In early November over 70 bookbinders from all over Australia came together for the first time in 27 years. The first conference was held in Canberra, and this one was too, thanks to the remarkable energy of Joy and John Tonkin along with a subcommittee of the Canberra Guild.
We weren’t all professional binders; I consider myself a complete amateur as far as fine binding goes, but I’m pretty good with alternative bindings. Some people were complete but very interested beginners, others were professional conservators or librarians or just plain interested. A lot of people *were* professional binders, and it was good to just sit behind my trade table in the breaks and listen to the conversations happening around me.
There was a woman from NZ in the ranks, and the rather fabulous Jim Canary came all the way from his Lilly Library in Indiana, US of A.
It was an action-packed weekend, but not as exhausting as something like Impact 7. The organisers ran a tight ship, dividing the mob into four sub-mobs so that we could all attend all of the demonstrations:
1. tool making with Jim Canary, who showed us that we don’t need fancy equipment to make finishing tools, and (most importantly), we don’t need fancy finishing tools to make amazing designs;
2. leather inlays and onlays,with German fine binder Barbara Schmelzer;
3. sewing headbands with Fabienne Nicolaj, who helped us through both the French and Dutch sewing techniques;
and 4. edge decorating with Joy Tonkin, who shows us lots of interesting ways to decorate a fore-edge, from graphite ‘gilding’ to paste combing. Here she is embossing into the graphite with a (cold) finishing tool.
My contribution to the event was also about fore-edge decoration, but while Joy was talking about decorating the surface, I was talking about hidden fore-edge paintings, like the contemporary ones done here and here. I’ve never done a fore-edge painting, but Donald Kerr (my host during my Dunedin residency) showed me a couple of beauties from his collection and Joy asked me to share my joy, so to speak.
I also had a trade table, selling my books in sheets for other binders to play with, and I was alongside all sorts of traders: Pepe, from Pepe’s Paperie, who is transforming his Phillip store into a serious supplier of binding materials; people selling leather, and paper, and type ornaments for gold tooling. I bought a stack of gorgeous Tibetan papers from Jim Canary, who has been going to Tibet annually to help their papermaking industry.
I learned so much over the weekend, about a whole lot of things: how to work with unbacked cloth instead of bookcloth, about the incredible collection over at the Lilly Library (including a huge miniature book section), about how medieval Irish monks worked in their scriptoriums, about titling in fine bindings, and there was lots of discussion about the need to keep teaching and training to keep bookbinding alive.
One thing that had me rivetted and then thinking hard was Rosemary Jeffers-Palmer’s report-back on the Society of Bookbinders Conference in the UK. They have an annual members’ exhibition, and while there are the usual categories: best fine binding, best alternate binding, etc, they now have a new category: THE COMPLETE BOOK. By this, they mean artists’ books. Complete, because every part of the book works together to make a whole; the binding and the contents cannot be separated. I fell in love with the thought of that description, the complete book. It’s such an inclusive phrase, and wonderful if you think that most traditional binders don’t have a lot of respect for artists’ books. This is a very good way to improve that relationship.
We had a bit of socialising too: there was a cocktail cruise on Lake Burley Griffin followed by dinner at the Yacht Club, and on the final night we had a BBQ at the house of a Canberra Guild member.
As part of the conference fee, the Tonkins are producing the proceedings of the conference as bindable sheets, so we’ll all have fun making our own personalised souvenirs of the weekend.
If you would like to see more photos from The Gathering (which isn’t a scary cult name, as some of my friends joked; it’s the term used for when you bring together all the signatures of a book to sew together), there’s some at my flickr page.
It all went so well that another guild felt brave enough to put themselves forward to host another gathering — in two years time, in Melbourne. We in Canberra are very hopeful that this will eventuate, because we know that there are many more binders out there, and Melbourne is such a booky city. Bring it on!