Monday, May 2, 2011

Hail to the Guitar Heroes

I just saw the Guitar Heroes exhibition at the Met and it got me thinking about craft again. How you like them apples? When you look at the beautiful ebony fingerboards and the spruce body you get that strumming sensation. What really surprised me was that much of what is considered modern guitar-making owes its shiny frets to some of the most hallowed luthiers like Stradivari and Guarneri who are often most noted for their exquisite violins. The care and attention given to each instrument was unparalleled.

But as much as I wanted to draw a profound connection between word-building and guitar-making it became apparent to me that I should consider the art of bookbinding. That was the ticket. Of course guitar-making has more in common with bookbinding than writing. I’d been the exhibits at The Center for Book Arts in Chelsea so I’d seen some of it firsthand. They actually have courses in bookbinding. Their exhibitions are a treat. I’ve had the privilege to check out a few of their special events. If you love machines, cool implements and have a penchant for parchment this might be a fun way for you to kill some time. They have a collection of over 2000 books and a healthy archive. So if you’re one of those worrywarts who think paper books are doomed you’ll be pleased to know these special museums will keep cloth and binding alive.

What did strike me as interesting was that bookbinding doesn’t seem to have legacy of famous craftsmen. We know certain locations that produced great work like Nag Hammadi in ancient Egypt and that the monks during the Middle Ages spent a lot of time binding codices, but generally speaking the artists aren’t singled out. Writers have always seemed to play second fiddle to musicians even when classical music rocked the house. Naturally musicians get more hype, but the instrument-makers were also revered. Take a look at a Christie’s auction. Watch the movie Red Violin to get a taste. I’m sure you’re familiar with the names Stradivari and Guarneri. And if you’re a rocker you’re gaga for the genius of Monteleone, D’Angelico, and D’Aquisto (which are a bit more obscure) although you have probably heard of Gibson.

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