November 24, 2009

My Experience at the American Academy of Bookbinding

Sophia Siobhan Wolohan Bogle
Ashland, Oregon

~A Diploma in Book Conservation~
(The lesson on clamshell boxes will resume in the next newsletter.)

I just returned from San Francisco where I attended the Guild of Book Workers’ Standards conference. While I was there I presented the work required of me for the Diploma in Book Conservation from the American Academy of Bookbinding (AAB). The work was presented to a jury of three of the top conservators in the field: Betsy Palmer-Eldridge (She just received the lifetime achievement award from the GBW), Frank Mowry, from the Folger Shakespeare Library and Bill Minter, from Johns Hopkins University. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to have my work looked at by such a prestigious panel and to get feedback from them. The experience was worth every penny I spent on the classes at the AAB and more.

I started at the AAB in 2007 when I spent one month in Telluride taking two classes, Treatment of Text-blocks and Sewing then a Forwarding class. Both of these were taught by Don Etherington. Don is an absolute treasure trove of tips and tricks and no one should miss an opportunity to gather as many of them as possible.

I have to say though that a whole month away from home was a bit much. The classes were fabulous and I learned a lot but I think two weeks at once works out much better. For one thing you would have time to process the class, practice the techniques and get feedback with your homework before taking on the next thing. I was given the homework assignment to complete a new binding done on double raised cords in goatskin. The pages were washed and re-sewn as well. Here is a photo of before and then after.

My second year, 2008, I took Gold Finishing, again with Don. Unfortunately, Don had a bad reaction to the altitude and this would prove to be the last time he would teach in Telluride. Thank goodness this was a two week class. Everyone got to work on what they wanted to practice and I got what I needed which was lots of practice with gold leaf.

My third year, 2009, I took the Book Restoration class in Telluride with Brenda Parsons. She had worked with Don for 20 years and was the first graduate from the Book Conservation Program. I have to admit that I thought that with about 20 years of previous bookbinding and restoration experience that I could test out of this class. I am very glad that I did not test out. I learned a lot of techniques to compliment my previous studies and am now a much better Book Conservator for it. Brenda is an excellent teacher and is especially good at looking over what you have done and pointing out where it could be better (in a nice way). This was only a one week class and it seemed we barely got started before it was time to leave. I really liked having the weekend in between classes to catch up, explore Telluride and do more work for class.

The only class I did not take was the Box Making class since you are allowed to test out of it. I had learned how to make boxes a long time ago from David Weinstein. He taught me how to measure properly and what to look for and if you have that, you can make any box! (Hopefully I am passing some of that along in my clamshell lesson.)
The AAB has also added a new class to the program that is on basic binding structures and I didn’t take that class either although I am pretty sure I could have tested out of that one as well.

After finishing all my classes and my homework I started the work that would be presented to the jury for graduation. The list of requirements can seem a bit daunting at first and one would be wise to start working on it well before the graduation date. I told Judy from AAB that I wanted to graduate while I was at class this last spring and she said I would have to get everything done before September 1st so that Don could look over all my work before the Jury. He had to make sure that I was ready so that I wouldn’t show up to the jury and not graduate. Then I had one month to fix any mistakes before Standards in San Francisco. Really I should have had the work in earlier because one month isn’t a long enough time to send it back to Don for final inspection.

Here is the list of required projects for the jury.
One research Paper with an appropriate subject, 10 pages or so double spaced
One Page repaired with Japanese tissue
One Page repaired with Heat Set tissue
One Leather Re-back, One Book Cloth Restoration
One Japanese Tissue Hinge Repair on a leather book
One Book in Boards that has been re-sewn and the sewing and end-bands are left exposed
The Set Book: The Set Book is one volume from a set of books that they have purchased at the school. You must create a new full leather binding for the book and then make a half leather clamshell box for it.
(Photos below show leather re-back, before and after; the set book, its clamshell box and interior.)

Well, I passed and the jury said many wonderful things about my work and it is sad to think that I don’t have to go to Telluride anymore. Of course I could always try for that Fine Binding Diploma…

If anyone would like more information about the AAB I am happy to communicate through e-mail. Just write me at

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