Amy Noorlander and Professor Pamela Barrios, HBLL Special Collections
The Chinese hold their craftspersons in high esteem, likewise they treated me as a student craftsperson with respect and honor. My guide in downtown Beijing, near Heping Gate, Li Meiqi took me to the private offices of conservationists at work restoring centuries old books. Although we did not speak each other’s language we communicated through our craft. These kind and skilled people demonstrated their methods of conservation and bookmaking with tireless patience and we laughed at misunderstandings and compared our different and similar practices. It was interesting to find how similar our craft is across East to West though our cultures and languages are so different.
The first thing I asked when I got to Beijing was where was the papermaking? When I finally made sense through an interpreter they told me no one makes handmade paper in Beijing, many towns outside of Beijing do, but no where in Beijing. So I decided to pursue Chinese Bookbinding solely. I noticed the little shops everywhere sold little paperbound books, mostly navy blue with white thread (see fig. 1). The next form of book I saw was an accordion style binding with thick wooden boards and beautiful Chinese cloth coverings (see fig. 2). These two forms were almost exclusively the only ones I saw with little or no variation across all of Beijing.
In the private offices of conservationists I watched demonstrations of sewing Chinese binding and rice paper repairs. I looked through and handled centuries old books and studied their form and compared them to more modern versions of the same design.
Upon my return to BYU I began constructing my own models of the books and cases I saw while in Beijing. I found the precision and tight fit satisfying. I backed the cloth I had bought in a store near Li Meiqi’s bookstore. I backed it using the same wheat paste I saw the Chinese conservationists using, the same that we use regularly here in the west. I used the paper I bought there too. As I worked my boss and head conservationist Mark Pollei took notice. Upon completion of the books and case I presented them to Pam Barrios and Mark Pollei. They were impressed with the skill and care I took with these pieces. (figures 3-6)