Celebrating Decorative Bookbinding

Celebrating Decorative Bookbinding in the Rare Books Collection with The Binder’s Art

By Jess McQuillan – Library Associate, Sr. for Rare Books

materials featured in The Binder's Art
Figure 1

Joanne Kluba and Debra Cashion
Figure 2

SLU students
Figure 3

On October 28th, Special Collections debuted its latest exhibition of rare books, The Binder’s Art: Techniques in the History of Decorative Bookbinding. The opening reception featured a curator’s talk by Jess McQuillan, Library Associate, Sr. for Rare Books, and examples of modern bookbinding by Richard Baker (local binder and conservator) and Joanne Kluba (book artist and owner of Paper Birds Studio). Richard and Joanne’s display – which included contemporary bindings, protective enclosures, and a binder’s hand tool – brought the historical display into the twenty-first century, illustrating how both traditional techniques highlighted in the exhibit and the urge toward innovation continue to guide binders’ hands.

The exhibit itself, on display in Room 307 through March 11, 2016, features European decorative bindings from five centuries, beginning with examples of elaborately tooled leather popular in the sixteenth century and ending with decorated cloth publishers’ bindings from the early twentieth. The emphasis is on the craftsmanship behind the bindings, and books are not grouped chronologically, but by material and decorative technique. Topics addressed include leather finishing, the use of gold in bookbinding, and textile covers. A selection of vibrant paste, printed, Dutch Gilt, and marbled papers – a particular strength of SLU’s eighteenth-century book collection – is also on display.

The wide and colorful array of marbling techniques represented in The Binder’s Art and in the rare books collection as a whole has inspired a new line of Special Collections programming meant to educate SLU students about historical decorative techniques by placing the tools of the trade in their hands. A December 10th marbling pop-up station in the Pius lobby gave passing students, faculty, and staff the chance to make their own marbled papers. Participants viewed photographs of historical marbling examples from the collection as Rare Books staff walked them through the art of “floating ink.” Sixteen participants walked away with their own hand-made sheets of marbled paper.

Rare Books plans to follow up the marbling station with a formal workshop in the Rare Books reading room in early February. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore marbling techniques and patterns in greater depth in order to produce more papers in an hour-long pre-Valentine’s Day session. Rare Books hopes that this workshop will be the first of many book art related programs inspired by the materials in Special Collections.

Figure 1 – Among the materials featured in The Binder’s Art is a selection of historical paste papers, made with a mixture of flour paste and colored pigment, and printed papers, which were originally inspired by eighteenth-century wallpaper patterns.

Figure 2 – Local book artist Joanne Kluba (pictured at left with Special Collection’s own Debra Cashion) attended the opening reception of The Binder’s Art with examples of paste paper, historical bindings (including a Coptic binding and girdle book), and a modern take on a reliquary.

Figure 3 – SLU students showing off the papers they produced at the Marbling Pop-Up Station in Pius Library on December 10th.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *