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Featured Exhibitor: Cara Schlesinger

In 1999, Cara Schlesinger, founder of Faenwyl Bindery, took her first bookbinding workshop and fell in love with the craft of bookbinding. Over two decades later, Schlesinger has a spacious Brooklyn workspace as a full-time independent bookbinder and conservation specialist.

One of the most memorable early moments in Schlesinger's book-repairing journey was repairing her family's treasured Charles Dickens books; her great-grandfather passed them on to her grandmother.

"I think it was memorable for me that here were my great grandfather's books, which he cared about, enough to keep all his life, and my grandmother cared about enough to keep all those years, and I was able to repair not one of them, but two of them at a time," Schlesinger said.

At the time, Schlesinger took private instructions from a conservator at the Center for Book Arts in New York City.

With the guidance of her instructor, Schlesinger decided to push her limits and work on two books at a time to get used to working on multiple projects simultaneously.

"Her message was that to do this professionally, you have to understand what your process is. You're not just doing one at a time and then waiting around doing nothing until the book is ready for you." Schlesinger said.

This guidance has been integral to Schlesinger's day-to-day operations as a bookbinder; she often works on multiple projects simultaneously.

Schlesinger's workday is a balancing act of projects. Her goal is to ensure that a project gets to the stage where it can sit unattended so that she may move on to a project that needs more attention.

After 30 years as a professional editor, Schlesinger left the editorial field in January to be a full-time bookbinder. Throughout her 20 years of experience as a bookbinder, Schlesinger has held contracts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Sherman Fairchild Center for Book Conservation, Thomas J. Watson Library, and Columbia University Libraries.

At Columbia, she encountered a massive early 20th-century scrapbook that contained years of a newspaper comic strip surrounded by customers' signatures, children's writings, and even locks of hair.

The book had expanded beyond its case, with extenders welded to the posts and heavy leather led to the spine. Decades passed, the book was full of dirt, and the pages broke into pieces.

The project to repair this scrapbook was memorably intense and fun.

"It took months, from beginning to end; multiple people were involved. I helped to take it apart and clean it, and then it was digitized. When it came back, I went through it page by page and also stabilized the boards. It took a lot of repairs before it could go safely back together on those welded poles. It was wonderful. It was so satisfying,” Schlesinger said.

Another unique project Schlesinger worked on was a photo album of salt prints from Princeton in the early 19th century that had missing pages, and "the case was pretty much gone," according to Schlesinger.

"I tracked down marble paper that was appropriate for the book, close to what the original pastedowns had been, and sewed new endbands that mimicked the original thread's color. Then I built a new case, setting the original leather fragment into the front board and tooled around it to echo, in a simplified way, what the original borders had been. So it was a real combination of old and new material," she said.

Schlesinger is excited to show a range of samples at the Boston Rare Book and Ephemera fair with evidence of their transformations before and after they came into her care. Schlesinger gleams as she hopes to show the audience how she breathes life into damaged books and ephemera.

By Samourra Rene

Published 28 October 2022

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