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Re: A good read (A Degree of Mastery)

I agree, a great read and a great gift book for your book artist/binder
friends or friends who don't really understand what drives you to do the
book work you do. The following reviews are from Amazon
00-9535254> (link takes you directly to the book),  or order it from your
favorite book seller.

A Degree of Mastery: A Journey Through Book Arts Apprenticeship
by Annie Tremmel Wilcox

List Price: $27.95

Hardcover - 192 pages 1 edition (June 1, 1999)
New Rivers Pr; ISBN: 0898231884 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.88 x 5.83 x 7.68

Reviews From Booklist , May 15, 1999 Borrowing a narrative technique from
fiction writers, Wilcox alternates between the telling of two stories: a
detailed account of just how you handle a book that needs restoration, set
against the author's recollection of her experience as the first woman
apprentice to the master bookbinder William Anthony at the University of
Iowa. Wilcox has the craftsperson's eye for texture and nuance. This is a
love story of sorts, although there is not a shred of sentimentality: the
love of the apprentice for the teachings of a master; the love of the
artist for the right tools; the love of the restorer for the object that
needs care. When Anthony dies before Wilcox's apprenticeship is complete,
we can see how his teachings have prepared her to finish the journey on her
own. Controlled and unadorned, her chastely sumptuous prose pares
experience like leather, so that the acts she chooses to illuminate for
us--the art and act of teaching, the activity of learning, the relationship
of tools to action--are silken and supple. GraceAnne A. DeCandido
Copyright© 1999, American Library Association. All rights reserved

>From Kirkus Reviews A meticulously crafted description of a writing
teacher's apprenticeship in bookbinding and conservation with an
internationally known master of the field. Wilcox tells her story by
referring to the copious notes she compiled while serving as the first
female apprentice to William Anthony, the founder of the Center for the
Book at the University of Iowa. She found that writing down her experiences
was the best way to ``hold onto the terrors and successes of learning a
handcraft,'' and its her preservation of the freshness of her encounter
with a new craft that makes this book compelling reading for those who may
not share an interest in its rather narrowly focused subject matter. She
draws readers into the world of book arts by immersing us totally in its
richly descriptive technical jargon: Leather bindings have red rot (a
condition that causes them to crumble at the slightest touch), pages are
foxed (spotted with rust from bits of iron), books are rebound in
alum-tawed pigskin. She describes restoration processes, such as chemical
washing, mending torn pages, resizing, and sewing bindings, with such
detail and precision that one is left with the impression that he or she is
actually learning the craft rather than merely reading about another's
experience. Her relationship with Anthony (who died of cancer before the
end of the five-year apprenticeship program) is an integral part of her
story, and she chronicles his patient advice and support as he guides her
through her first restoration, teaches her to sew her first Coptic stitch
across a binding spine, helps her to manufacture her own tools, and advises
her on professional matters, such as estimating private restoration jobs.
The rarity of such intense personal mentoring relationships in today's
economic climate renders Wilcox's experience both a nostalgic throwback to
an earlier era and a potential model for recuperating current pedagogical
practices. Book lovers will love this book. (Bookof-the-Month Club
alternate selection) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights

Book Description This memoir describes an apprenticeship in the art of
restoring fine books. Wilcox was the first woman accepted by Bill Anthony
as a student in the demanding trade of restoration and bookbinding. Wilcox
develops a special friendship with her mentor, Bill Anthony, an
internationally known book preservationist, and as she does, she also
acquires a great devotion to the craft of book preserving. Eventually,
Anthony develops cancer, and Wilcox goes on to become a master in her own

Excerpted from A Degree of Mastery: A Journey Through Book Arts
Apprenticeship by Annie Tremmel Wilcox. Copyright © 1999. Reprinted by
permission All rights reserved from "Tools": Bookbinders are a scavenger
breed. They pore through art, jewelry, and woodworking supply catalogues,
looking for tools they might adopt and adapt to bookbinding. Bookbinding
catalogues are filled with tools borrowed from other professions and
crafts. Jewelers's clamps and saws, doctors's hemostats and scalpels,
woodworkers's spokeshaves and block planes-often altered by the purchaser
in ways that marry them forever after to bookbinding.

One morning, early in my apprenticeship, Bill came down to my workbench at
the other end of the Conservation Department and laid down a fine-toothed
hacksaw blade. I could not remember ever seeing Bill use a hacksaw while
binding a book, and I looked up at him. He smiled at my confusion. "It's so
you can make your own set of lifting knives," he said. "Let me know when
you're ready to begin."

I had been in Bill's night class for more than two years before beginning
my apprenticeship, and I was becoming more perceptive about his techniques
of instruction. I knew that by giving me the blade in this manner, he
wanted me to think about what to do next with this thin, flexible piece of
metal. I went over to Bill's bench and took out his set of lifting
knives-used to lift leather on the spines and covers of books during
conservation treatments-and returned to my bench to study them.

Bill kept his tools in two sets of cast-off library card catalogue drawers
that sat on the back right-hand corner of his bench. Each drawer displayed
a rectangular brass holder bearing a slip of paper that in one or two words
categorized the tools inside: "knives," folders," "sewing." It was
understood that his apprentices were allowed access to these tools. It was
also understood that we were to use them carefully and return them to their
proper drawer as soon as we were finished. Once we acquired a particular
hand tool of our own, we stopped using Bill's.

Often the handles of Bill's tools-as the knives and scalpels-had been
wrapped with dark strips of pared book leather to make them more
comfortable to hold. The leather was darkened by years of being used and
held, years of oil from his hands. They had a certain feel to them. A
smooth professionalism.

In the early stages of using my own newly apprenticed tools, I would go to
the drawers and get Bill's paper knife or bone folder-especially if I was
having difficulties with my own. His tools were smarter than mine. They
knew the correct way to cut paper or pare leather. By using them I could
feel in my hands how the tools were supposed to work. Then I would go back
to my own paper knife or bone folder, feel the imperfections in the way it
worked, and try to correct them. Someday I wanted my tools to be as smart
as Bill's.

Customer Comments Average Customer Review:  Number of Reviews: 1

James Downey (legacyart@legacyart.com) from Columbia, Missouri , January
31, 1999 A delight for those who love old books and the binder's art.
Wilcox brings a grace and beauty to what could be a dry, technical subject.
This is not a 'how to' book, though anyone familiar with the bookbinder's
craft will gain insight into specific procedures. Rather, it is the
exploration of why we love books, love those who love books, and love the
preservation of an ancient craft, as it is handed from master to student.
As her understanding of her craft grows and deepens through her
relationship with Anthony, Wilcox shows us her heart and gives us a glimpse
into the soul of this master binder. While the subject is bookbinding, the
real story is that of passion for a craft, for the unique combination of
intellectual, aesthetic, and physical skills that go into any fine craft.
To share that passion with another, as Bill Anthony did in his teaching,
and as Wilcox does in her book, is a very great gift, indeed.

                                >>> Glad to be back  in the library. <<<
>>There was something to be said for working in a place bound in leather.<<

Peter D. Verheyen
<Webmaster: Book Arts Web>            http://www.dreamscape.com/pdverhey
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