The 2014 Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence Seminar was located in Las Vegas at the Excalibur Hotel. My initial experience of the city was enchanting. As my first trip to Las Vegas, the lights and sights were captivating and surreal. The city is constantly bustling with excitement and anticipation. However, these abstractions of Vegas began to weigh on my experience.
Despite the circumstances, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the Seminar and within this post I will present an overview of the events. Each Standards of Excellence Seminar includes a tour. The conservation lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas invited the attendees to view their facilities and see an overview of their collection, means of repair and exhibits.
The official start of the Seminar occurred later that day with an opening reception at the University outside the Barrick Museum. We gathered outside in the warm weather to some treats and libations. The museum was open to us as well and featured a selection of contemporary 2-d and 3-d art juxtaposed with an exhibit of baskets from the Southern Paiute and Shoshone of southern Nevada. The reception is a great way to see who is attending and offers an opportunity to rekindle connections. There are a variety of people whom I connect with every year at Standards, which is one reason I love to attend the Seminar.
The first full day of the Seminar included two of the four presentations and ended with a Mix and Mingle event. In addition to those happenings, is the the vendor room. Each year the vendor room is filled with colorful leathers, handmade papers, bindery tools and more. There are many vendors who are staples of the vendor room and many who are new to the crowd. I’m always pleased to chat with the vendors, it’s so wonderful to have a personal relationship with the people who supply our materials. But on to main event: the very first presentation was by Emily Martin.
Emily’s artist book, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, was a Distinguished Winner for the Designer Bookbinders 2013 International Bookbinding Competition and became the subject of her presentation on Carousel Books. This style of binding was first used in the 1930s becoming more popular after WWII. There are two main types of carousel books: 1) floor and wall and 2) window (or starbook). Emily’s presentation was so well executed as she demonstrated how she created a hybrid of the two types for her Shakespeare book. Her instruction was easy to follow as she demonstrated her creative process and the steps for constructing an elaborate carousel book. One other element that I enjoyed from Emily’s presentation was her use of trace monotype as a means of creating illustration.
The second presentation was on Parchment Over Boards from Peter Geraty. This is a structure that I have learned directly from Peter, while I was a student at North Bennet Street School. So Peter’s presentation was a wonderful refresher to a structure that I am currently working on in my studio. Due to the short-time frame of the presentations, many of the steps had to be rush through, but Peter did a wonderful job of completing the major parts of the binding. It was particularly nice to see how to shape the headcap, which can be quite difficult when working in parchment.
The first full day of the Seminar ended with a Mix and Mingle event, which is an informal way to show off your more recent work to the fellow attendees. A few tables were filled with a variety of book related projects from miniature bindings and finely printed artist books to handmade tools and fine bindings. It’s always delightful to handle books and have the opportunity to speak with the craftsperson about their work. This Mix and Mingle event is quite a new addition to Standards, only happening once before at last year’s Seminar, but I hope it will continue. It’s a wonderful way to engage in creative conversation with fellow bookbinders and conservators.
At the start of the second day of the Seminar was a presentation on Historical Letterlocking by Jana D’ambrogio. I really enjoyed Jana’s presentation because her enthusiasm for the subject of letterlocking was quite infectious. She presented on several letterlocking variations, detailing the folds and locking techniques used in order to secure a letter of importance. And there were quite a lot of variations from using the same material to create the lock, penetrating through all folded layers, pleating, triangular lock, the penguin lock and using wax seals. Every locked letter that Jana demonstrated was based on an actual letter, that had been deeply researched and investigated by Jana herself. She has traveled all over the world viewing various letters to decipher their letterlocking structures. All this research is just the start of a new database of information and a new lexicon on the habits of security during the 15th – 16th century.
Jana wrapped the audience into her presentation as we were tasked to unlock our own letter. She also demonstrated a quick and easy way to lock a letter into a triangular shape, which can be sent through the mail even today.
To wrap up the day was the final presentation on the Traditional Medieval Girdle Book given by Renate Mesmer. In Germany the girdle book is called Das Beutelbuch and was a symbol of faith or status within society of the 15th century. The texts were either religious or legal. Around 800 girdle books can be found in art, yet only 23 physical examples are known worldwide (most in Germany and only 14 in their original cover). The structure of the book is similar to most 15th century wooden board bindings, there are so many variations to the sewing pattern, sewing support, endpapers and spine linings. Renate demonstrated the construction of the binding before moving on the creation of the girdle and Turk’s head knot.
Renate also engaged the audience’s participation by attempting to teach us the Turk’s head knot using a bouncy ball and a long, thin piece of leather. It was quite difficult to say the least.
Throughout Renate’s presentation, the audience was enchanted by spurts of medieval knowledge from Jim Croft, who joined the stage to discuss wood and brass hinges.
The final event of the Seminar is the banquet, this year attendees were invited to dress in medieval garb (which is why Renate is dressed so appropriately during her presentation). And thanks to my classmate, Caitlyn Thompson, many of the NBSS students and alum donned hand-crocheted crowns. During dessert, the Guild’s President Mark Andersson, presented the Laura Young Award to Julia Miller and the Lifetime Achievement award to Sam Ellenport. The former is presented to someone who has served the Guild in an outstanding manner. The latter award was presented to Sam Ellenport for the countless ways he has influenced the field of bookbinding. Many people have been affected by his influence, for example, Sam was instrumental in created the bookbinding program at North Bennet Street School.
Following the food and awards, is the real excitement of the night: the auction. Scholarship winners parade around the room with the items up for auction and excitement ensues amongst the crowd. I was delighted to participate this year for the first time and walked away with two beautiful pieces of suede that were so gorgeously decorated and altered by Coleen Curry. And thanks to Colin Urbina, I also got a dogtooth burnisher.
My night ended with several goodbyes, some lovely music from Jim Croft and an excellent show and tell from Don Glaister.
Although, I was eager to leave Vegas, I had a wonderful time at the Seminar. Looking forward to seeing all my book friends and colleagues next year in Nashville.