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Saturday, August 17, 2013

My First Mentor ~

Many have asked me already for more information on the mentoring I received from Bernard Middleton in England. Well, that association began when he invited me (while I was still a Mennonite) to attend the New Horizons In Bookbinding conference in Oxford in 1994. A day after the conference, we met at his home in Clapham. We had a nice chat for a few hours, he gave me a tour of his bindery downstairs, and explained some of the projects he was working on, etc. I naturally asked him if he'd be willing to share many more details with me on what made his restorations so unique and sought after. He said he'd consider that. The following Spring, Middleton faxed my bindery and asked about coming for a visit. I was more than happy, as you can imagine, and we readied up the bindery to welcome him. I laid out many books for him to "judge".... a thick, massive 1819 German Folio Bible [that I re-backed], a lovely, rare European printing of the Amish-Mennonite song book, and many others. For two hours we discussed various points, but he said he was very pleased with the work. He continued mentoring me via fax and telephone, though for three or four years we traded visits between our homes, and he guided me through a number of crucial steps in [his] restoration techniques. Some of these are not always welcomed by conservators, as they can be rather "home-spun" in their approach.

On one of my visits Bernard had held back a folio set of Gould's Birds that he had re-backed so that I could see them. They were lovely dark green Levant goatskin bindings that he re-backed with matching leather and elaborate full-gilt spines. That week he asked me to go along with him to deliver them to Henry Sotheran's Bookshop in London ( http://www.sotherans.co.uk ). I watched as he 'penciled' his signature inside the back covers.

The private mentoring I received from Bernard Middleton was by no means all encompassing, but when reflecting on the many gifts he gave to me over those few years of knives, two sizes of tying-up boards, tools, papers, a period-style binding, etc., (in addition to the obvious guidance in historical authenticity) was obviously appreciated. On one visit, we re-backed a Cambridge-style 1720 Lucas' Sermons, a late 18thC Philadelphia printing of Barclay's Apology, a re-backing of a thin 19C. Offenbarung Johannes, a full-gilt back on L'Origine de la Gravure, and discussion and explanation of numerous other books.  On that same visit, I had taken along a 1777 Taylor & Skinners Maps of Ireland that I had rebound in historically authentic 'reverse calf' ~ which he liked so very well that he seemingly proudly handed the book to a very important guest/customer to the house that day and said "This is a lovely reverse-calf binding [Michael] made." That guest was no other than the 29th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres. Who immediately invited me to visit him, and Lady Crawford at Balcarres Castle in Scotland, on my next journey to the UK. And that, I did. And it was a splendid visit. I have photo's of the visit.

Like many things, friendships sometimes come and go. And while it would serve no good purpose to go into detail, the envious and jealous person that drove the wedge knows who they are, and that's all that really matters. And I can think of no better way to describe that person than with [un-related] words of Mr. Middleton himself in 1997, as he & I stood enjoying a chili-hot dog at the Amish community livestock auction.... "This is rather difficult to eat with any degree of dignity, isn't it?"


Shown here are two photos of books done by Middleton and myself. He did the full-gilt back in 27 minutes, not including the label.