Enchantment comes in many forms but rarely when we expect it. So when I signed up for a two day course in making clam shell boxes at the Cat Tail Run Hand Bookbinding Studio in Winchester, Virginia, I anticipated a detailed workshop on the finer points of box-making. One box would have a curved spine, a more complicated structure.
Clam shell boxes, are boxes most often used to house rare, fragile, or valuable books, or loose papers. Each box is custom made and the parts of each box must be cut precisely by hand, and measured multiple times before cuts are made. Pasting is done by hand and at each stage of the structure, several things can go wrong. As often as not, your eye is the best guide.
We arrived for our two-day workshop on a warm October day. We walked on a small bridge over a Koi pond and entered a large, light-filled, high-ceilinged studio in the Virginia countryside. We listened to the music of Bach while a gentle breeze wafted through our space.
We worked in a space full of tools and books, handmade paper, and rolls of book cloth with a dedicated teacher who has restored General Sherman’s battle plans, books from George Washington’s Library, the White House, and Ford’s Theatre. Our activities were over-seen by Molly, the cat, and Bailey, the black lab.
We left the digital world behind and entered a world where things are done by hand and we could sit back and admire our work at each step of the way.
When I make a book, or a box to hold that book by hand, I feel a connection to communities from hundreds of years ago: To monks in monastery libraries who labored by candlelight; to book artisans in small shops along the Grand Canal in Venice; and to palace libraries that exist to this day. Yes, the materials have changed over hundreds of years, but the techniques are the same and many of the tools are similar. And isn’t that one definition of enchantment–to be part of a grand community of artists and artisans, going back hundreds of years?