RSS Feed

Posts Tagged ‘jana d’ambrogio’

  1. Teaching at Paper & Book Intensive 2018

    August 28, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    In May of this year, I had the honor of teaching at the Paper & Book Intensive which was held at Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuk, Michigan. If you aren’t familiar with PBI, it’s a two-week intensive camp where participants take three workshops on topics related to bookbinding, printmaking, paper-making, conservation and book arts. Everyone stayed in lodging on the grounds at Ox-Bow and ate together during mealtimes. During off-hours, people spent their time creating, mingling, making toast from the 24-hour toasting station or roasting marshmallows at the fire pit near the lagoon.

    I had been invited to teach my 2-day Introduction to Embroidery on Leather workshop during the first session. In the first session, participants take two different workshops, one in the morning and the second in the afternoon. This meant, as an instructor, I had two different groups to teach over the span of four days. I had 13 students in the morning and 12 students in the afternoon.

    My workshop took place on the second floor of the print building. The space was wonderful. It is a newly constructed building with high ceilings and tall windows on all four sides that looked out into the woods. After getting settled and going through materials, we embarked on our first task of poking lots of holes into leather through a paper template. The room was so quite and still, that a unique soundtrack began to play out. The ping from the pin vise and crunch of the paper template mixed with birdsongs and swaying trees.

    The participants were working with buffalo skin for the samplers. It’s a leather that I love to work with and is very forgiving with embroidery work. Although certain challenges presented themselves with the darker skins. After we finished punching, we went through each stitch one by one. Students were invited to bring their own threads to play around with, so there was a nice mix of materials being used on the samplers. Some worked and some didn’t.

    At the end of the first session, everyone convened into the painting studio for a show and tell. I had been so distracted teaching by my workshop, that I didn’t get a chance to visit the other studios. So it was really great to finally see what everyone else had been working on.

    Above are samples from Letterlocking with Jana Dambrogio (left) and Vasaré Rastonis’ Conservation Binding Model for a 13th Century European Manuscript workshop (right).

    Above are some pieces from Velma Bolyard’s Paper Threads: North Country Shift (left) and Rebecca Chamlee’s The Printmaker as Naturalist (right) workshops .

    Many of my students had little to no experience with embroidery work, but everyone was determined to master each stitch. Threads were sewn and then torn out to make second and third attempts. I was really impressed with everyone’s ability to navigate through diagrams and hard-to-see demonstrations. In the center of their samplers, I asked each participant to design a letter in whatever stitch or stitches they preferred. Some students also began embroidering into bookcloth and paper. The participants in my workshop definitely felt the intensiveness of PBI!

    After session one was complete, everyone had a day off to recoup and relax. I went into town with some PBI pals to shop the local antique mall and each some local grub. Afterward, we walked to Oval Beach at Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful beach and view of the lake. We even made a couple of duck friends along the way.

    As an instructor, I was able to take a workshop during the second session and I chose John DeMerritt’s The Prototype: An Exploration of Edition Binding. I had met John a few years back during my second year at North Bennet Street School and have admired his work and ingenuity, so I was really excited to pick is brain.

    The structure of John’s class was informal, which freed everyone up to work on their own projects. We had materials to play with in order to develop prototypes. As someone who rarely gets a chance to spend time on personal work, it was very welcoming to have these 4 days to work out the details of an artist book that has been lingering in the back of my brain.

    On our final day of John’s class, we were commissioned by Mary Hark (papermaking instructor) to build a box for a paper quilt.

    We devised a design for the box and chose materials as a team. Mary let us choose from a selection of her papers for the box and we choose a beautiful crinkled indigo paper for the tray that proved to be rather difficult and pulled many of us together to trouble shoot. And without proper weights, we had to use body weight after attaching the tray to the base.

    photo credit (right): Cristiana Salomao

    photo credit (right): John DeMerritt

    I was tasked with creating an embroidered paper label for the box. We chose to use the coordinates of Ox-Bow and the dates of the second session as the title, as it represents the time and place of both creations. In the end, the box and quilt were put into the auction and was finally sold to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

    At the end of session two, we assembled once again in the paint studio for another show and tell.

    Above are examples from Béatrice Coron’s workshop From Book Shelves to Cat Walk: Wearable Papercuts and Artist Books (left) plus Chela Metzger’s workshop Early Modern Record-Keeping Book Structures: Model Making and Investigation (right).

    Just a few pieces from Bridget Elmer’s workshop The Typographic Print (left) and Mary Hark’s workshop Papermaking Informed by a Sensibility for Textiles (right).

    Post show and tell, people began to wind down and get ready for the festivities ahead. That evening included a silent auction followed by a studio tour to see the various work created by the artists in residency. Along the tour, I savored some local Ox-Bow brews and chatted with a very talented artist about her brightly colored macramé sculptures. Check out the work of Noël Morical.

    On the following day, everyone gathered at the meadow under the theme of Renaissance in Space. We ate hors d’oeuvres and cheered on the jousters. Afterward we filed into the painting studio for one final dinner, which included lofting balloons from table to table until they popped. A mighty group effort.

    The evening quickly turned into night and people began to say their farewells. PBI was a truly incredible experience and one that I will never forget. Despite the pressures of teaching, my time at Ox-Bow was relaxing and inspiring. Being surrounded by creative and talented people who are both encouraging and supportive for two weeks can be life changing. It’s an experience that I would recommend for anyone that is apart of or wants to be involved in this community.

  2. Conservation Conversations // My Modelin’ Career

    February 26, 2015 by Marianna Brotherton

    Recently, an album of letters came into the lab. Each letter, envelope and card had been adhered into a notebook, and had become brittle, creased, and difficult to handle. The notebook’s covers were both off, and its binding was in disrepair. Designing a thoughtful and safe treatment proposal for this piece will be complicated- the different aspects; historical, structural, economical, and intent of use will have to be weighed and balanced. To remove each piece of memorabilia will be difficult and time consuming, but would create the opportunity to mend and rehouse the pieces. However, a lighter touch is always better, and focusing on stability alone would preserve more of the original structure and composition. To treat this album well, it will be necessary to have an understanding of the current structure and adhesion, and the possible detriments these may cause; a consciousness of different potential structural solutions; and clear expectations for the future needs and use of the album and its contents.

    Although I won’t be working on this treatment, the different concerns and possibilities associated with it piqued my curiosity. In researching different ways similar albums had been treated, I came across “A Photo Album Structure from Philadelphia, 1865” by Betsy Palmer Eldridge [Book and Paper Group Annual 21 (2002)]. It is an excellent description of a structure which, as Eldridge describes it, “can be used in the restoration of Victorian photo albums or in the construction of new stiff-leafed albums.” However, what I appreciated most about her article was the investigation and research her curiosity fueled. Although there were plenty of advertisements and descriptions about the albums, there were no detailed directions. Eldridge has constructed a method on how it is put together, and describes each step in her article. The best piece of advice I have yet been given is to pursue this curiosity- especially in the form of creating models. Working backwards, recreation, and developing ideas through writing are perhaps the best ways to fully know anything. This is especially true of books, who’s working action and composition is difficult to discern if fully intact. An historical model presents us with three-dimensional access to its structure and intended function, while also serving as an invaluable form of documentation.

    While interning at the Wunsch Lab at MIT, Jana Dambrogio showed me a few models she had made of books she had studied. Not only did she replicate the binding structure, but all of the individual flaws and characteristics of the books as well. Each dog ear, tear, and hole was now documented in a book she could later handle and contemplate. This kind of work is an important lesson in patience, detail, and critical thinking. It slows the hand and creates time to ask questions. What am I trying to repair? What is the causation of the damages I am looking to reverse or minimize? Is every dog eared page an accident, or do they represent an historical figure’s notation? [Read about the Huntington Library’s famous fold here]


    Not all dog ears are important notations, but every now and then there comes a crease I wouldn’t flatten

    As a conservator, it is not my responsibility to lend gravity to an individual book; I must treat, and conserve each book with equal propriety, reverence, and respect. But it is my responsibility to stabilize a book for future use and understanding. By documenting what a book looked like before treatment I not only hold myself accountable for what I proceed to do with it, but I am also acknowledging its history and experience of time.

    Documentation is our way of preserving  as much of a book as possible, and creating a model of a working, physical manifestation of its history and experience not only aids researc8de6cc3a99ae9a7b7fdb193c364c6ccdhers and historians, but future conservators and bookbinders alike. I found this tactic to be especially useful when I was rebinding “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.” The front and back boards were missing, and the paper was torn and discolored. Imitating both the book and its defects forced me to mentally disbind and rebind the book before acting. I had to lend importance to each flaw in order to ascertain what the damage was, how it occurred, and what it could teach me about the structure and its experience.




    First, I tried sewing the model all along, following the lines of an educated guess; but when I tried to mimic the tears and loose sections it became apparent that a different method had been employed. With trial and error, I was able to recreate the original sewing, finding explanations for most of its defects. 63ccc9a06a929a62b6b10d50ccd94c64Once the book was rebound between new covers, its original functionality was restored, but it no longer told the story of its physical experience. Its history, however, is preserved in the form of photos, its treatment report, and of course, its model.

    During the repair of a large book of tracts, disbinding was not a prudent option. I was faced once again, with a structure that was unfamiliar to me, and I found this made it difficult to decide upon a sympathetic treatment plan. The front board had come off, the paste down was lifting, and the spine piece was missing. The parchment slips were split at the point of hinging; half remained sewn along the spine, while the other half stuck out from between the board edge.682c0e41048c34ae90a4e7bd90304b2b

    I was curious about the end papers and the board attachment. Remembering the advice Jana had given me, I made a replica of the cover, end sheets, and the first sewn section.




    I spent all day trying to make sense of its many layers, and to discern where the attachment’s strengths and weaknesses were. By the end of the repair, I had not only reattached the board and reinforced its weak points, but I had learned a new type of binding as well.

    In an interview posted by the American Museum of Natural History, Ichthyologist Scott Schaefer addresses the need to preserve the physicality of specimens:

    Q: With a growing jurisdiction, since collections increase every year. Why is it still important to bring back physical specimens?

    A:  “Because they often represent the only tangible snapshot we have of life on Earth. You might say, “You can sample the genome of a specimen. You can take a photograph of a specimen, won’t that be sufficient?”

    Well, the answer is no. It might be adequate. Those might be excellent photographs. That might be one kind of representation, if you talk about a genome sequence, for example. But it isn’t necessarily sufficient to answer all the types of questions that could potentially be asked about that biodiversity at that place and at that time…”

    [Read the entire interview here]

    Having information on a specimen will never be the same as having the specimen on hand. In order to get to all the nuances that Schaefer describes, to fully represent the snapshot of our bibliographic experience, it is necessary to have books, and to have original bindings. BUT as we conservators know, sometimes a book crumbles just by looking at it, and so we must compromise some originality for the sake of prosperity. When a book has aged beyond use, it is, I believe, best to gather as much information about it as possible, providing the greatest insight with the least amount of damage. And while I would prefer to be able to casually flip through everything in Special Collections, I won’t be the one to turn the stacks into a pile of red rot.

    Original is best, (but I think Schafaer might agree) that when pressed, a clone comes in at a close second.

  3. Guild of Book Workers – Standards of Excellence Seminar // Las Vegas 2014

    October 28, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    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.

    Standards4-ErinFletcher Standards5-ErinFletcher

    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.

  • My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
    The StudioNewsletterInstagramEmail me
  • Archives