Communion Of Dreams

December 4, 2009, 6:52 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, General Musings

Age brings not just experience, but depth. That was a lesson I learned as a young man, from a book which was written long before I was born.

* * * * * * *

This morning a friend sent me a link to a blog post nearly a year old. It contained these images:

And this wonderful sentiment:

Stain is a unique tea cup created by Bethan Laura Wood, a designer from the UK. At first, the cup looks like any other cup, but the natural staining that comes from using the cup reveals a hidden pattern.

* * *

Bethan writes: “This project examines the assumption that use is damaging to a product (For example, scratches on an iPod).”

* * * * * * *

A month or so ago, I got a call from a student at the local university. He had a class project he was working on, and was hoping that I would be able to help him out with some basic bookbinding questions.

Hey, we all have to start somewhere. And he asked nicely. I invited him over.

He came in, introductions were made. A non-traditional student, he was an already accomplished artist/artisan in his own right, and we spent a bit of time sorting out who we knew in common and the local art scene.

Then we went back into my bindery. Discussed his project, and options for how to execute it. I showed him some models of similar projects, introduced him to some basic techniques he’d need to do what he wanted, loaned him some tools. He quickly understood my instruction, and grasped the essentials of what he needed. It’s nice to work with another person who respects craftsmanship.

* * * * * * *

A good friend dropped me a note, said that he and his family had decided to honor his father with a headstone made of bronze rather than stone. Potential vandalism was an issue, so they wanted something which would hold up better. It would cost more than the traditional stone, though.

My response: “I would guess. But bronze does develop a nice patina naturally.”

* * * * * * *

The student called a week ago. His project was done, and he wanted to drop by and show me what he had done, and return my loaned items.

He came over, we went back into my shop. He took out his model, and his finished project. Explained the different problems which he had encountered, how he had resolved them. It was all very well done.

I could tell he’d had a taste of the craft, one which might linger. We discussed his project, and then I explained how one aspect of it was well done, but wouldn’t translate to an adhesive binding due to one materials effect he didn’t have to consider with a non-adhesive binding (paper grain, if you must know). It hit him as a revelation, a glimpse into a much larger world of technique that he didn’t even know existed. And like a true craftsman, he was both intrigued, and respectful of his ignorance of this particular set of knowledge.

But it was time to leave. He returned the model I had loaned him, and pulled out the little bone folder I had given him.

“This thing is great! I’ll have to get one.”

“Keep it.”

“Sorry? No, seriously, . . . ”

“Keep it. I have several extras. They’re worth about three bucks. That one I’ve used, so it’ll have some of that additional history.”

“Wow . . .”

* * * * * * *

Age brings not just experience, but depth. That was a lesson I learned as a young man, from a book which was written long before I was born.

About fifteen years ago, I touched on this:

This isn’t a respect borne of fear for their sharpness. It is something more . . . something that is almost spiritual. When you use a tool, it tends to take on the shaping of the use, and of the user. It will conform to your hand, wear in such a way that it actually becomes more suited to the task, until in some ways it is easier to use the tool correctly than to use it incorrectly.

I think that this is why old tools, well made and well loved tools, are so valuable. When you take them to hand, you can feel the right way to use them. Some of the time that went into shaping that tool, training it for use, can be shared from one craftsman to the next. So long as the tool is loved, cared for, and properly used, it continues to accumulate knowledge, storing the wisdom of the hands.

Much of my life is predicated on this idea. When someone brings me an antique book for conservation work, I don’t see the notes and scrawls, the fingerprints and food stains, as something to be eradicated: they are part and parcel of the history of that book. They are scars, a record, a trace of the hands which have handled it, the lives which have loved it. We all carry our own scars, our own patina, and as long as we respect it, respect ourselves, for the record of our accomplishments, they give our age dignity. And depth.

Jim Downey

2 Comments so far
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Nicely done.

Comment by Sarah Catlin

[…] As I noted on Facebook this morning when I linked to that blog post, often old books are beautiful entirely because of their age and use. Sometimes clients are surprised when I tell them to just leave the damned thing alone and enjoy it.  There’s no need to rob a book of the character which it has developed through centuries of sharing life with humans. I’ve touched on this before: […]

Pingback by The beauty of the old. | Communion Of Dreams

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