Stanford Libraries’ exhibition celebrates the art of hand bookbinding

Kindle and the era of the e-book have not entirely displaced the fine craftsmanship of the bookbinders’ art.  A current exhibition at Stanford Libraries proves it with elegant bindings that are traditional and avant-garde, featuring overlays and cut-outs, Japanese calligraphy and pages that open into a circle.

The exhibition fêtes the Hand Bookbinders of California 40th birthday. The event, which is free and open to the public, will continue through Wednesday, Sept. 5, in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda of the Green Library. Contemporary bindings by the organization’s members are augmented with historical fine design bindings from the Libraries’ Special Collections.

Bindings by PAUL BONET and PIERRE LUCIEN MARTIN represent the strong French influence on the work of Bay Area teachers of binding, many of whom studied in France.

For example, Bonet’s rendering of PAUL VALÉRY’s Le Serpent, from the Stanford Libraries, has elaborate red and white onlays on black goatskin. His designs have inspired generations of French and French-trained bookbinders.

Also on display is work by some of the organization’s early members and teachers, including BELLE MCMURTRY YOUNG, PETER FAHEY, FLORENCE WALTER, BETTY LOU CHAIKA, DONALD GLAISTER, JOANNE SONNICHSEN, BARBARA FALLON HILLER and ELEANORE RAMSEY.

Well-known Berkeley bookbinder TOM CONROY’s rendering of Donn Byrne’s Destiny Bay exemplifies the finest of traditional binding styles, with blind and gold tooling on scarlet goatskin and hand-sewn silk endbands.

Donn Byrne’s "Destiny Bay," binding by Tom Conroy

Conroy and fellow binder and toolmaker PEGGY DE MOUTHE have also offered some of the tools of their painstaking labor for the exhibition: gilding tools, band nippers, polishing irons, a French leather-paring knife and other tools of buffalo horn, bone and even Teflon, one with a toothy opossum-jaw handle.

The Hand Bookbinders of California is devoted to promoting and supporting the craft of traditional Western hand bookbinding. The founding group included some of the Bay Area’s most influential collectors, among them DUNCAN OLMSTED and GALE HERRICK, and many binders and teachers of binding, such as STELLA PATRI and LEAH WOLLENBERG. It continues as a robust, active group with membership open to anyone with a passion for the craft.

The exhibition moves to Mills College this fall.

The Peterson Gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open; hours vary with the academic schedule. To confirm library hours, call (650) 723-0931 or go to the Libraries website. First-time visitors and those without Stanford ID must register at the entrance to Green Library before entering the building.

— BY CYNTHIA HAVEN, Stanford University Libraries