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Jim Croft papermaking work/study in Idaho

Andy Mangold '11 (graphic design)

Posted 04.01.11 by MICA communications

Andy Mangold '11
Found internship ...

through another MICA student, Ainsley Buckner, who met Jim Croft at a book arts fair while she was interning with a paper maker in Oregon.


I was drawn to this position by Jim's incredible attention to craft and use of materials. He binds books in the gothic style, which is a complicated, beautiful, rugged, and functional style of binding that pre-dates Gutenberg and movable type. Jim is one of a very small number of people on earth still binding books in this style. He does every step of the process by hand: makes his own paper from recycled fire hoses, cuts down the trees and splits the wood that will be used on his covers, shapes the brass or bronze clasps by hand without aid of modern tools, makes his own paste, and binds all of his books with hand-spun thread over hand-spun cords. He is truly in a class all his own, in terms of craftsmen I have come across, especially in the book arts field.


My responsibilities, quite honestly, were more like chores. Still, I had a lot of fun doing this. Many of these chores are the beginning stages of bookmaking. I spent most days fulfilling my end of the work/study bargain, including splitting a lot of firewood. But from this, Jim taught me how to read the grain in wood. I was able to find the best logs, then search them for the best parts to turn into book covers, all while splitting the rest into firewood. By the end, I completed two books in Jim's binding style and made many bone tools by hand. I viewed it as a vacation from my computer which I am unfortunately nearly inseparable from.


I was on Jim Croft's property in Idaho without running water or electricity, living and working with him and his wife for a month. I slept in a tree, on a platform with a roof over it, in the middle of dense woods.

Gothic bindingRevelations:

I was most surprised to find out that almost all of the materials Jim uses in his books is scavenged or recycled. He gets his wood from mill burn piles, his brass and bronze from old bar kick plates and door hinges, his leather and bone from hunter's scraps, and his linen for paper making from old fire hoses. There is simply no way anyone would believe from looking at one of his finished books that all of the materials used were someone else's trash; they are indescribably beautiful. The way Jim is able to use just his hands to transform these thrown out or neglected materials into objects of such intrinsic beauty and value is almost magical to me. If everyone were as resourceful and talented, we would live in a much different world.

Lessons learned:

Even though I am a "graphic" designer, I am keenly interested in objects and material culture, so the quality of his work represents a paradigm to work toward. The first-hand experience I gained while I was there and all of the things I learned from Jim remind me why I do what I do. I am particularly interested in people's relationship with objects and materials--what makes an object valuable, how you make something that people love and use so it doesn't end up in a landfill. Jim's ability to make such objects from someone else's garbage is astounding, and learning about that has helped me hone my voice as a designer. The more passionate I am, the better I am at what I do.


Jim Croft's workshop

Image captions (from top): Andy Mangold '11 in the woods of Idaho; a book hand-bound in gothic style; Jim Croft's workshop.