11 September 2018
‘Beautiful’, ‘impeccable’, ‘fantastic’, ‘wonderful’, ‘complex’, ‘superb’, ‘energetic’; a bookbinding by Sol Rébora
Sol Rébora, image taken from her website
The terms quoted in the title are just some of the words used to describe the bindings of Sol Rébora. The British Library Latin American Collections and Printed Heritage Collections jointly purchased an example of the work of this outstanding Argentinian multi prize-winning bookbinder on a copy of The Noble Knight Paris & the Fair Vienne (California: The Allen Press, 1956). The binding was a prize winner at the Designer Bookbinders Third International Competition 2017. The opportunity to briefly review the progress of the craft in that country with reference to Sol’s career is too good to miss!
Upper and lower cover and spine of C.188.b.124, The Noble Knight Paris. The image is courtesy of Sol Rébora.
Sol began to work with bindings at the age of 17 and learned basic techniques at secondary school in Buenos Aries. After graduation, Sol was fortunate to find Juan Gulin, at 83, was one of the few teachers of bindings in Argentina. Despite there being an association of binders, EARA, (founded in 1989) and the Bibliophiles Society of Argentina, who encouraged collectors, there was no active interest in design bindings. For Sol, the solution was to reach out to practitioners abroad to expand her knowledge. She drew from a rich source of know-how and encouragement provided by some of the finest contemporary binders in Canada, the USA, Switzerland and France, including Monique Lallier, Deborah Evetts, Sun Everard, Louise Genest and Betsy Eldridge.
Practical work at the bench is not enough to create a successful bookbinder. Sol’s belief is that whatever the support given by generous colleagues ‘you have to build your own university… it is not only knowing diverse bookbinding techniques… Learn from different teachers and then take the things you like and find your own way to work with books.’
In 2001, Sol had to do just that due to an economic crisis in Argentina. For several years, she could no longer afford to enrol on courses abroad so she established her own business in Buenos Aires and used what she had learned. Thankfully Sol was later able to resume her travels and visited South American as well as American and European binders. Her studio is now on a firm footing but Sol continues to learn and to teach both traditional and non-conventional binding techniques.
There are now several workshops which are flourishing in Argentina. Some binders have been taught by Sol herself, including Florencia Goldztein, Valentina Villela, Sofia Mendizabal and Magdalena Gasquet. Not only do Sol (and her fellow binders) teach students from all over Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico, they also invite established binders (notably Pascale Thérond, Kathy Abbot and Helene Jolis) to pass on their knowledge. Furthermore, there is an official channel by which the craft is taught, the Diploma Programme in Bookbinding at the National Library in Buenos Aires. It is certainly over-subscribed. Last year there were 800 applications for 30 places!
It is not only the challenge of creation that inspires Sol. Her interest in the history of her craft is shown by the recent publication of a short article ‘Bookbinding in Argentina’ in the Designer Bookbinders newsletter. Another concern is restoration. This has resulted in her development of new methods to preserve book structures. Such innovation is demonstrated in the British Library’s recently-acquired binding on The Noble Knight Paris.
Note the series of ‘reversed stubs’ projecting from the head band and head cap in the image below. Sol devised this method to ensure the easy opening of the book enabling the pages to lie flat.
It is not possible to do justice to a binding through a description or an image. A binding is three dimensional and you must be able to hold it in your hands. This is particularly true of Sol’s work. The contrasting feel of the grain of the grey goatskin and of the cut away strips (comprising Japanese paper painted with acrylic) become obvious as you handle the book. Shape is also important. The inspiration for the decoration derives from the clothes in the illustrations, and the typography of the lettering.
Enlargement of goatskin cover incorporating pink and green painted strips.
The pink and green, the spine lettering (achieved via the partial application of pink foil) and the headbands reflect the tones used in the hand coloured woodcuts of the text. This repetition leads to a calm and harmonious progression from cover to text to cover. The grey reflects the stone used in French chateaux (a reference to the text).
Sol does not neglect the intellectual underpinning which precedes the creation of a design binding. She has laid out her vision; “I think the openness and the preservation are the most important points in the construction process of a contemporary design binding, together with “good techniques and aesthetic criteria”…The design and the aesthetics or the artistic expression of the binding should be integrated to create one piece with intellectual and sensory reading from the outside. Finally, I would say the construction techniques of the structure, along with the design of the cover and applied materials, play together to achieve this.”
The thinking process is of obvious significance to Sol, however it is important not to overlook the emotional response. With the bindings of Sol Rébora, this is usually a smile!
- J. M. Marks
Printed Heritage Collections
 Pamela Train Leutz, The Thread That Binds, (New Castle, 2010), p. 136.
 No. 181. Spring, 2018. Notice. 4.