Artful Books

Vern Wiering toolsWhenever I see something about books as objects, as opposed to books as reading material, I think of my friend Vernon Wiering. Vern is one of the most talented people I know: a masterful bookbinder, carpenter, and tailor. At a time when many people, including myself, spend an inordinate amount of time in the virtual world—for work and entertainment and communication—Vern has remained grounded in the physical world of tangible objects.

When Vern was in college, he had his own little cottage industry providing custom-made pants for all of his friends. I still consider the two pairs he made for me twenty years ago the best pants I’ve ever owned (though they stopped fitting me long ago). For his wedding Vern made his own suit, the bride’s dress, all of the groomsmen’s suits, and all of the bridesmaids’ dresses.

He gave up the tailoring gig a while ago, but he has replaced it with other crafts. A walk through Vern’s house is like a trip through a museum. The dining-room table, for example, is a gorgeous work of art that he built and carved with intricate floral designs on its legs. As I write this, Vern is installing a parquet floor in his garage out of wood that he has scavenged over the years.

Vern now works as an independent bookbinder, specializing in antiquarian book restoration for universities, museums, and private book collectors.

So when I read about the art of Brian Dettmer, I immediately thought of Vern. I was going to email him a link to Dettmer’s “altered books,” but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted others to see both of their work.

Dettmer - New Horizons World Guide

Dettmer selectively carves portions of pages to reveal astounding three-dimensional collages hidden within a book’s contents. You can see more of his art installation, Altered States (explorations in media modification), at the Aron Packer Gallery web site

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5 Responses to Artful Books

  1. vw says:

    Always nice to see oneself from the outside! We all get myopic at times. — The idea of living by ones hands didn’t really sink in and become a reality until recently. It was discouraged throughout my schooling in favor of superior brain work. Shop classes were for “burnouts”. Here’s a good article on the subject if you’re interested!

  2. Diane says:

    Hey – what is that top photograph of?

  3. Karl says:

    Hey Di,
    The top photo is showing some of Vern’s tools. Not sure what they’re for, exactly, but I’m hoping Vern will explain to us all.

  4. Vernon says:

    The tools are gilding tools used for the application of gold leaf to historical bindings. Those shown are old, and date back to the turn of the century (1900). A couple are newer. That’s a guess. Here’s how it’s done, say on a 18th Century style binding. The book is bound, with leather on the spine. The boards can be of marbled paper, or the binding can be full leather. Anyway, today all books published are “cased” where the case, or cover is manufactured and decorated, and then attached to the “text block” or pages. In the old days, the text block and the cover were built together, and then decorated. This is where the tools come in. First the leather is treated with a wheat paste wash, to fill in the pores so the gold has a smooth surface to stick to. Then the leather is rubbed with an egg white mixture or some other solution that acts as an adhesive. A thin film of oil is applied, say forehead oil if one is of an oily disposition, but I use Vaseline. Gold leaf is then applied to the areas needing decoration or lettering. (If there is no oil the gold just blows away.) At this point the tool, which has been heated, is impressed upon the gold and leather, and a design is produced. I use a wool rag and eraser to remove excess gold… Maybe more info than you wanted to know, but hard to keep it short when I’m talking books!

  5. Aunt Ginny says:

    Karl- You’ve done it again! I just stop by to take a peak and I wind up wandering the web for more time than I’d like to admit. Vern Wiering’s and Brian Dettmer’s websites are amazing. I googled Dettmer and was lost for a while in imagining how he created his work. I must, therefore, EXTIRPATE myself from this computer and face up to the FUGACITY of life! How’s that for a future ‘word of the day’?

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