Book Magic at the Library


Book that has been  cut into the statue of David by Michaelangelo

San Francisco Public Library and The Hand Bookbinders of California celebrate 50 years of the art of fine bookbinding 

SAN FRANCISCO, September 6, 2022 – For many, the smell of the paper and glue, the feel of the page, the crack of the spine when you open it for the first time, make encounters with books feel romantic, nostalgic and, maybe even, a little bit magical. San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) partners with The Hand Bookbinders of California (HBC) to present a new exhibition entitled The Hand Bookbinders of California 50th Annual Members Exhibition (HBC50), a celebration of the art of fine bookbinding.  On view September 17 in the Main Library’s 6th floor Skylight Gallery, the books on display demonstrate a wide array of modern and traditional binding techniques and materials, including artists’ books, which have been miraculously transformed into sculptural works of art embodying the books’ stories.  

Librarian Samantha Cairo-Toby, who works in SFPL’s Book Arts & Special Collections department, explains why HBC50 is such a special exhibition: “When we look at the cover of a book it generally portrays something of the story, whether that's an image from the novel or a basic cover for a school textbook. These books try to mimic what is inside the book through the artistic expression of the cover and binding.”  

The exhibition features 17 hand bound representations of Lowlands Away by Adrian Henri. Lowlands Away is a poetry collection commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2001 and set to music by Richard Gordon-Smith. The unbound pages of Lowlands Away were sent to artists who bound the pages into visual representations of the book’s message. These pages tell the story of a man lost at sea, and the last message he sent to his wife—a message in a bottle that was retrieved and delivered to her. The art inspired by and using the pages of Lowlands Away highlight the ideas of loss, grief and other themes from the collection.  

But the Lowlands Away art represents only one aspect of the exhibition. HBC50 showcases the talent of HBC’s members, along with demonstrating the development of bookbinding techniques by showcasing historical and modern techniques. HBC50 takes patrons back in time by plunging them into the world of hand bookbinding. Library patrons can look forward to seeing art such as David’s Ankles, an accordion book by Bridget Mcgraw cut in the shape of Michelangelo’s David statue; Catch of the Day, a fishy flag book by Bettina Pauly that consists of 42 hand-cut fish preserved in a sardine tin and Physica – Reptiles by Alicia Bailey, one of a series of nine artists' books, each focusing on one of the sections in the Hildegard von Bingen's Physica and each featuring an oil painting of a reptile on each page. 

SFPL has a long history of partnership with the HBC, first partnering in 1993 and continuing to show an HBC exhibit every three years since. Cherished tools, equipment and materials are still handed down from one bookbinder to another; valued techniques are generously taught and shared. Join us as our SFPL community and the HBC community come together to present HBC50.  

“One of the things I love about living in the Bay Area is the vibrant bookbinding and book arts community. The Hand Bookbinders of California has been a cornerstone of that community for 50 years,” says Beth Redmond, HBC50 curator. “Its members include some of the best bookbinders in the world and also people just starting their bookbinding journey. SFPL is an important part of that community. Many HBC exhibitions have been held at the library and many aspiring binders and book artists have visited the special collections for inspiration and information. I hope that the two organizations continue to work together for many years,  bringing bookbinding and book arts to an ever larger community.”        

HBC50 will be on display at the Main Library in the Skylight Gallery, located on the 6th floor, from September 17, 2022 to January 8, 2023.  

September 6, 2022