts in New York. "I see more and more places opening up that give bookbinding classes."
Popularity grows
The New York center offered 240 classes last year, up from 140 in 1998. Nicholls said people were increasingly attracted to the ancient craft and its hands-on nature.
"As publishing gets more and more technically advanced, and kind of away from the actual product of the book, people get more and more interested in kind of retaining that quality," she said. "As something becomes less commercially viable, then artists sort of take it up."
Not all binders come from an arts background. At a recent bookbinding competition at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, submissions arrived from a Puerto Rico trial lawyer and a Texas antique gun dealer.
"We love books, but in a different kind of a way than your typical book person," said Catherine Levine, chairwoman of the bookbinding department at the Craft Guild of Dallas. She said binders appreciate books' structure, form, history and art -- and "how that all sort of comes together."
"I would buy books for the cover sometimes, or the way it was bound or the etchings on the inside," said Dallas graphic designer Kimberley Morris, who took up bookbinding to fill a creative void she can't satisfy by computer.
A handful of advanced binders gather every week at the Dallas workshop, tackling everything from generations-old Bibles to new, unique blank journals.
Variety of techniques
Their techniques vary from design binding, which reflects the book's text in its structure and appearance, to fine binding, which focuses mainly on perfecting details such as etched designs and gilded edges. Another method, known as book arts, takes even more creative license, as binders produce works that look more like artistic masterpieces than practical reading tools.
Dallas art professor and binder Esther Kibby showed off a book at a recent workshop that was fashioned in the shape of a person, complete with face and feet. Readers must unfasten clasps of the figure's overcoat to read the text, which follows the narrative of a homeless man.
She took up the hobby in recent years and said she was caught completely off guard by the craft's inner world of form, technique and dedication.
"I had known about bookbinding, but not to the extent that it was the kind of commitment that people give to it," Kibby said. "It's really impossible to give it up."
The art seems to inspire that type of zeal, Levine said.
"I think that bookbinders have a tendency to be kind of obsessive -- sticklers for detail," she said.
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