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Re: [BKARTS] The Demise of Fine/Design bookbinding in America?

Having just seen the Guild of Book Workers' "In Flight" I will say that I
too was disappointed not to see more "fine" / traditional bindings. It is
what I do, what I have the greatest interest in and affinity for. That
said, I was really pleased to see the rich diversity and high quality of
the "artist's books" in the "In Flight" exhibit. The craft aspect was
uniformly quite high and showed a maturation of the genre compared to
earlier exhibitions. Many of the artists were also first time national GBW

As to why there weren't more fine bindings, I think that there are many
reasons, the biggest one being a generational shift. When viewing GBW
binding exhibits going back to the 75th Anniversary exhibit (we're coming
up on 100) one can see a transition from what I'll call the 1st generation,
the ones who kept the Guild alive in "dark ages" from post WW II to the
early 80's. The 2nd generation are the ones who developed and made modern
American binding what it is beginning in the 70's - 80's and really shone
in the "Guild's 80 Years Later," "Billy Budd," "Fine Printers Finely Bound,
Too" exhibits. These were trained by the 1st generation in the techniques
of classic binding (fine and edition). The 3rd generation are those who
entered the field in the past 10 or so years, people with more art than
craft backgrounds, perhaps more focused on art than craft, but bringing
with them fresh ideas and innovative structures and materials. Rather than
being apprentice trained in the classic sense many of these became involved
in the book arts through course work in BFA and MFA programs, by attending
workshops at many of the regional book arts centers CBA, MCBA, SFCB, ...
With traditional apprenticeship opportunities not as plentiful as they
might have been and changes in learning styles, North Bennet Street School
in Boston seems to have filled that void rather well. Or, they got into and
learned via books and (yikes) the Internet.

The 1st generation is now mostly retired, and with changes in economics the
2nd generation no longer has the time (or commissions) to devote to fine
bindings which can be exhibited (often for up to two years). They're busy
producing beautiful works for others. That leaves the 3rd generation to
exhibit. The danger I see is that the core skills associated with
traditional binding, skills such as gold tooling and finishing, working
with leather/vellum, which will die out if not passed on.

I don't think that this situation is unique to the North America though.
The way the craft is being taught and practiced is changing world wide.
While it has become much more accessible, much has also been lost.

Let's keep this discussion going.


Peter D. Verheyen
Bookbinder & Conservator
The Book Arts Web & Book_Arts-L Listserv

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