Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Diary of an Antiquary, Part 4

Let's bring this piece to a close with this last epic posting. The enclosure more or less finished, I measured out the interior space to come up with the dimensions of the book (this ass-end-up retrofitting is just my style!).

I settled on this gorgeous leather cover from 1852 as my raw material for the final covers.

It was exciting to see the empty space occupied at last, if even for a moment.

Beginning the long process of cutting out the book pages in heavy gauge brass.

The raw elements stacked up, giving me a general feel for the proportions.

Each 'page' would consist of two plates of brass, riveted together, with elements trapped in the sandwich. Above, my three pages and covers.

Because of the substantial weight of these plates, I knew they would have to be pierced quite a lot to eliminate all that metal. The designs are loosely based on medieval iron grillework.

The six sheets taped together, forming 1/2 inch of solid brass. The holes for my sewing stations would have to be drilled through all at once.

The first page takes rough shape - the early part of twelve hours of very difficult sawing.

With throbbing hands, I examine the cut sheets of brass.

Couldn't resist making an ice-cream sandwich of it to see what it looked like, as I knew it wouldn't be so transparent once the elements came together.

A cacophony of grilles.

Now each sheet was shaped.

Page one, getting close. The three pages took three days to complete the metalworking.

Now for the really fun part of creating the visuals behind the metal. Sheets of mica would keep the pieces in check under the grilles. Here, Mrs. Col. Wm. Douglas lends her face to the cause.

An 18th-century engraving takes center on the other side.

The elements taking their places.

The smallest rivets I've ever made. Chalk up another first.

Carving space into the front cover for a pearl.

The window would allow Mrs. Douglas to peer through when the book was closed.

Page three metalwork.

Mica measured and cut to size.

On to the binding. For this stage I have Keith Smith to thank, for his excellent book 'Smith's Sewing Single Sheets', which was my manual for this part. I built this frame to hold the raised cords of the binding upright for easier sewing. The frame is about half the size Smith laid out - plenty of size for a miniature book, however!

Ready to sew the bottom page on.

Second page gets added...

The book block ready for some covers.

This part was seriously daunting. The cords are 7 strands each of heavy antique linen, as I wanted a chunky profile for the spine.

The cord unwound and poking through the cover - now each strand needed to be frayed to lay flat against the inside cover for gluing... so.

The back cover with frayed threads ready to be glued in place and covered with end paper.

The front cover was even more difficult due to the window. Note the recessions cut in to allow the thread to lay flush on the board.

Exsquisite end paper from the 1860's to paper over the thread.

The book needed a closure, so I fiddled about until I came up with the solution. I would use this old fork, dug up in England as my material.

Brittle and fracturing even after annealing, but it held strong - I even liked the cracks, so away we went.

Part of the business end would be used as well.

Before soldering together.

Terrifying task #4,360: putting a large hole into a finished book, to create a strong metal tube that would allow the mechanism to move without damaging the fragile book board.

As the book, now completed, got attached permanently to the enclosure via a long chain, I needed to scoop out recesses in the box to accomodate the protruding clasp.

Last step was creating a visual interior for when the book was removed from the housing. The gem for this job was the left-hand side of this awe-inspiring page of illuminated manuscript from the 1500's. It was given to me along with some others by a generous student (is that Ukrainian, I seem to remember? Anyone?). It seemed a fitting treasure see when the box was open.

Thanks for walking with me through this important piece in my output as a maker. This post is a week later than I thought, as it took an entire week to photograph the finished piece.

Which you can see here.

Hope you've enjoyed the ride - I know I have.


  1. Keith, you are absolutely amazing.......a true craftsperson....this piece is so gorgeous!!! and to have been able to see it develop step by step is so are so very generous to share your process with us....even as you learn new skills and techniques! I'm looking forward to your next Artists Book.....

  2. Om my gosh Keith it is so exquisite. Oh how I would love to see it in person. You are an incredible artist. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us!

  3. You truly are the master of your art, thank you so much for sharing your journey. The effort and amount of detail and precision you put into your work certainly shows and makes your end product a wonderful masterpiece. This will surely be an antique of the future.

  4. Wonderful, can't say anything more but thanks so much for sharing. Phillipa.

  5. To think that I originally thought paper and mica pages. Ha. (No J0-Sonja's here!) They are exquisite! And as someone who has tried her hand at bookbinding, I have to say you dove in to a complex situation - the cords, the frayed ends, recessed grooves, Oh My! You have truly entered a new chapter with this one. Turned a page?

  6. Magical, awesome, prodigious! This last journey revealed to me the power of commitment, Keith. If one is willing to go to any length to follow the vision, the result becomes more than you can even imagine. Marvelous, and thanks for the lesson, Maestro.

  7. Stunning! Success in the detail. The attention to detail sets your work apart, Keith. The intricate cutting, into the brass, made my jaw drop. I would like to know how much time you spent designing the piece. Do you have most of it mapped out or is it a piece that evolves as you work?

  8. Amazing Keith...and after having taken a class with Susan Lenart Kazmer in rivets and sawing into metal, I am in even greater awe at the way in which you are able to master your materials. Being a lover of all things Medieval, I hope to see this tiny wonder in person one day. Kudos on the perseverance to see this through to its completion. Thanks for sharing the ride.

  9. This is by far the greatest piece I have had the pleasure of seeing...going through all the steps was the best bonus.. can't wait to meet you at the workshop I have signed up for in Oct.
    Thanx for sharing your love of the Art.

  10. Kieth, I have indeed enjoyed walking through the process. Wonderful piece very detailed and so expertly crafted; inspiring. Regards Dave

  11. Thanks for posting the WIP shots. This has been brilliant to see. I think that this is one of my favourite pieces you've made.

  12. Mere words, can't describe this treasure...You are truly..."The Master"!!!!

    10 weeks of labor... the birth of this piece is purely divine!!

    To see this in person will be a thrill.


  13. that was a ride i enjoyed very much indeed, thank you!

  14. Wonderful, wonderful, I can feel the joy and exhaustion of a piece superbly designed and made.

  15. Beautiful work Keith! I enjoyed every step of the process. What a ride! That was better than a roller coaster! Can you place it on tour for a year so we can view it during the 2010 workshops? Oh please, please...

  16. Keith, You are an Alchemist in the best sense of the word. Thank you for sharing your amazing journey through the making of this extraordinary piece. You are as generous as you are talented and a gift to those of us fortunate enough to learn from you.


  17. Wow! Intricate. Detailed. Facinating. Really incredible work. Thank you for taking the extra time to create these posts.

  18. Keith, unless someone lucky (and deserving) enough buys it, you better bring this one to San Diego next year!

  19. Your creation is exquisite! Congratulations on it's completion. I appreciate all of the effort in sharing the process with us. Looking at your art makes the wheels in my head spin.

  20. Beautiful Brilliant Breathtaking! Bravo! :)

  21. Amazing as always, thanks for sharing the whole process!

  22. I just had the pleasure of seeing this fantastic work of ART in person and I have to tell all who read this it is truely amazing, unlike anything I have ever seen. The workshop I just took was just tyoo cool for words, just wish I was able to take all the time..

  23. When you showed this artwork to me at Art Is I was completely blown away by its intricate details and worknamship, and now I've found your blog and I get to read and learn how you actually made it. How cool is that? All I can say is thank you for sharing your awesome store of knowledge with us and that you are a superb teacher. Gosh, I feel thrice blessed.
    Eileen G

  24. Wowza, Keith! You are totally awesome -- but you knew that.

    This piece is amazing, as usual.

  25. WOW! I felt like I was part of the process! Thank you for allowing us to part of your story/world.

  26. Wow, such a beautiful and impressive work!

    The last pic shows a part of text in old Slavonic, as far as I understand the meaning it is a part of church book.
    I'll try to translate and give an approximate transcription to the words as they are given here, without context, as I can't see the whole text. Is says something like (lines are numbered):

    1. ..i yest' divna vo ochiyu nasheyu beautiful as we see (literally: in our eyes)

    2. Posem glagoli Tropari vyshepisannoye...
    So (that is why) the Troparions discource the described above...

    3. (not sure) ..o ustavi. List ye. Potroparekh...
    ..[about] regulations. There is a List. ??? (smth connected to Troparions above)...

    4. ??? (no idea :D seems to be close to "petition" or "complaint")

    5. Pomiluy mya bozhe povelitsey miy..
    Have mercy on me, God, my sovereign...

    6. ..tvoey i pomnozhestvu schedrot..
    ..of yours and by/with many generous gifts..

    7. -kh, ochisti bezzakoniya moya.
    -(ending of some word from previous line), cleanse my unlawful deeds.

    8. -che omiy mya ot bezzakoniya moego
    -(ending of some word) purify me from my unlawful deeds (literally: wash off my unlawful deeds from me)

    9. ..i ot grekha moego ochisti mya. ???(can't read the first letter)...
    ..and cleanse my sins from me. ???..

    There you go!)))

  27. P.S.: I visited your page and looked at every gallery almost for hours)
    You make awesome works! Thank you for sharing such exciting things with people)

  28. My mouth is still agape. Your process is amazing and of course your work just bowls me over.

  29. Just read through this magic journey again. You had me at "Diary of an Antiquary" but just after the first day and a half of piercing three (read "six") brass pages, this whole thing would have found itself in my "unfinished" box - and I would have missed the treasure! I applaud your tenacity, I applaud your grit, I applaud your generosity, and most of all . . . I applaud your genius.