It’s Friday. The course has finished. I’ve said my goobyes, shaken the Prof’s hand and promptly got lost in the streets of London. After a small shopping trip to Shepherd’s Bookbinding supplies (or better known as Falkiners’), I made my way to Wyvern Bindery on Clerkenwell Rd.
It was a hot day, and I had to fit this visit into my schedule. Apparently this bindery made some of the books for the Harry Potter movies, although at the time I forgot to ask them if this was true.
The window was a mess;
I am so pleased to discover their small workshop. I had emailed from Australia to arrange a week end visit. This was not possible and I just chanced it.
Mark was with a customer as I walked in. I just stood there for a while, asked if I could just look, and plonked myself on a stool by the counter, taking it all in.
There is music playing and young people working. No stuffiness. Mark is a very engaging man who knows how to sell his product.
I don’t want to be in the way; from my seat I watch about 9 people go about their business. In this small space of controlled chaos, there is a box making chain line happening. To be frank, it’s a bit of an work and safety nightmare. There’s the public servant in me talking. But it’s such a happy place, I couldn’t see it working any other way.
Mark and I make small talk; he remembers my emails form Australia. He is a restorer – he wants a happy book. I understand by this that he likes to restore a book to its former glory. He shows me some examples and they are pretty good. Is it possible that the vibrancy of the studio shows up in their work?
Mark has a train to catch, so leaves me in Merlin’s capable hands. This 20 something young man’s workstation I can barely see, hidden behind a post, tiny bench in this crammed workshop, the conservation section. He has been working here 6 years, learning on the job.
They let me wander around. I meet a young French woman. Although she studied in France, jobs are scarce there and she had better luck in London.
At the tooling station a young japanese woman asks me if I know Hannah Brown. Of course, it’s a small world! I take photos; I like to see how other workers arrange their environment. I learned from my visits to binders in Buenos Aires that space certainly can be at a premium, and to make the most of it. The gold tooling station seems crammed, in a most efficient way, with tools of all kind.
Merlin seemed to be the only specialist; the other binders had studied either at Camberwell or West Dean. They were all rounders.
What do I really expect to learn by these visits? The British Library and in this private workshop, at the next two conservation labs in Oxford? The superficiality of these visits is not lost on me; I see what they let me see. I am a bookbinding tourist: if I were to work in these places for 6 months I would gain a better understanding of the lab dynamics. I really am just scratching the surface of things. At the end of the day people dynamics is what makes a place work. Your team needs good skills, good equipment and a good space from which to create and work. More than anything, these visits make me appreciate what I have back in Australia.