Tag Archives: boxes

High tea at Claridges with Hannah Brown, Design Bookbinder

Going to a course is all very well, but I wanted something more out of this trip than simply networking with people with whom I may or may not share interests. From the outset I was determined to meet other bookbinders. Many of the bookbinders I have met in Australia are of the older persuasion; there’s nothing wrong with that, and I know there are younger bookbinders in Australia. I just wanted to meet some young book artists, designers who worked in private practise.

I heard of Hannah Brown through an online article. She had won the 2008 Designer Bookbinders Competition.

I contacted Hannah via email and invited her to High Tea. She had told me that her studio would be in a state of flux by the time of my arrival; I’d never been to High Tea, and neither had she. So upon the advice of some expat friends I booked into Claridges Hotel for a treat and a talk.

I didn’t know what to wear; I wanted to look nice but not too formal; I wanted to be comfy.

I arrived early and was seated towards the back of the room. The service was friendly, but the decor left me a little….underwhelmed. I had expected chic elegance;  it was rather  gaudy for my taste, plush but lacking in finesse. Anyway…

Hannah and I at Claridges High Tea

Hannah arrived and after a few tentative minutes we got on like a house on fire. We talked about ourselves and from where we had come, creatively speaking.  Hannah had a degree in Three Dimensional Crafts, and had come to bookbinding through evening classes. I used to make small wooden boxes, and wanted to leave the saw dust behind and find a more malleable medium. I too went to a vocational course. While Hannah continued to more formal education at The Institute in London, I learned most of my skills on the job.

She had brought samples of her work: a current commission, a small box with inlay and a sampler box, as well as a project journal.

The sampler box was filled with maquettes of her big projects; smaller versions where she tried out her designs. Because I don’t do any binding of my own, it hadn’t occurred to me to do small samplers. In my box making days, any prototypes might have been made out of cardboard. Here Hannah had the whole design mapped out on a smaller card version. When she brought out her project journal I felt very privileged to get a glimpse into a working artist’s mind. As a woodworker I had a diary or journal into which I jotted down ideas to be played with later. Maybe dimensions, ideas for wood, eventualities. In my hand at high tea in Claridges I had the birth of a book’s design right to its completion. Talking with Hannah made me realise how much there still was for me to see, to experience, to do.

For over two hours we chatted over champagne, exquisite sandwiches, scones and cream and cakes, while the tea went cold.

It was simply a lovely experience; to meet with another binder and find out about them as artist and human being. I hope to meet Hannah again should I go back to the UK or should she visit Australia one of these days.

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Boxes: I gave up wood for paper

There is something delicious about small boxes. I became a woodworker because I wanted my father to teach me how to make chairs.

He and I shared a workshop, and he taught me a lot. He is a tool maker,  and made a lot of the machinery and jigs we used.

Those were great times, making frames and then discovering the joys of boxes. I love small things, small places in which you can hide stuff. I taught myself with books, my very first one being Andrew Crawford’s “Book of boxes”.

I have always had wild ideas about spaces; I like to find hidey holes, and crazy but useful shapes. After all, the boxes needed to be useful.  But I digress. As the years moved on, and I had a little shop of my own, my life changed, as life does, I found myself without a workshop, without inspiration.

A course was on offer at the local technical college. It was during the day, which suited me, and I met Neale Wootton, who has become a mentor to me over the years. I think upon those classes with fond memories; he had a great plan and dry sense of humour. He was a bit scary, in that very knowledgeable kind of way.

That course opened a magical door. It was very exciting to be able to make REAL books; books with cloth cases, not just sewn pamphlets. Since those early days I haven’t made as many books as I would have liked. I haven’t learnt many techniques either; as a bookbinder in a large institution, I now repair books.

However, I’ve just inherited the class at tech, and I will endeavour to instill in my students the inspiration that Neale instilled in me, and on the way I also hope to become a more imaginative binder.  And I still make boxes.

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