A page from "X, letter of danger, sex, and the unknown," handmade book by Laura Wait. Collographs and paste stencils were used to create shapes throughout the book. Multimedia painting on BFK rives paper using acrylic, paste, Akua color, ink on top of prints of woodcuts and text from "In the Garden." Layers of handwriting created using a ruling pen and traditional pointed pen.

Courtesy photo

A page from "X, letter of danger, sex, and the unknown," handmade book by Laura Wait. Collographs and paste stencils were used to create shapes throughout the book. Multimedia painting on BFK rives paper using acrylic, paste, Akua color, ink on top of prints of woodcuts and text from "In the Garden." Layers of handwriting created using a ruling pen and traditional pointed pen.

Wait: Old-fashioned bookmaking takes time

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Bookbinder Laura Wait uses materials from all over the world to make her art books.

Her handmade paper comes from Europe and Japan, and the leather she uses to make covers comes from England. The threads and chords for binding the books are shipped from Ireland, and the fabrics she uses to make protective boxes for the books are from Italy and Germany.

The craft of making books began in about the 8th century with wooden books made by the Romans.

"In the 19th century, the structure got worse, and the materials went downhill. Then people forgot how books got put together altogether," Wait said. "A lot of modern book art structure is based on medieval structure."

The art of making books came alive again in the 1970s and '80s along with quilting and woodworking. Artisans of these crafts often use the same tools.

"Bookbinders are tool freaks," Wait said. "There is not that many tools out there, and we are always looking for them."

The craft also involves a lot of upper body strength.

"There is a lot of hammering and lots of lifting," Wait said. "I've got good grippers."

Some books have taken Wait up to five years to complete with a year or two gestation period, she said. "It's done when it's done. I don't plan stuff very well."

No two books are the same, and only one of Wait's books has a real text.

"I think of words more as texture," she said. "I start with an idea and usually visualize things. Sometimes, I have words and go back and forth."

When printing her pages, she often has enough material for five books. Each book typically contains 30 to 40 pages, and some pages have six layers to them.

After 25 years of making art books, Wait recently has been spending more time painting. "Each page could take as long as it takes to do a painting," Wait said. "Just to bind a book sometimes takes 25 hours."

Wait's books typically end up in the hands of a private collector, the Library of Congress or an institution.

"Private collectors are really private. Sometimes, dealers won't tell you who they are because of competition and theft," she said. "I like it when they get into an institution because then I know people can see it."

Wait also teaches workshops across the country in the art of page design, painting and bookbinding. Although the craft is gaining popularity, it is still a rare and specialized art, and Wait is not interested in doing commission work.

"I'll make what I want," she said. "If somebody wants it : good, otherwise, too bad."

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