The Ese’ Eja People of the Amazon


Daguerrotype image © Andrew Bale


I’ve just finished making several clamshell cases for Professor Andrew Bale at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.


Each of the cases holds a framed Daguerrotype in the base and a small portfolio of platinum-palladium prints on Japanese Kozo paper (both made by Andy Bale) on top. The images are of the Ese’ Eja Nation, an indigenous people living in the Amazonian region of Peru.


Andrew Bale journeyed to Peru’s remote jungles to capture images for a National Geographic-funded project to map the Ese’Eja’s culture.


The project, staffed by videographers, photographers, anthropologists and botanists, aims to enable Ese’Eja society to reclaim ancestral lands from the Peruvian government. That achievement would allow a people that derives so much of its economy and spirituality from the forest to sustain their livelihood into the future.


Bale’s portraits of daily life, handmade objects and individuals will be featured in an upcoming book sponsored by National Geographic’s Genographic Legacy Fund. Sales of the book support initiatives for better access to health care, education and legal grappling to secure the Ese’Eja’s ancestral lands.


— Dickinson College, Capturing Culture.


More Equipment


Earlier in the year I bit the bullet and bought a Kwikprint hot foil stamping machine. This is used to foil stamp or blind deboss the names and titles onto books, portfolios and cases, pencils, matchbooks and napkins. Although I’d like to draw the line at cases.

You can buy fonts that are type-high and able to take the heat, but those can be quite expensive, as the best are made of brass. Alternatively, you can have magnesium dies made, as I have. With this method you’re not restricted in your choice of fonts and can use any typeface, glyph or logo and besides, magnesium sounds cooler than brass.

It’s a way off yet, but come Christmastime, I expect you’ll all be getting pencils with your names stamped on them.


Working with Enrico Giannini in Florence

“What is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


The White Rabbit and Alice at Prof. Agostino Dessi’s.


I’ve just got back from a 12 day trip to Florence, where I had the unique opportunity of working with bookbinder, restorer and artist Enrico Giannini, thanks to Cy DeCosse. Cy and Enrico met back in the 1950s when Cy was studying in Florence on a Fulbright scholarship, and the two have remained friends since.


Enrico’s the fifth generation of a family that has bound books for all the Popes, most Heads of State and royalty since his great-great-grandfather established the business opposite the Pitti Palace in the mid 1800s. His daughter Maria is the sixth generation running the shop, leaving Enrico to now concentrate on teaching and passing on his considerable wealth of knowledge to others.


The past year of working at MCBA meant I had a good grounding in the basics of bookbinding, so this trip was all about picking up tips, tricks and techniques from a master craftsman. During the two weeks we casebound a couple of books, sewing the signatures onto ribbons and finishing the covers with book cloth and marbled endpapers. We worked at marbling paper and paring leather, discussed the differences between various leathers and tanning, and covered embossing and gold tooling with both leaf and foil. We made slipcases and portfolio boxes, and bound two photo albums for a client. And, of course, there were plenty of examples of restoration that he has undertaken and those that he’s preparing to work on.


In the gaps, we ate well.


What I found most encouraging was that he isn’t necessarily committed to doing things the traditional way. If there’s a modern material or technique available that makes life easier, then he uses it. He also explained the reasons and the science behind using a particular adhesive or paper or material and, like platinum printing, most if it has to do with humidity and moisture content.


As an aside, Enrico’s studio is small, really small. He also has a wicked sense of humor. By his own admission he’s an XXL artist in an XXS studio, and when a street vendor came around peddling cheap items, which happened regularly, he countered by trying to sell her his books and boxes, much to her frustration and our amusement.


I also got to spend some amazing time with a couple of Cy’s other friends and their families. A day out in the country at painter Mario Fallani‘s villa, in the Tuscan countryside mid-way between Florence and Siena, and a memorable last evening at the home of mask maker Prof. Agostino Dessi.


Grazie mille, Enrico e Cy!


Paring leather




Burnishing the leather on a half-bound book




Hand illustrated upper case letters from a book published by the Giannini family in the 1800s


Marbling paper




Enrico and his studio


A pen and ink drawing dated from the 1500s, found after separating glued papers during a restoration project


Lunch in the Tuscan countryside


Bistecca alla Fiorentina, cooked on an open fire in the kitchen of Prof. Agostino Dessi

Drop Spine Boxes at MCBA

I spent last Thursday and Friday at MCBA in a workshop with seven others making rounded drop-spine boxes with Jana Pullman. It was a good group of people and I had the privilege of having as a ‘paste partner’ Karen Hanmer, a book artist from Chicago who does some amazing work and who’s no stranger to MCBA.

Fortunately, after two full days, I was really happy with the way mine turned out, but I think the next workshop I take will have to be on paring leather. The box measures approximately 8.5″ x 6.5″ x 1.5″.


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