I am thrilled once again to be writing up this post after interviewing the graduating class from the North Bennet Street School’s Bookbinding Department. To catch up those who are new to the blog, every year I interview the second year students about their design bindings which go on display in the annual Student & Alumni Exhibit. And it’s my favorite time of year, I love sitting down one-on-one with each of the students to chat about their experience crafting a design binding and how their individual backgrounds tie into their work. That latter half was ever more present with this year’s set book: Rewarding Work: A History of Boston’s North Bennet Street School by Christine Compston, Stephen Senge and Walter McDonald.
In this comprehensive examination of the School’s history, Rewarding Work, outlines the school’s impact within the local community and how it has evolved over the years to expand that community without compromising its initial mission “to bring about meaningful lives and livelihoods for its students, who come from across the country and around the world.” You can read a more about Rewarding Work at the school’s shop page, where you can purchase a copy for yourself.
During the interviews, I discussed with each binder how their personal history with the school may have impacted their design choices. Every binding felt perfectly unique to the student who created it, which speaks volumes to their ability to reflect upon their two years and explore it in a visually creative way. If you happen to be in the Boston area, please check out the Student & Alumni Exhibit, which will be on display at the North Bennet Street School from May 1st through June 29th. The exhibit is free and open to the public, you can find out more information on the website.
The North Bennet Street Industrial School (the original name of the school) was established as an institution to better the lives of newly arrived immigrants through training programs to develop hand skills. Séphora Bergiste really latched onto this part of the school’s history. Séphora is also an immigrant having grown up in Haiti before moving to Rhode Island at age nine. Already her design decisions felt very personal, even before she talks about her art practice outside of bookbinding and its connection to dealing with and measuring time. The design mimics the face of a clock with the numbers replaced by symbols that represent the eight departments at NBSS.
Séphora chose a color palette which represents the school’s unofficial colors: navy blue and golden yellow. The binding is covered in a beautifully hand-dyed goatskin. Séphora applied the spirit dyes using a wet on wet method in two ways: diluting the dye with an initial layer of alcohol and by continually saturating the same areas with dye. This application of dye created a dynamic and textured effect on the leather.
The symbols are created through either tooling or surface gilding using florentine gold leaf. Séphora represents the Bookbinding department twice through the backing hammer on the back cover and the threaded needle on the spine. Below are the symbols for the Jewelry, Violin and Locksmithing Departments. The title fits within the needle/clock hand on the spine; Séphora used Gill Sans handle letters tooled in florentine gold leaf for the title.
Séphora used a handmade Japanese paper that she purchased during a trip to Japan for the paste down and flyleaves. The paper has a subtle striped pattern in olive green and gold. She used the same dyed leather for the hinges, so there is a lovely pop of color between the two paper pieces. The elaborately hand-sewn French double core endbands include alternating bands of green, yellow, light blue and white threads.
I love that Séphora chose to dye her own skin; that she took a chance to make her binding unique. The mottled effect she was able to achieve creates a beautiful contrast to the precision of the gold tooling. And I love that it is subtle, only in a well lit room can you see the true brilliance of the leather dyeing. I interviewed Séphora in a dimly lit room and it wasn’t until I photographed the binding could I truly see the variation in color. It was a lovely surprise.
You can follow Séphora on Instagram: @somedays.bindery or check out more of her work at her website. Séphora will continue in her position working on an extensive housing project at the W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at the School for Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University after graduation.
Reading through Rewarding Work, its apparent that the accord between NBSS and the North End neighborhood allowed both to flourish. Inspired by this idea and the surrounding architecture, Rachel Campbell gleaned elements from the neighborhood to build her design. Brick and concrete are common building materials throughout the neighborhood. The brick, in particular, felt so unique to Rachel as it presents itself more than in the architecture from her home state of Oregon. Her regular visits to St. Leonard’s Church also began to inspire aspects of her design, specifically the columns and stained glass windows. This draw to building structures and decor comes from a background in interior design.
Rachel knew that she wanted to use a frame for the basic layout of the design. After sharing several iterations with me, I saw how she worked through her design and pared it down to it’s final stage. The shape of the columns changed from a classic Corinthian style, the detailed window design was reduced to simple line work and the overall design was reworked to be symmetrically balanced from fore edge to fore edge.
The binding is covered in a grass green goatskin with over a 100 onlays used for the bricks and columns. The bricks are carbon tooled onlays in three shades of red goatskin: terracotta, crimson and maroon. Rachel carefully planned the arrangement of bricks to feel naturally random. The columns are also carbon tooled onlays; the grey goatskin is subtly marbled with black ink to resemble concrete. The windows are tooled in dukaten leaf. The title is laid out beautifully down the spine with hand tools to mimic an Art Deco typeface.
A hand marbled paper made by Rachel is used for the paste down and flyleaf and has a color palette that perfectly pairs with the design on the cover. The marbling is irregular, but controlled within a linear frame which works well with the brick layout. Rachel also cleverly wrapped the bricks around the fore edge and over the marbled paper paste down. This is such a unique treatment and something I haven’t seen before. The text block edges are sprinkled with a brick red acrylic. The endbands are hand sewn around a single core in alternating bands of bright red and brick red.
It is evident that Rachel put in so much thought and consideration into the design and execution of her binding. It’s clear to me that she worked very methodically and with precision as she laid in each of the onlays. Her carbon and gold tooling is so clean and so exact.
In the recent NBSS exhibit, Bound Together, Rachel was awarded 2nd place for her binding of Emma by Jane Austen. She is incredibly talented and I can’t wait to see what binding she makes next. You can find more of Rachel’s work at her website here.
During the 2006 graduation ceremony, speaker Barry Moser, is quoted saying the following:
The most important advice I can give you all–and forgive me if this seems glib–is to work. Work. Work. Work. Everyday. At the same time every day, for as long as you can take it. Work. Work. Work.
You can’t depend on talent. Talent is as common as house dust…So remember that nothing is as valuable to solid craftsmanship as is the habit of work, and work has to become a habit. Has to become something that you cannot NOT do. It has to become bone within you.
This quote really resonated with Yi Bin Liang as a self-proclaimed workaholic, who set out to create an ambitious design binding for her copy of the set book. Featured on the front cover is the school’s logo: a lantern. However, in Yi Bin’s design it is re-imagined as a lighthouse. The school’s strong focus in traditional crafts and hand skills became a guiding light to Yi Bin after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. Like many of her fellow classmates, Yi Bin incorporated her own experience into her design, highlighting her transition from art school to trade school.
Yi Bin used various shades of blue goatskin onlays for the waves and alum-tawed goatskin for the crests. The lantern is constructed with turquoise and black goatskin onlays. All of the onlays are tooled with a combination of moon gold and double gold. Behind the lantern is a sunburst of gold, all set to a backdrop of medium grey goatskin. The title is hand tooled down the spine in Gill Sans.
As we discussed her process and design, she revealed that she worked almost spontaneously on the book. Although she worked initially from a planned design, some elements were added later on to build up the design providing depth and balance
The light blue goatskin leather Yi Bin chose to use on her binding is notoriously known to fade over time. And since Yi Bin is quite resourceful, she collected various scraps from the communal bin which gave her a range of light blue tones. In choosing her materials discreetly, some piece came with tears, which Yi Bin decided to keep as an element of her design.
The edge decoration beautifully mimics the handmade paper used for the paste down and flyleaf. To recreate this look, Yi Bin brushed on a dark blue goauche before laying on squares of leaf and then sprinkling small pieces of leaf. The endbands are hand-sewn in alternating bands of teal, blue and silver. I really enjoy Yi Bin’s design, it’s bright and boisterous. It really carries several emotions throughout the design, which I think, perfectly reflects anyone’s experience at NBSS.
You can find more of Yi Bin’s work at her website or follow her on Instagram: @liang.yi.bin
Part of the history laid out in Rewarding Work is a timeline of the various programs offered at the school. Discussing trends and the politics on what the school should be teaching, highlighting the decisions to drop some programs and introduce others. In Greta Llanes design, she sought to capture the cultural influence of North Bennet Street School to the North End neighborhood and her own experience at the school over the past two years. These two main factors are represented as a core of energy centrally located on the spine of the binding. The veins of the marbling flow out from this point like a burst of energy.
I really enjoyed my discussion with Greta, it became quite apparent that her design was driven from a thoughtful examination of her time at North Bennet and the surrounding community. Although her design may read as simplistic, Greta experimented greatly to achieve such a seamless design. The main component of her design is the marbling, which resembles 17th century Spanish-style marbling. Greta used acrylic pigments to marble on a blackberry goatskin.
The color purple was very important for Greta’s design. It was her way of connecting with the color’s interesting history of discovery; that revelations can be discovered through mistakes and error. In many ways the binding embodies Greta and her experiences both leading up to and during her time at NBSS. To fully connect her design on the binding, she added gold leaf through surface gilding and by painting on shell gold to bridge the veins of the marbling to the central core on the spine. The title is tooled in moon gold down the spine using Edinburgh typeface.
Greta created a “marbled” effect for her edge decoration. After applying a layer of graphite, she put down different varieties of gold leaf and wrinkled them to create a vein-like effect. She continued to build up the edge in this way; the added graphite toned down the gold in the previous layer creating depth and levels of vibrancy. All edge are tooled with a single line in dukaten gold leaf. The hand-sewn French double core endbands have alternating bands of blue, light blue and two shades of grey. The marbled paste down and flyleaf are from Chena River Marblers. A really nice detail, are the marbled leather hinges which match the marbling on the cover. This creates a continuous flow from the paste down to the flyleaf.
I really love Greta’s binding. The colors are sumptuous, the design is elegant. After speaking with Greta and being able to connect the design with her personal history makes it even more electrifying. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
In June, Greta will be at Harvard’s Francis L. Loeb Library for a 1-month internship before teaching week-long classes on decorative paper techniques at a summer camp for kids of all ages. She’ll be rounding out the summer with the Lisa Von Clemm fellowship at the Boston Athenaeum for the following 6-months. Check out more of Greta’s work on her website here.
As America’s first trade school, North Bennet Street Industrial School focused on training programs for immigrants in the North End neighborhood in the late 19th century. This connection to the North End resonated with Liz McHugh as she began to plan out her design. Being the oldest neighborhood in Boston, the North End has a unique old-world architectural feel. Liz walked around the windy, narrow streets capturing photographs of various buildings that caught her eye, which she then compiled into an imaginary landscape with the help of Illustrator.
Liz used a selection of goatskin onlays to highlight each individual building ranging from royal blue, grass green, blackberry, terracotta, maroon and turquoise. Each onlay is tooled with moon gold using a range of hand tools. It is undeniable that the most captivating structure is her depiction of the Old North Church. Easily recognizable to anyone familiar with the North End. Yet even if you can’t place it, your eyes are immediately pulled to its unique silhouette and bold color. The Old North Church is located near NBSS’s original location and has continued to serve as the venue for the school’s annual graduation ceremony.
Liz also added subtle details through the use of blind tooling, choosing more traditional finishing tools to represent the finer architectural details without adding too much decadence. I love this element of her design. It elevates her design, creating more depth and interest. The maroon goatskin title piece is treated in the same manner as the buildings with a frame of gold and blind tooling. The edges are splattered in blue, purple and gold acrylic paint, which is paired with French double-core endbands in alternating bands of blue, purple and a pinkish red.
As I opened the book, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the brightly patterned marbled paper which is used for the paste down and flyleaf. Marbled by Liz, the paper pulls colors from the cover making it an easy transition as you move from outside to inside. I also love the energy of the paper, I think it resonates with the spirit of the school and its continued success building a vibrant community.
The color palette and playful perspective of the buildings really speaks to the intensity of the neighborhood. Liz manages to balance the colors of the landscape, while creating a central focus. She knew where to add subtle details and when to retract. I think her binding has a lovely illustrative feel and really encapsulates the feel and look of the North End.
Liz plans to move back to her hometown of Philadelphia to start her career in field of bookbinding. You can follow her next move on Instagram: @exmchugh
The colorful design binding that Jennifer Pellecchia is holding was not her original design, far from it. Taking her initial inspiration from a section in the book on lap joints, Jennifer’s plan was to mimic a dovetail joint with a grey chagreen goatskin laid over a hand-dyed skin which was decorated to resemble the floor around her bench. However, the chagreen skin proved to be too difficult to work with in the paring machine. Hitting an impasse, Jennifer had to decide whether she would push forward or scrap her entire idea. She decided on the latter and I think she ended up with a spectacular binding that showcases both her skills and personality.
Honoring the her time at NBSS, Jennifer chose to incorporate a variety of techniques she learned during her second year. This includes her unique application of leather dye, which is a technique she learned from guest instructor Nicky Oliver. The fair goatskin is dyed with spirit dyes applied with cotton balls and pom-pom applicators. Dye was also dripped through a pipette and sprayed with an atomizer. The division of color follows the blind tooled design, which resembles the paneling on the ceiling in Windgate (an area of the school that was built during the renovations to connect two existing buildings). The blind tooling pulled out a variety of shades from the various colors of dye, making the overall effect more dynamic.
The leather was pressed with lead shot and salt, which created small irregular divets in the leather. This is quite subtle, but effective at creating depth and an interesting texture. The panel rivets are done with itty, bitty tooled onlays in complimentary colors. The gold is applied with leaf and foil in specific areas. Jennifer chose to use foil for the solid dots, since it was challenging to differentiate between the tooled dots and the impressions created by the lead shot. The title is hand tooled down the spine in Gill Sans in the same gold leaf as the design.
The endbands are hand-sewn around a single parchment core in alternating bands of dark grey, pink, tan and off-white. Jennifer embellished the handmade Bhutanese paper used for the paste down and flyleaf by stamping the paper with dye soaked bubble wrap. The dye permeated into the paper in a spontaneous way, creating soft splotches of color. Jen was quite innovative in her solution to add a pop of flair to the interior side of her binding and I really love the results.
I commended Jennifer on her perseverance as she struggled with her initial idea, she really tried to make the best out of a difficult material. But, in the end that battle forced her to reshape her concept and design. She created one of my favorite bindings of the bunch. I’m drawn to the wonderfully saturated colors, the playfulness of her design and the ingenuity of material use (lead shot, salt and bubble wrap). Looking forward to her next design binding.
After graduation, Jennifer will continue in her position as Preservation Assistant at MIT working on their music collection. Follow Jennifer on Instagram: @jenn1cakes.
When I spoke with Clair Emma Smith about her binding, I was intrigued not only by the gorgeous geometric pattern, but also by her design process. It was very indicative to the way binder, Annette Friedrich works to create her designs. Clair Emma worked within a set of parameters as she drew various linear designs on graph paper; penciling in lines as her mood saw fit. After building up a collection of illustrations, Clair Emma pulled elements from multiple designs in order to create what would become the final template for her binding. Her binding has a very Art Nouveau feeling and in a strange route to compliment her binding, I mentioned that it reminded me of an elegantly decorated elevator. I beam with delight at a an exceptional design in an elevator.
This year, the second year students really experimented with a variety of leather dyes through workshops with guest instructors Nicky Oliver and James Reid-Cunningham. Roda dyes, which are metal-based dyes, were introduced to the students through the lens of conservation. Clair Emma wanted to see how these dyes could be used for creative, artistic purposes.
By blending pink and yellow dyes with cotton balls, the pigments merged to create rich orange tones. These diamond shaped tooled onlays evoke jewels set in the leather. Clair Emma used a navy blue goatskin for the base leather with the geometric design tooled in dukaten gold leaf. The title is beautifully balanced into the design on the spine in Edinburgh handle letters.
I was pleasantly surprised when I opened Clair Emma’s binding to discover a vibrant and ornately patterned paper used for the paste down and flyleaf. This bold and lavish paper broke from the rigor of the cover design. Clair Emma noted how this paper created a nostalgic connection to her home town and felt like the perfect paper to incorporate into the binding. The French double core endbands are hand sewn with alternating bands of navy blue, gold and maroon silk threads.
Although Clair Emma’s design may appear as a simple geometric pattern, I want to point out the precision it takes to lay out tooled lines in a straight and even fashion. Her design is beautifully balanced across the entire cover. I love her choice of color, the brilliant orange onlay leather dances against the navy blue forcing the eye to move around the cover. Her design choices are on point and they surprisingly bring me to my love of elevator interiors.
As I’ve mentioned already, Rewarding Work is about the history of NBSS and its impact on the community in the North End. Because the text is so site specific, Matthew Lawler Zimmerman wanted to emphasize this in his design. The school recently underwent a massive change when it moved from the original location on North Bennet Street to it’s new home on North Street. Matthew chose to capture this transitional point in the school’s history by recreating the blueprints of the original location and the new location with traditional decorative techniques.
Influenced by the brick buildings in the North End, Matthew chose to execute his design on a gorgeous vintage oxblood goatskin. A portion of the school’s original location is tooled on the back cover in dukaten gold leaf, while the new building adorns the front cover and bends around the doublure on the inside. The new building is tooled in moon gold, which is softer and less yellow than the dukaten gold leaf. I particularly love the slight overlap of the two blueprints at the spine.
In order to engage more of the school, Matthew incorporated a variety of materials as both tooled onlays and inlays to represent all eight programs currently offered at NBSS. These include various wood veneers, such as bird’s eye maple, cedar, aspen and walnut, metals, ebony, elk bone and hand-dyed leather.
Matthew chose the ambitious route of adding leather doublures and leather flyleaves to his design binding, using the same oxblood goatskin for the doublures and a terracotta goatskin for the flyleaves. There is a subtle difference in tone, with the terracotta being slightly darker, and has a more even grain pattern. This transition from light to dark is so seamless, especially since the design on the doublure floats onto the flyleaf into an abstract pattern. The head edge is rough edge gilt with moon gold and the board edges are tooled with a single line in dukaten gold leaf. The French double core endbands are hand sewn with grey and two bands of maroon thread.
The students graciously allow me to handle their bindings so that I can survey every detail and lend them a critical eye. Matthew’s execution of his binding is exceptional. Crafting a full leather binding, with leather doublures and flyleaves is quite a challenge and Matthew rose to the occasion. The leather doublures in particular are flawless, which can be quite a task. I think he is quite observant and has a keen eye for detail, which really shone through in his binding. There will certainly be more design bindings in Matthew’s future and I look forward to it.
Matthew plans to merge his printmaking background his newly honed bookbinding skills by crafting editions of work from the printed page to the custom binding. However, he also plans to pursue a career by working with other printers and binders. You can check out more of Matthew’s work at his website.
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Thanks again to the 2019 graduating class and Jeff Altepeter, Head of Bookbinding Department. It was such a joy to get to know you all a little bit more and speak candidly about your work. I can’t wait to see how you all take your skills and apply them to our community. I wish you all the best.
If you want more interviews from past classes check out the list here.