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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).



Monday, July 18, 2016

years ending in 6 have been good to me... Part I

In the summer of 1986, I uprooted my life and moved to Boston, just for a year. At the time I was a high school social studies teacher and there were no jobs in Western Washington. I decided to take a year off, do something else, and then come back and get back into teaching.

I was hired in an archives. It turned out I really liked the work, so I stayed. I did a variety of things: copied glass plate negatives, rehoused some artifact collections, organized stuff, checked on some historic houses. It was a great job.

A year or two in they asked me to fix books. I was shown a manual on book repair by Jane Greenfield and I followed her directions. I loved the work and hated the result. She taught repairing books to make them structurally sound, but these weren’t beautiful repairs.

The repairs would end up looking like this.

In one sense they were perfectly good repairs. They made books usable again, books that had no value in the covers. Still, I hated doing those repairs. It felt like I was ruining the books unnecessarily. I think that part of my reaction was because the books were bound in leather, which filled me with dread and awe. I should add that the books I worked on were in much better shape than the one shown in this photo.

Looking at that book now, about 28 years after I worked on it, the repair is perfectly fine mechanically and the book throws up the right amount (that’s how much the spine of the book elevates when the book is opened). Greenfield was good and right in what she taught, obviously.

Still, doing work like this kept me awake at night. Seriously, it did.

I felt like this wasn’t really the level of work I wanted to do. But I had no idea what the level I wanted was, or even where it was.

I took at class at the Boston Center for Adult Education on bookbinding, but we made these books. It was, no doubt, a great class for what its intentions were, but my goal was something completely different.

I was disappointed because I wanted to learn to make a “real book.” I hadn’t gotten anywhere.

Next, I bought a bookbinding manual at Buddenbooks on Boylston Street, just across from the Pru. It was Bookbinding, Its Background and Technique by Edith Diehl. Turns out it is THE American bookbinding manual. I set out teach myself.

I’d been pretty good at making stuff in the basement of our house growing up. Learned a lot from my Dad, who could make and fix anything. As an aside his arms were about the size of my legs. One night, coming back from Bellingham, I got pulled over for having a broken tail light. The next day I bought a bulb and set out to remove the lens from the car. It wouldn’t budge. My dad came home and asked what I was doing. When I told him, he said, Let me try. He took the screwdriver and twisted and twisted harder and twisted harder until he broke the screwdriver. He broke the screwdriver. He looked at me, tossed what was left of it in his hand onto the ground, laughed, and went into the house. Try that sometime.

Anyway, Diehl, though probably unable to break a screwdriver, wrote a fantastic book. The first half is a history of binding. The second half is an instruction manual. A great one. But without any context, I got nowhere with it.

At work one day after that class and my self-teaching experiment, I called the Massachusetts Department of Vocational Education and asked where to learn bookbinding. That’s when I first heard about North Bennet Street. It’s a bit of a story as well, but I quit my job, enrolled the next year, and was able to sleep better.

After studying there, I was able to do work like this. And when I knew what good work was, it was a relief and exciting. And led me down a wonderful path that I’m still on. 1986 was a great year.

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