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Cuban Bookbinders

Some weeks back Bob Muens, a binder/conservator in Key West, Florida,
posted to the List asking for binding supplies to deliver to Cuba on his
sail boat.  Bob made a successful trip to Cuba and is now at home
in Key West.  He's tired from his travels and busy picking up his
business but he took some time to posted this message to me.  With his
permission I am posting his message to me to the entire List.

In addition to this information, he wanted to send along thanks to
everyone who shared binding supplies.

>>After a very windy and wild 30 hour sail home we got back to Key
West last night.  Needless to say I am a bit tired.

Cuba was great.  We had wonderful sailing along the coast, got
in some snorkeling and general loafing.  I am refreshed (after I get
some sleep anyway).

Our gift of supplies was a huge success.  On our  second day
there we went to the small city of Matanzas where I knew there were some
book artists.  We arrived at their "studio" which is located in this
grand old colonial building.  Downstairs, when you walk in, there is an
area dedicated to retail sales of their books.  The cooperative is
called Ediciones Vigia.  In the center of the building is a large
courtyard where they have tables and chairs with women assembling the

They almost always do only editions of 200 copies of each work.
The books are text, derived from a variety of sources, sometimes
classical and sometimes modern, are printed with mimeograph machines
onto a Cuban paper.  All paper I saw in the country was this same paper
made of recycled material including sugar cane fiber.  It looked sort of
like the paper used to make paper bags at the grocery store only with
chunks of course fiber.  Short life span paper.

They print on single sheets then staple them together.  On top
of this they glue paper covers.  On the covers they glue on string,
beads, paper cut-outs, anything they have to create a scene.  Very folk
arty, very charming and well designed.

They were so grateful for the materials we sent their way.  You
and I had put book cloths in their hands.  since they don't use cloth
covers I said, "maybe this isn't of use to you."  They strongly
contradicted me and said they will use it to construct their multimedia
covers.  They knew what they were doing for what they did.  I had also
included half a dozen bone folders.  They had never seen them before.  I
showed them how they can be used and they were so thrilled by the
possibilities.  They wanted your address (which I gave them) to thank you
so I would expect you will hear from them some day.  They were VERY
impressed that it came all the way from Alaska.  When I say, that you'll
hear someday, I am taking into account that the mails are notoriously bad

Vigia was the only bookbinding establishment that I knew of when
I went to Cuba.  I asked them if they knew of any others and they
didn't.  A few days later we went to Havana.  We were walking down the
street and in a window Jody saw a bookpress.  We investigated further
and found a state operated bookbindery inside.  Again, when they found
out that I was a bookbinder (from the US especially) they dropped their
work and were full of questions.  At this place they did restorations
and original traditional bindings.  Most of them had been at it for 20 or
more years.  Unrivaled quality of work.  They had very few materials the
few of which they had came from Spain.  They did their repairs with
methyl cellulose and used a wood glue in place of PVA.

They had 2 Quik Prints but only one worked because they only had
one heating element.  I will see about solving that.  They were so nice
there and curious about the binders in the US.  Unfortunately we
"discovered" them late in the day on Friday and they had to close.  We
left Havana on Sunday (closed weekends) so I which I had more time there.
I'll just have to go back.


It certainly gives one pause to realise how much these people are
doing with so little.  I may have to stop complaining about my
"isolation" for a day or two!

Bob may be planning other means to get binding supplies to the Cuban
binders.  We've talked about asking for specific donations since Bob now
has a more specific idea of what would be most useful.

Hopefully he will be back on the List soon.  If you have any ideas or
specific donations, contact him at Bob@xxxxxxxxxxxxx

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