Artist Visit: J. Smith

Joyce, Claudia, and I visited John Smith, who lives in a beautiful home between Smithville and Sparta. He does everything: paints, designs, makes his own tools, collects many things (from fine art to antique microscopes), builds model ships (that are incredible years-long endeavors where he plies his own thread to make miniature rope for the rigging). He was a trained artist, he worked for many years as industry executive because of his problem-solving ability, and he has incredible creativity. The astonishing thing about John aside from the number of different things he attempts, is that he does everything well. Getting a tour of his collections and interests is like seeing the hobbies of several people combined. However, the main reason for our visit was to see his book collection (comprised of many first editions and extremely rare books), and his own skillful rebinding of books.

John has collected rare books for decades, but became interested in protecting his books and rebinding those that had wear. He has learned a lot about what makes a book gain or lose value --sometimes rebinding is not the best option-- and books can be protected in many different ways. He knows what materials are appropriate for a project and how to do a new leather binding on a century-old book and preserve the original look by integrating well-chosen materials. Looking at his rebound books and clamshell boxes, both are very precise and well-crafted in addition to being archival.

[One of John's beautiful clamshell cases for a book. The navy blue portfolio on the top (that slides perfectly underneath the book), contains loose pages of prints. The navy book cloth on the portfolio matches the navy book cloth on the original book- an example of his attention to detail.]

[Some of John's rare books: Japanese block prints, 150+ years old; Aubrey Beardsley's first published illustrations from the late 19th century; Don Quixote combined 1st and 2nd ed. from 1675.]

John has artistic talent as well as a problem-solving scientific mind and real ingenuity. He made his own press for complex binding processes. It has movable pieces that create the indention on either side of the spine, and the entire press lifts off to become horizontally positioned so that it is easier to work on the spine. In seeing his book collection and how books are reconstructed, I learned so much from John about the structure of books: how marbled paper was attached, how leather is flattened to be folded around a cover-- all things I had never thought of when looking at a book.

[John's press that he built himself.]