Saturday, March 28, 2015

Photo Essay: A Book By Its Cover

For those that have met me recently – say, since I moved to LA – I have many secret lives.

That time I broke a national news story as a teen reporter for my local city paper.

That time I won a game show.

That time I sang on the Twisted Sister Christmas album.

That time I was QVC's regular on-air guest.

That time I was a fledgling book arts sculptor.



Having already visited the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA – whose focus is more on the printing and papermaking side of things – I jumped at the chance to take a tour of Kater-Crafts Bookbinders...



...at their workshop in Pico Rivera where they've bound and restored books since 1965.



Their floor of tools, machinery and materials would fascinate even the casual observer...



...but for someone who has pored over color swatches...



...and agonized over fabrics...



...papers...



...and endsheets...



...this place is a wonderland.



In this digital age, bookbinding now kind of feels like an ancient art.



It's both handmade and industrial.



It involves sewing of signatures...



...which is done by machine...



...but the paper itself is fed by hand.



Every detail is examined to perfection by a real human...



...who inspects the work and throws it out if it's been done wrong.



Because of this attention to detail...



...Kater-Crafts doesn't do any large runs of new printing projects...



...books or clamshells....



...or anything else custom-bound.



Now that they're mostly digitized, libraries don't commission them to bind back issues of magazines anymore.



But somehow, Kater-Crafts has managed to be resilient enough...



...to be pretty much the only game in town.



UCLA has their own bookbindery, but Kater-Crafts is the only remaining independently-run, non-affiliated bookbinder in the State of California.



For the tactile inclined...



...and those with an affinity for colors...



...this place is such a candy shop.



Rolls of metallic sheets....



...eventually end up becoming debossed into book covers and spines.



Because this is such a rare art form, Kater-Crafts is relatively highly in demand for restoration projects...



...from people whose heirloom items have become worn out over the years...



...like family bibles and photo albums.

Kater-Crafts is a family business, currently run by the brother and sister descended from its original founder, who set up shop by the San Gabriel River on farmland where nothing else was around. Now, it's surrounded by an industrial park, and although they own the building and the land, they don't seem to have anybody to pass it down to.

I think I may have volunteered to take the business over.

But first, I need to enter their on-the-job training program to learn the cutting, folding, sewing, and gluing of the papers and endsheets and boards and covers.

I think I could be happy there. I didn't want to leave.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Book Arts at the International Printing Museum
A Missed Calling
A Case of Multiple Identities