The Fiber Wire

Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.

Late Night Schoolin’ – Rare Book Style

Just fell into bed with my computer; it’s the end of day two at the Rare Book School (RBS) in hot and humid Charlottesville, VA. I’m here taking a course in the History of European and American Papermaking taught by Tim Barrett and John Bidwell, two guys who know a thing or two about paper. There are sixteen people taking this course and it is just one of six courses being taught on campus this week. It’s like summer camp for adults and everyone is talking books and bibliography, paper and typography. I am in my happy place – big time.


Our days are split into four sessions, each lasting an hour and a half. In the morning we have one session led by Tim and one by John. These are lectures that sometimes include illustrative videos of papermaking processes from around the world. In the afternoon we do papermaking exercises with Tim and then have either a lecture or session in Special Collections with John. We have covered so much ground in two days – I’ll list the session topics to give you an idea of the reams of information we are processing (reams get it?! Yes. . .I truly am that tired.):

  • Papyrus, vellum and other writing surfaces, invention of papermaking in China, Islamic papermaking
  • Pre-papers, bark cloths, pre-European papermaking, Nepalese, Arab, Korean, and Japanese papermaking
  • Introduction of paper to Europe, competition with papyrus and vellum, geography of the early paper trade, types of paper
  • Demonstration of early papermaking tools and techniques (Chinese/Nepalese, Arab and Japanese), Japanese sheet forming, pressing and drying
  • Environment and machinery: the paper mill (water power, mill wheels, power train, pre-industrial mill machinery), paper mill villages, mill design, alternative sources of power
  • European papermaking: raw materials and selection, fermentation, beating and washing during beating
  • Hands-on European sheet forming, pressing and drying (raw flax and hemp)
  • Historiography: discussion of recent trends in paper history, and books about paper and watermarks

photo (16)

And, because 8-9 hours aren’t enough, the Rare Book School offers activities in the evenings to allow us all to keep geeking out. Last night was a lecture by Nancy Tomasko about five traditional papermaking areas of China and the people and practices she encountered on her many travels there. Tonight was movie night where they fed us popcorn and ice cream sundaes during a double feature: Linotype: The Film and Tradition and Traditional Paper Sheet Formation Around the World, 1976-2002. After the films we participated in a type ornament demonstration by John Kristensen and Katherine Ruffin, the instructors of another RBS course called The History of 19th- and 20th- Century Typography and Printing. Todd Samuelson, my classmate and Director of Texas A&M Univeristy Library’s Book History Workshop, and I made a piece of Dard Hunter fan art, taking our inspiration from some ornamental type that we saw earlier that day in Hunter’s book, Papermaking by Hand in America.

Above: Dard Hunter's Work Below: Our Dard Inspired Creation

Above: Dard Hunter’s Work
Below: Our Dard Inspired Creation

Three more paper packed days to come – but for now, sleep!

3 comments on “Late Night Schoolin’ – Rare Book Style

  1. Kim Schiedermayer
    June 17, 2015

    You’re in the best of company! What a great plunge into book & paper with giants in the field. You belong there – soak up as much as possible!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. vdbolyard
    June 17, 2015

    oh, glory, genevieve! lucky lucky you! enjoy and come home with stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. NDonnelly
    June 30, 2015

    Great photos, too! Hope you had a great time, Genevieve.

    Liked by 1 person

Let's Talk Some Paper!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: