A DEGREE OF MASTERY by Annie Tremmel Wilcox


A Journey Through Book Arts Apprenticeship
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A meticulously crafted description of a writing teacher’s apprenticeship in bookbinding and conservation with an internationally known master of the field. Wilcox tells her story by referring to the copious notes she compiled while serving as the first female apprentice to William Anthony, the founder of the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa. She found that writing down her experiences was the best way to “hold onto the terrors and successes of learning a handcraft,” and it’s her preservation of the freshness of her encounter with a new craft that makes this book compelling reading for those who may not share an interest in its rather narrowly focused subject matter. She draws readers into the world of book arts by immersing us totally in its richly descriptive technical jargon: Leather bindings have red rot (a condition that causes them to crumble at the slightest touch), pages are foxed (spotted with rust from bits of iron), books are rebound in alum-tawed pigskin. She describes restoration processes, such as chemical washing, mending torn pages, resizing, and sewing bindings, with such detail and precision that one is left with the impression that he or she is actually learning the craft rather than merely reading about another’s experience. Her relationship with Anthony (who died of cancer before the end of the five-year apprenticeship program) is an integral part of her story, and she chronicles his patient advice and support as he guides her through her first restoration, teaches her to sew her first Coptic stitch across a binding spine, helps her to manufacture her own tools, and advises her on professional matters, such as estimating private restoration jobs. The rarity of such intense personal mentoring relationships in today’s economic climate renders Wilcox’s experience both a nostalgic throwback to an earlier era and a potential model for recuperating current pedagogical practices. Book lovers will love this book. (Book—of-the-Month Club alternate selection)

Pub Date: June 30th, 1999
ISBN: 0-89823-188-4
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999