Tag Archives: training

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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Apprenticeships: do we want them and do they still exist?

I have to perform this week: I am making two books for two experienced bookbinders. I need to be better than my best. But I feel like a beginner.

I was just saying to my students last night that I wished I could do an apprenticeship, a “stage” or internship with a bookbinder somewhere. However at just over 50 years old, who would want me?  I don’t mean it to sound bad; I am being realistic. It costs money to train someone.   I consider myself  an advanced beginner. Although I learned much of my skills at the bench, I have gotten to where I am by teaching myself, by reading, by attending the occasional workshop. I need more bookbinding hours under my belt.  And I am the sort of person who needs a teacher at hand. It’s not that I wish to be younger, it’s about having more time.  What I really need is constant teaching, mentoring.  Someone from whom I can get answers to questions. Someone who I can watch and from whom I can learn.

Apprenticeships can last from 4 to 15 years. At work, I see the young paper conservators join us with Masters degrees. Masters of what? Theory. Words. No hand skills. The organisation employs them, but really in their first few years, the institution is training them because they can’t even tear paper. Is it the same for doctors? Do they graduate with no surgical skills? Are they trained in hospitals, in ER wards? Do institutions place any importance on this sort of training? Is this sort of training as good as a piece of paper? I don’t know about where you are, but dare I say that we seem to place more value on a piece of paper than on hand skills and experience.

You need a piece of paper stating that you are a librarian or a historian or a bookbinder if you want to travel up the corporate ladder in Australia. That you only got 51% probably doesn’t matter; the piece of paper is still more important than 25 years experience. How depressing. I am confused. Why is hands on experience worth so little?

Somehow, with the eradication of formal courses at learning institutions and the closures of bookbinding businesses, the opportunity for both formal training and apprenticeships is diminishing. And yet there is plenty of interest out in the world, as seen on Pintrest, Instagram and other social media sites.

Many artists out there do their own binding; some better than others. Some artists get a bookbinder to produce a book for them. Some bookbinders bind sheets into books or rebind books. Some bookbinders might even bind their own works in rather unorthodox manners. Some bookbinders experiment with bindings.

I am not creative enough to produce the inside; I can write, but I need a designer to make it look beautiful. Some people can do both well. When it comes to covers I am still a fledgling. But that is the beauty of art or craft – the ongoing learning journey.

What brought me to write here is a Facebook post. It’s on a bit of a tangent, but it made me think about what makes a bookbinder? Presumably someone who binds pieces of paper together so that they can be transported or read.  Someone was told they were a book artist, not a bookbinder.

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If you go to FB you can probably find the many peoples who supported the binder who posted this. However when you look at the person’s work, you can understand why the critic said what he said. What I think he meant was that this person was an amateur without hands skills trying to be a professional. Is that what the critic meant by book artist? I dare say many people, book artists,  would be incensed by that statement.

What is the difference between a book artist and a bookbinder? Is there a class system within the bookbinding fraternity?

I don’t pretend to know the answer. My only point of reference is whether or not the work is well executed. When you look at the results of bookbinding competitions, the fine binders who exhibit are artists; they design and create on covers, like any fine painter. So are they not also book artists?

You can go to YouTube and find bookbinding lessons by well meaning people. I once saw a person use a toilet roll and PVA on leather to make a fake rounded spine with leather covering. I was cringing with embarrassment in my lounge room, but this guy was so happy to share his knowledge that I didn’t really know how to react. He was just trying to get people to bind, and he was enthusiastic, and from a distance the end product looked OK. As a binder I was shaking my head in disbelief that this sort of information is out there, ready to assail the unwary.

Bookbinding is a lifelong learning journey. One must strive to learn the basics well; to continuous improvement of one’s current skills and then to build up those skills. So i come back to the notion of apprenticeship and mentorships. It’s all a great big circle.

 

Any thoughts?

 

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