Eva Seminara has taken up the mantle of a bookbinder’s workshop founded in 1966 and located in Palazzo Brazzà, Udine. In 1999 she became its proprietor, with the desire to preserve the artisan atmosphere and expertise of the workshop, while adapting and modernising some of its equipment. Her liberal arts education and great love of books has led the artisan/artist to give them a new lease of life with refined bindings of a traditional character as well as in a contemporary style, through the utilization and insertion of unusual materials.
Tell us your story.
I was born in Turin almost sixty years ago and there, after attending secondary school with an emphasis on sciences and a brief interlude at university, I decided to work for the family company, where I stayed for nine years. Twenty-six years ago, I made the decision to move to Udine. Here I gained experience in a publishing house and then in 1999 took over, together with a colleague, the Legatoria Moderna, an artisan workshop that had been located in the city centre since 1966. My love of books started out from their content but then led me to appreciate their external form: the binding. I learned the tricks of the trade from the master craftsman who sold me the workshop and from my colleague, an expert bookbinder who has now retired. Conscious of the great amount of work needed to become a good artisan, I attended specialization courses to learn and improve my understanding of the various methodologies.
To be artisan essentially it means being able to give form to my imagination.
The cover is like a bespoke suit, each volume has to have its own style and cut.
What does it mean to be an artisan?
Essentially it means being able to give form to my imagination, to make with my hands what I have clear in my mind. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does it’s pure joy. On one side there’s the commitment, the difficulty, the red tape, but before all else comes the love for one’s own craft.
On what basis do you choose the images on the covers when you bind books?
Essentially their content, or the function they are going to have. The cover is like a bespoke suit, each volume has to have its own style and cut.
What are the stages in the binding of a book and how many of them are there?
You start from the stack of the volume, sewing or resewing the pages (sometimes repairing them), and then think about the covering. Depending on the style of binding, a suitable cover is created, faced and then decorated, usually by hot stamping (in gold, silver or pastels). Then the book is cased in its cover and placed in a press to ensure the coupling is perfect.
What kinds of customer do you get?
Two sorts of customer come to me. In the first place bibliophiles with important libraries, who need “new clothes” for their used books and who like to have their volumes bound in ways related to their subjects and their authors. Then there are lovers of diaries, engagement books, notebooks, albums and all kinds objects handmade from paper, including to order, as one-off pieces or in very short runs.
How do you combine tradition and innovation in your work?
When you’re faced with an old volume to repair, it’s necessary to show respect for the techniques of the past and the old materials, but when you can create something new then at last you can experiment with both the style and the materials. So why place limits on your imagination and expressive possibilities?
Is there something eccentric that you’ve had to do?
More than one thing, I’d say! Books bound in fake leopard skin or with the same leather as the sofas of the lounge in which they were going to be placed, monumental photo albums for histories of aristocratic families and volumes made entirely of parchment, thin sheets for the pages and more substantial ones for the cover... Satisfying the tastes of a well-informed and book-loving clientele is quite a challenge, and one which puts my technical skills and imagination continually to the test: a challenge that never ceases to excite me!