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Bookbinder of the Month: Jan Sobota

December 9, 2012 by Erin Fletcher

Over the course of 10 years, Jan Sobota participated in four Helen Warren DeGolyer Triennial Competitions. Every three years the Bridwell Library on Southern Methodist University’s campus chooses a book from their collection to be rebound by an individual binder. Each participant offers a proposal binding for the chosen title in addition to an example of their work. The winner of the Helen Warren DeGolyer Award receives a commission to bind the selected book according to their design proposal.  Two other prizes are awarded for excellence in fine binding and design. 

The first time Sobota entered this competition was in 2003, creating a proposal for Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His design was given the Judge’s Distinction of Interpretation award:

An example of his work submitted for the 2003 competition:

This binding of Les Chansons de Bilitis by Pierre Loüys is translated from Greek and includes illustrations by G. Barbier engraved on wood by François Schmied. This edition was printed in Paris in 1922. A triple cover board binding structure bound in brown Harmatan goatskin for the top layer, gold leather for the middle and dark blue goatskin for the doublures with blue suede leather flyleaves. The same gold leather was used to create wrapped headbands, the top edge was gilt. 


For the Fourth Helen Warren DeGolyer Exhibition in 2006, Sobota presented his proposal for Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones:

Sobota proposed a triple cover board binding structure, to be covered in dark blue paper made of leather-maché, light blue French box calf (title in relief outlined in gold tooling) and batik suede pigskin. A brass plate on the spine engraved with the author’s name along with a brass clasp along the foredge engraved with the author’s portrait. The middle board would be covered with gold leather and doublures of batik suede pigskin. The flyleaves would be light blue paper of leather-maché. Double core leather-tooled headbands and silver multi-metallic gilt top edge.

“The design depicts the ‘fictitious’ soul of the text and the illustrations, which the author also suggests in the title of the book”. The 1987 edition of Ficciones includes illustrations by Gabriela Aberastury, Julio Pagnao, Mirta Ripoll, Raúl Russo and Alicia Scavino.

An example of Sobota’s work included in the 2006 submission was a binding of Jules Verne’s Le Tour Du Monde En Quatre-Vingts Jours:


John Grave’s Goodbye to a River: A Narrative was chosen for the Fifth Helen Warren DeGolyer Competition in 2009. Here is Sobota’s proposal submission: 

An example of his work included in the 2009 Exhibition is a binding of Edgard Claes’ Künstlerische Bucheinbände in Polycarbonat: eine Lehrschrift für Laien und Hobbybuchbinder printed in Stuttgart by Fachhochschule, Hochschule der Medien in 2003:

Bound as a Bradel structure with flying boards, the text is sewn on four yellow snakeskin tapes. Spine is covered in red goatskin with wooden boards covered with mahogany veneer. Wooden relief onlays depicting Edgard Claes’s initials. The binding has yellow leather headbands and ochre suede flyleaves.


The Sixth Helen Warren DeGolyer Exhibition is the fourth of these competitions Sobota participated in and was faced with proposing a design for The Imitation of Christ:

Sobota proposed a box binding with a three board structure using Harmatan Nigerian goatskins, black for the binding and dark red for the doublures decorated with gold printed phrases derived from the text. The designs are inspired by the Paris 1788 edition of the text. All three sides of the box are to be hand gilt with lines to resemble the engraved plate in the book. In the center of the front cover are aluminum sliding doors covered in black goatskin gilt with concentric circles. In the very center a magnetic half-round boss will act as a latch for the doors, these bosses will also be placed in the center along all sides of the window. When sliding doors open, an image of the author will be visible covered in gold leaf to give off the illusion of an illumination on parchment.  

The example of work Sobota submitted for the 2012 competition was a binding of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables choisies, which includes original illustrations by Claire Hénault and an engraving by Hyacinthe Rigaud. 

resource: SMU: Helen Warren DeGolyer Triennial Exhibition


1 Comment »

  1. vicki says:

    sobota’s skills are apparent on so many levels. the binding for adventures of huckleberry finn is amazing.

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