The Charleston Library Society
When I was visiting family in the Charleston, South Carolina area last year, I came upon an article about a young man, Brien Beidler, who was hired in 2012 to be the Bindery Director at the Charleston Library Society at the age of 22! He had previously worked in the Addlestone Library when he was a student at the College of Charleston. Brien’s story stuck with me and several months ago I contacted him about the possibility of visiting with him the next time I was in the area. I had high hopes that I might learn from him in any way that I could. Brien replied almost immediately and was so enthusiastic and encouraging that I quickly realized I had contacted someone who would be a great supporter in my forays into the world of bookbinding and book arts. Brien is eager to share his own passion for books and bookbinding and he is even more enthusiastic when he recognizes someone who has the potential to share his passion for and appreciation of this almost lost art form.
Last week I had the good fortune to spend four days with Brien in his bindery at the Charleston Library Society. Brien guided me in completing my first two German 4 piece case-bound books. He was kind, encouraging, supportive, and patient as he enthusiastically shared his knowledge and experience while I tried to absorb everything that he and his doppelgänger assistant, James Davis, were able to demonstrate and teach me.
James and Brien
Before I address the actual book binding process and the true joy I felt in creating something so beautiful and useful from start to finish with my own two hands, I want to tell you a little bit about Brien. Brien has achieved a level of success that few in their mid-twenties can claim. Part of Brien’s success at such a young age can be attributed to luck – being in the right place at the right time. However, more importantly, his success can be attributed to a combination of his positive attitude, his initiative, his dedication, and his determination to continue learning, along with the support he received along the way. Brien is quick to credit those who have supported, encouraged, and mentored him from the beginning. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the people who helped Brien as he started on his journey to become a bona fide Book Binder, Marie Ferrara. Marie recently retired from her position as the Head of Special Collections in the Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston and moved away from the area, but she was in town for a brief visit and Brien invited me to join them for lunch. Brien’s admiration for Marie was evident during our lunch as he eagerly showed her some of his most recent binding efforts that included two books bound in hand hewn wood with his own handmade elaborate brass clasps. Brien had recently spent time in Idaho at a medieval binding workshop with Jim Croft and was so inspired and proud of his creations and experiences that his enthusiasm was infectious. Marie exhibited an equal admiration for Brien and will clearly continue to be a positive influence in his life and work. Brien has also received tremendous support and encouragment from Anne Cleveland, the Executive Director of the Charleston Library Society, who graciously stopped in to meet me during my time in the bindery. Coincidentally, both Marie and Anne have connections to Virginia, having attended school in the Charlottesville area.
In the end, however, Brien is successful because of the time, effort, and thought that he puts into his work. He lives and breathes books and bookbinding. When he is not physically working, he is reading about books and bookbinding. He continually looks for opportunities to learn new things related to bookbinding. He also enjoys making his own bone folders and other hand tools. His work takes time and that time is often spent alone in the bindery I asked Brien if he gets lonely in his seemingly solitary work (James is a recent addition and is only around for a half day) and he said that he is always surprised by that question but that he gets it often. In fact, he isn’t at all lonely in his work – partly because, as I noticed over the four days, there is no time to be lonely. Time passes very quickly when you are focused and engrossed in the physical work of binding and creating. Brien also has a constant companion, his two-year old Brittany spaniel, Wren. Wren has perhaps one of the sweetest temperaments of any dog I have ever met. She has clearly been lovingly well-trained and often accompanies Brien to his bindery.
Brien is also not lonely in his work because he reaches out and networks with others who are as equally excited, passionate and inspired by bookbinding, and book and paper arts. He is the co-founder, along with artist Kris Westerson, of the recently established Charleston Book Union. Thanks to Brien I was able to meet Kris and another member and artist, Jocelyn Chateauvert during the fast four days I spent in Charleston.
Perhaps one of the most important things I learned during my time with Brien, after learning that it takes a lot of time to properly bind a single book (and we were not even working with leather), is how inclusive and supportive the small but worldwide community of bookbinders and book and paper artists is. I have long lurked on the Book Arts listserv and now feel less intimidated and more inspired than ever to connect with and learn from this creative and inspiring community. I can’t thank Brien enough for being so gracious and supportive and willing to share some of his experience and knowledge with me.
Next time: What I made during my time “Bookbinding with Brien Beidler at the Charleston Library Society ~ Part II”