Album Alternatives, a class taught in the first PBI 2012 session by bookbinding legend Betsy Palmer Eldridge, was an introduction to a variety of methods for attaching stuff to pages. Each participant ended up with a “sampler album” that included two different cover types and a dozen different attachment structures, ranging from simple to demonic (at least for me!). In addition, Betsy taught some further binding styles, including the amazing Flexible Chain Back Binding!
In the sampler, we began with simple direct attachment with adhesive but quickly moved on to various historical methods, some now seldom used but still pertinent – in fact invaluable! – for handling certain kinds of objects that a person making artist books might want to incorporate into a work. Several of the most interesting structures are based on mid-19th century albums that held cartes de visites and albumen silver print photographs. These structures involve attachments with double and triple pages and slot-entry points for inserting the object. We were able to handle historical examples of these bindings and admire the decorative elements they exhibited as well as the structure itself.
Betsy’s hands near her teaching drawing and a Victorian photo album:
Any method of attaching additional paper material to book pages requires attention to the issue of compensating at the spine for the extra width of the inserted material. Another matter is the frequent need to accommodate an object that is larger than the page it is attached to. One particularly appealing series of structures were those that allow a spread holding an image to open across the fold without losing part of the image in the gutter. Betsy called this the “Polar Bear” structure – mostly because her model contained several images of polar bears cut from a calendar! This structure was especially interesting to me because of its potential use in accordion format artist books that involve cut text and image. Now I know how to make the image larger than the page.
The Polar Bear Structure:
The most engaging structure of all was the Flexible Chain Back Album, patented in 1865 by William W. Harding in Pennsylvania. It is a variant of the stiff leaf binding, and everyone at PBI received a copy of its history and the instructions for making it in their PBI Folder. Even though it has almost been lost, Betsy is anxious to see it reintroduced and I certainly hope other people will try making it. It is a great structure that allows pages to open flat and is very durable. In fact, in Betsy’s examples, the spine structure had survived the rest of the binding altogether
A demonstration of the Chain Back Binding:
By far the most wonderful aspect of this session was just the chance to be taught by a person with such a breadth of experience and knowledge. It seemed as if every couple of minutes I had to stop what I was doing and write down another one of the invaluable insights that Betsy was tossing off in her casual way. (I think I’ll claim that is what accounts for how late I was finishing up all the models!) Besides all the information about specific structures, we were treated to better ways of tying knots, better ways to remove adhesives, and better ways to smooth and soften paper by using the Japanese beading technique. As my journal notes say: “Beading is amazing! The shoemaker’s knot is amazing! Betsy is amazing!”
Having studied in Germany and France, and knowledgeable about binding traditions from around the world, Betsy Eldridge is a living encyclopedia of conservation techniques and book history. It was a special privilege for me, only a recent entrant into the world of the “book as object,” to meet and learn from her. And to add to my sense of good fortune, Hedi Kyle was a participant in my session as well. The opportunity to hear their discussions and debates over the history or advantages of one structure or another really underscored for me the great sense of being another small link in the great long chain that connects bookmakers, binders, and conservators throughout history. It is one of the great gifts of PBI to make such moments possible.
Julie Chen, Maria Fredericks and Betsy Eldridge at the Album Alternatives table at Show and Tell:
There are a couple more photos of the albums made in this class in my Flickr pool.