Saturday, March 23, 2013

Babar and the The Rose family Seder

The news that Punxatawney Phil may be indicted on charges of making false proclamations came as no surprise to anyone braced by the bitter cold these past few days,  but Spring is here so the reliably predictable Gregorian calendar tells us.

As recent developments in the Vatican have shown, nothing is immune from fallibility, not even the gregorian calendar, and not everyone tears the days away in the same manner either.

The Assyrians, whilst having 12 months, and a lunar calendar will be celebrating the coming of the year 6763. The Persians a solar calendar, based on observable equinox's rather than set dates will be celebrating the year 1392. In the year of the Snake many east asian people use a calendar that is both lunar and solar, and im sure we were all relieved when the mayan long count calendar did not lead us all inexorably to oblivion as many had predicted.

So what then of the Jewish people. Well unlike many others in the middle-east celebrating new years, many Jews will be preparing to celebrate the Passover festival, culminating in a scene depicted opposite by Laurent de Brunhoff, who carried on his father's work, creating and illustrating the world of "Babar" the little elephant.
For the last 50-60 years the Rose family of New York has created or commissioned artists to illustrate several pages in a guest sign-in book for those attending the family's Seder, or passover meal. Over the decades the artist illustrations and sign-in sheets have been collated into volumes of permanent bindings, which are housed in the Dorot division of the NewYork Public Library. Which is where the bookbinder comes in.

I was first tasked with recreating the temporary binding produced by the previous bookbinder which had served well as a tough, decade-long interim binding. The large folios were sewn around a folded carton made up of a sandwich of card between airplane linen, which acts as a kind of non-adhesive spring-back when dry, and provides a tough but flexible core for the text block, allowing for a perfectly flat opening, whilst maintaining as evident from the previous binding a great deal of strength. The opening needs to be unrestricted to allow the artists to work unencumbered, and it also needs to be a strong binding due to its size and use, but without using adhesive so the volume can be taken apart and bound in a more permanent fashion.

The binding was housed in 1/4 leather case binding, with an open joint of course for ease of opening and as there was no need for joints on the text block. The spine of the book was not glued-in to the case also so as not to restrict the opening, making it even more imperative for a stronger  sewn core.

Only having time for a slipcase, and naturally concerned about possible sag of the text block and the strain this would put on the core flanges and ends both glued down onto the boards not to mention the weight of paper,  and also aesetically to its loss of shape which seems entirely expected over a decade of use, I made sure to include fabric coated pads on the horizontal planes of the walls, and a round bar at the back.(the horizontal ones had to be left unglued at the opening end in order to turn the skin underneath.) Of course it will be stored flat, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

 Because of the sheer size and weight of the volume, getting it out of the case could prove problematic, so aswell as the edges rounded to protect the caps, and bevelled to a pleasing finish, I decided to make my cut away quite large, and because it is a rather gradual or flat gradient or curve, it was very easy to turn in too. I detest using ribbons and avoid them when I can. A piece of bristol board the width of the leather was glued along the opening following the curve, so that the leather made a nice recess for the thickness of the substantial and tough buckram used to cover the rest.

The temporary binding was then finished with a favourite decorative roll in french pale leaf, and a label stamped in leaf and glued into a recess.

 As you can see it opens flat, which im sure all the artists will appreciate, and it holds........

Laurent de Brunhoffs watercolours of the story of the exodus, and Babar's family and friends sitting at seder are stunning, and I cant wait to get the chance to see it filled in 10 years time and put it in a permanent binding.

You can read more about the History and importance of the Rose family Seder book in a 2005 article written on PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly 

My great thanks to both Joanna Rose and barbara for including me in this project. Barbara Wolff is a supremely talented calligrapher, and I look forward to binding the permanent binding for the NYPL in a couple of weeks, which includes some of her fabulous illuminations.

Barbara has for some years now been working on a hand illuminated Haggadah on vellum and I am including a link to the video which explains her process.

You can see more of Barbara's fantastic work here

happy - new year, Norooz, Passover , Easter everybody