Communion Of Dreams

Ya gotta have priorities.
October 22, 2010, 2:38 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, Health

So, in spite of the fears of some of my friends, I made it to Chicago and back.

Er, what’s that? Fears?

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve had some ongoing issues related to the pneumonia that had me so sick through all of August. Well, this past Tuesday I saw my doc, who poked and prodded, listened and queried. Then she told me she wanted me to get a CAT scan, since it would show more of what was going on than did the normal X-Ray I’d had the beginning of September. It was possible I had some leftover pneumonia, or a pocket of pleurisy, or possibly even a partial collapsed lung. I told her I would have to schedule the scan for Friday, since I was going to be gone the next two days.

“Where to?”

“Quick trip to Chicago.”

“Business or pleasure?”


“Well, enjoy it.”

Note – she did not tell me not to go. She did not tell me to change my plans because I was gonna die if I did such an insanely dangerous thing as drive to Chicago. She told me to enjoy the trip. Because I have been fighting whatever it is that I have going on for two months, and it is unlikely that just driving anywhere would be any worse for me than anything else I’ve done.

* * * * * * *

What pleasure so tempted me in Chicago?

Art. And an old friend.

Norma Rubovits, who studied under the same bookbinding mentor that I did (but 20 years earlier), was having a show of her bindings and her incredible marbled papers at the Newberry Library.

I first heard from Norma almost 20 years ago, when I was starting to make a name for myself with my own paper marbling. She dropped me a note, said that she heard I was making marbled paper vignettes. She said she wanted to buy some of my marbling – would I send her a selection, along with an invoice. At first I didn’t have a clue who this woman was, and I didn’t know whether to take her seriously. But after a few inquiries, I had some idea – and I sent her some of my work.

It was the start of a solid friendship. As I got to know her, I also came to understand what an incredible artist she was, working in both bookbinding and marbled paper. On one of my first trips to visit her, I got to see some of her work. She could do things in fine binding that I can still only dream of. And her marbled papers made me almost embarrassed to call myself a marbler.

See for yourself:

(More images of Norma’s show here.)

What that shows are twin marbled vignettes – two small, highly concentrated marbled ‘paintings’ called ebru. This sort of work was a specialty of Norma’s. That example is particularly fine because the two pieces had to be done quickly before the pigment would start to break down on the surface of the marbling tank – you can see this already starting to happen if you look closely at the lower image, where the center part is starting to develop small imperfections as the color bubble and concentrates. Altogether, she just had a matter of several minutes to place the multiple layers of pigment, then manipulate it into the form she wanted, then to transfer that to the paper. When I was really ‘in the zone’ while marbling, I could manage this feat with one image but I never even tried to do a pair like that.

* * * * * * *

We met Norma at the entrance to the Newberry. She graciously introduced us to her companion, a woman who serves as her care-giving assistant. Norma’s still getting around fine, and is as sharp mentally as anyone. But she is 92, and her balance isn’t what it used to be.

She escorted us into the exhibit, fussed to make sure we found the magnifying glasses you need to appreciate her most detailed work, and then had a seat to the side, popping up to point out specific works and tell us each one’s history. That we knew about the binding techniques involved, and most of the people in her stories, just added richness and encouraged her to go into greater detail than she would with the general public.

After, it was a nice long and relaxing lunch at Russian Tea Time – her favorite place to take company. Be sure to have the borscht.

* * * * * * *

My doc looked at me: “Where to?”

“Quick trip to Chicago.”

“Business or pleasure?”


“Well, enjoy it.”

“Thanks. Art exhibit of the work of an old friend. She’s 92 – and while she’s still doing quite well, you never know.”

My doctor nodded, and handed me the Rx for more painkillers, which I knew I would need to get me through the trip, at least overnight so I could maybe sleep.

Jim Downey

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