Interviewed by Erin AlbrittonIn December 2006, Gavin Dovey, along with his wife and business partner Denise Gachpazany, opened Paper Dragon Books in a spacious, light-filled space on West 26th Street in Chelsea. As the only storefront fine and design bookbinding studio in Manhattan, Paper Dragon injects a hint of Old World flavor into the New York bookbinding scene – a community that is heavily populated with conservators, binders and book artists but that currently lacks much in the way of a traditional fine binding presence. As the studio approaches the end of its fifth month in operation – and just as the demand for portfolios from FIT, SVA and Pratt students reaches an end-of-term, fevered pitch – I managed to drag Gavin and Denise away from their very busy schedules to talk about how things are going. Here’s what they had
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the studio and what services you offer?
G: We opened the storefront in December 2006, where we offer a full range of letterpress and hand bookbinding services. It is mainly focused on hand bookbinding, specifically conservation, repair and all other aspects of fine and design bookbinding. We do offer presentation solutions for photographers, graphic designers, as well as other curious people that wander in off the street. No Bibles please! It was never our intention to be exclusive, but rather to make bookbinding and it’s associated arts as accessible and available to as many
Q: How do the types of job requests you get at Paper Dragon compare to what you encountered while binding in England?
G: I have no shame in admitting that I have modeled the store on the Wyvern Bindery in London, UK at which I worked between 2000 and 2002. Under the leadership of proprietor Mark Winstanley, the Wyvern Bindery offers a complete range of binding services in a ground floor storefront. The location of the new store in Chelsea is important. It is close to Parsons, FIT, SVA, Chelsea photographers and galleries, like the Wyvern in the center of a graphic arts community. In addition, having a relationship with some of the larger rare book dealers in town insures a regular supply of highly technical repair work, some period binding and rebinding and lots and lots of design box making.
Q: Speaking of England, Gavin, can you talk a little about your training there? Did you go through formal schooling or were you apprenticed? How long did the training last?
G: I was lucky enough to fall in with now-fellow of Designer Bookbinders UK, Mark Cockram where, over the course of a year, I developed a passion for fine binding technique. Afterwards, I enrolled in a fulltime course in design bookbinding at London College of Printing in 1998. The formal training lasted 3 years, and I was fortunate enough to benefit from a highly skilled teaching faculty. I learned a great deal from another fellow of DBUK, Paul C. Delrue. All teachers I`ve encountered have been generous and passionate about what they do. I feel I`ve been very lucky.
Q: When you finished school, did you set up shop immediately on your own or did you work under other binders for a while to get your footing?
G: Whilst at school I got a great amount of practical skill from working at the Wyvern Bindery. I worked for two years at Mark’s place and other binderies in the UK and in Galway, Ireland before coming to the States. Working in lots of different binderies, with varied clientele and workload, gives you a broader view of the industry and how it works . . . and how it can work best for you.
Q: As an American, I’ve always thought of England as one of the places to be a binder – it has such a rich history in the craft. What made you leave and come to New York?
G: Precisely — given all of the bookbinders in the UK, there is barely any room to move. And, it is not only the English, but also those who come to Europe specifically for that reason. There is a lot of competition for bindery positions and many well-established trade and fine binding firms, making a new venture a dangerous undertaking. Today in New York, Denise and I currently have the only walk-in, storefront bindery that is able to offer a full range of fine bookbinding and related services. That is not to say there are no skilled bookbinders in NYC, there are. For one reason or another, however, there are few people who have chosen to open storefront shops. They may be right not to have tried it! We are young and have never done this before, but we are always trying to do the best work and so far the future looks good.
Q: Well, all of us (including Denise, I’m sure!) are very glad you decided to come. Now that you’re here, what is it that you hope to contribute to the bookbinding scene in New York?
G: I hope in the future to take a more active role within the New York chapter of The Guild of Book Workers. I will be signing up for James Reid Cunningham’s workshop in June so that I may improve my repair skills. But just by being visible on the street is a great opportunity to reach and educate more people as to the many great things about fine bookbinding and fine printing.
Q: Along those lines Gavin, do you have any upcoming plans for teaching? And where should we be looking for a schedule, if and when one comes out?
G: I taught for a couple years at the New York Center for Book Arts (a great place for a skilled bookbinder looking to get established) and had to stop when we opened the store in December 2006. In the fall of 2007, I will begin a program of basic bookbinding, hoping to build interest in more advanced bookbinding from the ground up. In the future we hope to establish a guest teacher program at Paper Dragon Books, where I can persuade designer bookbinders to teach their new innovations in technique. New courses will be advertised in the GBW newsletter, along with listings on our soon-to-be-updated Website.
Q: Denise, as the main businesswoman behind this venture, can you tell me what has been the hardest part of setting up a bindery?
D: Our main challenge for setting up the bindery has been outfitting the space. We had all of our workbenches and laying presses custom made, and had to wait over four months for delivery from as far as Washington State and Australia. Also, getting bulk supplies locally, like goat and calfskin, has been tough. It’s been much easier to order from overseas.
Q: Any thoughts on that Gavin?
G: As I say to everyone, Denise is the boss, and I just work here!!
Q: As a parting, somewhat philosophical, question – what do you predict for the future of bookbinding? Where do you think the craft is heading and what part do you hope to play?
G: As a 31 year old bookbinder, with just 10 years of experience I don’t think I’m qualified enough to answer. In my experience, in order to make a living, a successful bookbinder must be proficient in a number of styles of binding and also have a solid grounding in the fundamentals of binding techniques. He also has to be flexible enough to innovate when collaborating with artists, designers and photographers. In my opinion, the future and preservation of fine binding techniques is the responsibility of those who practice and participate in fine binding. There is no substitute for formal training in historical and modern design binding techniques. In order to engage the public, it is up to those who practice to teach and promote in a way that is accessible and interesting against a backdrop of changing attitudes and tastes. It would be easy to be pessimistic about the decline of bookbinding. On the contrary, however, as long as there are people who appreciate the difference between mass-produced and handmade books, there will always be a place for us. How’s that?!