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On a bookbinding adventure in Pohnpei

I don’t “do” tourism very well; I can’t lie still on a beach for more than a few minutes. Four of us had decided earlier in the year to visit our friend on the Micronesian island of Pohnpei. As the time approach, I wondered how I would amuse myself for 2 whole weeks.

 

I can tell you now that I re filed over 10 000 photos of ornaments and initials. That took up a bit of time.

We knew that the island would be small, and that our movements would be limited. So when a colleague from work reported that there was a library on the island, it occurred to me that I might be able to teach bookbinding on my off-excursion days.

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I sent my CV and bookbinding workshop proposal to the Pohnpei Public Library (PPL), and with a bit of help from the Australian Consulate,  three morning workshops began to take shape. I had also visited their website and found that they had a wish list of books to complement their holdings. So the girls and I decided to bring a few kilos of Australian children’s and youth fiction with us.

I had hoped that teenagers or children might be involved, but I had not reckoned on how the island works. Let me say here that this blog is not so much about the bookbinding aspect as it is of  social ramifications of a visiting teacher might engender in a small community.

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This is Lester Ezekias, the director of the PPL. He contacted his local librarians group, the equivalent of ALIA in Australia,  in the hopes of creating interest. Even on the Friday before the start of the workshops, he was emailing people to gauge interest.

Things on the island work by word of mouth or social media. Therefore on the first day we had 6 people who didn’t know what to expect. IT was lucky that Lester had attended a previous book repair workshop as he had bone folders and a few bits and pieces that were to come in very handy.

I’d come prepared with electronic notes and a presentation, but not the correct hardware. On that first day we had to crowd around my laptop to view some power points. I had made up small shows about the various different exhibitions, of Pacific and Islander material, that I had chanced upon during the year. One was a visit to the Museum of New Caledonia, compact exhibition space, but full of interesting information and artifacts relating to Kanaka culture as well as Pacific cultures in general. Another was a glimpse at the Tapa exhibition at the National Library of Australia, where the conservators had cleverly used camouflaged magnets to hold up a long tapa cloth.

And of course, a power point on a very brief history of the book in images.

My friend Kath, we whom we were staying, saved the week by providing her laptop and hardware to connect to the big screen. And as we bound books and had morning tea, the shows ran on a loop. But enough of electronic things, let’s get back to the meat of things, learning bookbinding.

Waiting for students, and Kath and Lesley helping out on the first day

I introduced the students to the wonderful uses of the telephone book and the versatility of pamphlet sewing.

At the end of the first session everyone had a few small booklets.

Bush telegraph and the next session was full; librarians from public schools and the Micronesian community college turned up to learn how to make simple housing. Wallet, four flap folders, phase box, using material locally available.

 

By the third session we were overfull; but no matter I was happy to share my knowledge with those I hope would be sharing this , in turn, with their students.

On the third and final session we made sewn board bindings. Everyone happened to be skilled at sewing, even the men. What pleasure to see surprise and smiling faces at the end of the day, book in hand, students marvel at the immediacy of the result and at having gained an understanding about the construction of books.

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My friend Lesley H. had been my assistant throughout, and for a complete novice she was a great help to others.

I have to thanks Kath Grant for her invaluable insights, as well as for inviting us for a visit. Thanks also to Lester Ezequiel for his unfailling support and to his staff who were completely in the moment, in between answering phones, checking out books to patrons and helping with passport applications.

On our penultimate day the four of us trouped over to the library to donate Australian books we had brought with us.

img_9039I think that carrying 20 kilos of books was very worthwhile.

The whole experience was all about the people; how we interacted, how different cultural views can be, how adaptable humans can be.

Perhaps I hope to go back and teach again.

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New Zealand Book Symposium – Inside Outside

The Association of Book Crafts 2014 Symposium was like a breath of fresh air. The keynote speakers, Julie Chen, Dominic Riley and Michael Burke were funny, interesting and very approachable.

I was asked what I thought about the conference. Interesting was my initial reply. I don’t think that word does it justice. Symposiums of this calibre allow for ideas to be freely exchanged, explored and lack of funding bemoaned.

I gained great vigour of thinking when Lesley Kaiser showed us around her bindery at Auckland University of Technology. I was inspired by her enthusiasm for teaching paper engineering to her design students and that the University had a pretty well equipped bindery.  I could only wish for the same.

Lelsey KaiserHer design students certainly embraced all aspects of paper engineering and basic bookbinding to create wonderful artist books. We were able to see some on display in the foyer:

AUT student work 1

AUT student work 2

The conference proper included a variety of talks on book arts: about letterpress, about conservation, about career decisions. The trade tables were small, but there was a lot of letter press to be examined and bought, much more than at the previous two conferences I had attended.

Australian book artists formed quite a good contingent, and it was delightful to renew acquaintances, as well as meet new bodies.

I am still young in my bookbinding journey; the paper I gave on historical bindings in the National Australian Collection was very well received, and I got some excellent feedback, very useful for my next presentation this year.

Italian endbandsI was very excited to show images of all sorts of interesting historical binding techniques not usually seen by the public.

Comb lining of recycled materialComb linings, often made of recycled materials, are not visible if the book is intact.

Peter Whitehead’s talk on the history of stationery bindings proved to be a good introduction to my own, as we were both speaking on the same era of bookbinding, and he had also done Prof Pickwoad’s course 15 years ealier.

Michael Burke’s introduction to the Nag Hammadi codexes was fascinating and riveting. Discovery, murder and revenge make it all sound like some Agatha Christie plot. His images and explanation of the 13 codexes really made me want to take his workshop in Canberra. However I can’t do everything. Maybe next time.

We had morning teas, lunches and afternoon teas at which to talk, network, exchange ideas and opinions. The NSW Guild  is scheduled for the next gathering; however I don’t think we need to hurry to meet again. Maybe 2016 sounds good for a few more exciting speakers and amazing demos.

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A year of teaching

The end of the school year is looming; this week is my last class at CIT (Canberra Institute of Technology). I inherited a class of my very own at the beginning of the year. How lucky am I?

Neale had actually thrown me in the deep end last year when he suggested to the vocational course co-ordinator from tech that I could so some casual replacements. Neale, colleague and mentor, was my first teacher in 2006. I’m still a newbie myself and so it was with some trepidation that I did a few replacements for Sally, and when she decided to hang up her bonefolder, the college offered me the job.

My inheritance included messy cupboards full of half finished work from bygone students, some sad looking brushes and glue pots and a jumble of papers and book cloth. This space is shared with the screen printers, and more often than not there is ink left on the tables.

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Cleaned out cupboards

Every Thursday Bookcraft services experienced binders who come in to do their own projects and beginners who come bright eyed to discover how a book is made. It’s been going for years, and has more or less remained in the same format. Unfortunately we are now in separate rooms and the newcomers don’t get the benefit of watching the more experienced binders at work.

I’m new, keen and have a plan. Actually, it’s Neale’s plan; I basically devised an eight week course that mirrored what he taught me. I had found his teaching schedule useful and great because it took me slowly from the basics, like finding theIMG_0548 grain of cloth and paper to making a book of my very own, like a bought one.

In my first class I inherited 2 new students. I simply continued from where they had started; the next term I had a full class of 7 plus more return students. My class plans aimed to get the students to go home with a finished product at the end of every week. The tasks get progressively harder, building on skills learned the previous week.

I love teaching beginners; I love showing them basics ways of making a book, of sewing a few folios together and getting something worthwhile.

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Throughout the year I get a different bunch of students; I teach them a bunch of stuff from my plan; I hone down the teaching palaber until I find the correct words, the words that they will understand, that will make them do the task more easily. Teaching makes me better understand what I am doing.

Mostly I enjoy meeting new and different personalities. I try to remember their names; I think the more new people you meet, the easier it becomes. Bookbinding attracts a certain type of person: not so much fussy as patient and who pays attention to detail. Some people have more hand dexterity than others; some are more artistically inclined.

I’ve learned that I can’t push the students too fast; they will work at their own pace and the class plan seems to grow organically. IMG_0550

Alf waiting for his book

Historically bookbinding was a man’s trade. Now it seems this art is, in this country at least and in my classes, dominated by women. We’d like to have more men, I think it changes the dynamic. Ultimately though, the tasks at hand make us silent. There’ll be a brief flurry of conversation, and before concentration takes over once more. Cheese is de rigueur at teatime. Here we gather with the more experienced clan: Peter and Helen reminisce over the good old days with Neale, and I talk about the future. Over cheese and a cup of tea we find out how each of us came to binding, what makes us tick.

I have further plans for this course. I’d like to start a continuing class on another day, where I would have the occasional guest teacher showing them something wonderful. I would like to make an excursion to the Canberra Bookbinders Guild (who meet on Thursdays!). I don’t want to keep just teaching beginners because I know I will reach a saturation point; if I see that they are heading in a direction, that there is a better goal for them to achieve, then we will have more and better skilled bookbinders and the art won’t die. The powers that be just need to give me a classroom.

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