The Magic of Hand Bookbinding

HBC - Andie Thrams

This visual wonder of a forestscape at ground level invites the observer to sink to her knees (if that is possible) to begin exploring the intricacies of this wonderful illustration. Who would not be drawn to this vision of pure wildness on the sixth floor of a library in the middle of San Francisco? The close view was fully rewarding,  I am always enchanted by Andie Thrams’ work, often made right in the forests she is capturing on paper. This work, entitled Field Studies: Entwined, held a bonus for me. Curling in and around the ferns and fronds are myriad words and phrases, lines turning back on themselves or disappearing in the welter of undergrowth on the forest floor.

HBC Andie Thrams detail

Of the twenty-seven books shown in the 41st members’ exhibit of the Hand Bookbinders of California, I was awed by the presentation of traditional techiniques amid the play of books as art objects. The Hand Bookbinders welcome all manner of book making into their membership and it makes for an interesting show.  Not all books have words anymore, as can be seen in Rhiannon Alpers’ Specimen Series: Untitled Six, below. The artifacts in this book include a dog’s tooth, silkworm casings, mica inclusions, all housed in a hollowed-out book, a sort of scientific dictionary.

HBC Rhiannon Alpers

Yet another book in the golden-brown range was Rebecca Chamlee’s The Young Manhood of Dave Chamlee, bound in a limp leather cover with tacket binding, wrapped shut with leather ties. The pages inside are letterpress printed and tell a family history, including a map inserted in the inside front cover. This book was inspiring to me since I have been working with soft leather covers and was inspired by the idea of having the ties originate both top and side to wrap the book and hold all within. Here are some more pictures of this book, with thanks to the artist for sharing the process.

HBC Rebecca Chamlee

I was impressed by traditional bookbinding techniques, most of which skills I do not have. Marlyn Bonaventure’s The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus & His Traveling Circus drew me in with its nightime sky cover. What at first may look like a reflection from the glass was actually a light abrasion on the leather to give the effect of light on the mountains. The edges of the pages are gilded with stars and globes. Marvelous effects.

HBC Marlyn Bonaventure

The reward of reading the descriptive labels next to the books is to discover the unusual use of materials. This title label has been inkjet printed on calfskin vellum in this binding of Of the Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New by Walter Crane, made by Karen Hanmer. I think of calfskin vellum as a material of the hand, for writing on with ink, so I never thought of sending a piece through my printer. The translucency of the vellum lets this title live on the brightly printed page.

HBC Karen Hanmer

Georgette Freeman’s book redefines bookness in a way I haven’t seen, with the binder using a “two-part carousel structure” that comes with instructions for assembly. The dimensionality of this book invites and conceals at the same time, and the title DYV #1 gives no clue to the artist’s intent, so it is entirely up to the viewer what to make of this pyramidal puzzle.

HBC Karen Hanmer

This enchanting book was bound by Sabina Nies, of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, in a dreamy color scheme and superb details of tooling, gilding and more top edge decoration. I love the wonky title on the spine. In the background is a young man who was sketching one of the books. Later in conversation he expressed his wonderment at these objects, that they were being made by people today, and where could he learn such things for all the poetry, drawing and painting that was pouring out of him? I sent him off to the San Francisco Center for the Book, where many such classes are held. Having just come from there, I had magic on my mind. The upcoming show at SFCB, “Superstitions 13,” will include some of my books about magic, which I had just delivered. And here at the library was more bookish magic casting its spell.

HBC Sabina Nies

My two contributions to this show are residing together. The night of the opening reception was quite windy and someone told me it was so lovely to walk into the show and see my book with the word “Wind” on the cover in the first case.

Having just come over to the San Francisco Library to catch the end of this exhibit (it's up until September 6 and then moves to Santa Rosa), I had magic on my mind. The upcoming show at San Francisco Center for the Book, "Superstitions 13," will include some of my books about magic,which I had just delivered. This show at the library, though not explicitly about the magic of books, gives many examples.

The show closes at San Francisco Main Library on September 6 and moves to Doyle Library on the campus of Santa Rosa Junior College, until October 7. Thanks to the devoted exhibition committee for such a wonderful show!


{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Jane Brenner 08/29/2013, 12:54 pm

    Thanks for a peek into the exhibition which I hope to see in the Doyle Library!

  • Lyne De Luca 08/29/2013, 4:58 pm

    Thanks for a look at these beautiful books.
    Just wish I could come to the exhibition, just back from US so can’t make it now.

    Lyne, Australia

  • Michele 09/02/2013, 1:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing these! Field Studies: Entwined is just stunning. I always enjoy works with lots of detail that repay careful and close examination, and this is a beautiful example.

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