GBW Member Spotlight: Katy Baum

By Pamela Leutz

The Rocky Mountain Chapter is fortunate to have Katy Baum, who has served as both Secretary for
the Guild of Book Workers (GBW) and Communications Coordinator for the Southeast Chapter of
GBW, join our Chapter. Katy recently moved to Telluride, Colorado, nestled in the scenic San Juan
mountains, to begin her job as Managing Director of the American Academy of Bookbinding (AAB),
and in this interview, she gives us insight into this incredible educational institute’s high-quality
instruction. In addition to breaking down the experience of attending AAB, from financial aid
questions to the logistics of getting (and staying) there, Katy shares with us her personal journey
into the bookbinding world and the life-changing experience that studying at AAB brought to her.

An Interview with Katy Baum: Her path into the world of fine binding, and a
look at the American Academy of Bookbinding from her perspective as both
student and new Managing Director

I see that you’ve been working in the book world for a long time. library science, letterpress,
binding, all sorts of things. What was your path into bookbinding?
It was totally unexpected. I was in college when I was first introduced to bookbinding. I was an
art student, attending the University of North Carolina in Asheville. I really wasn’t aware of book
arts at all, but I got a part-time job working for a couple of artists and they themselves had
recently discovered bookbinding, as well as papermaking and letterpress. They introduced me
to Coptic binding. You hear people talk about being bit by the bug, and that’s what it was like.
After that initial introduction, I was completely obsessed, so upon graduating I moved to
Chicago with the intention of applying for the MFA program in Book Arts at Columbia College. I
got cold feet about it, though, and I thought it might be smarter to get an MLS so that I could
have a reliable day job. That ended up being an interesting decision. I feel like the skills I
learned in library school have served me really well, but the actual library jobs I landed were
more about sitting at a computer and working with software and spreadsheets and databases.
I wasn’t handling physical books all that often. After a few years of working in libraries, I
decided that it was time to get back to bookbinding. That decision led me to Penland and
really moving forward in binding.
Katy at work at AAB

In your MLS program, did you take bookbinding classes?
Yes, there were classes in library school that focused on conservation. They were pretty basic.
No one would come out of those classes and feel prepared to perform treatments, but because
I was in Chicago, I was able to supplement my masters program with a lot of great experience
within the institutions around Chicago. I did an internship in book conservation at the Art
Institute, which was fantastic. I did a little volunteer work for the library at the Field Museum of
Natural History. And I had a part time job for Paper Source. They used to have their own
bindery in Chicago where four or five of us worked. Our manager was a North Bennett Street
grad and I attribute a lot of my basic education in bookbinding to that job, even though we
were just doing simple case bindings. We were using manufactured textblocks to make photo
albums and datebooks and guestbooks for weddings - things like that. But the opportunity to
work at a bench and to have someone offer instruction and critical feedback- it was a great
way to build my hand skills and work habits. You really only get that when you’re logging
consistent hours at a bench.

What kind of bookbinding skills did you get from Penland?
I took an eight-week class taught by Cathy Adelman and Alice Vaughn that focused on fine
binding and enclosures. They’re both wonderful bookbinders and excellent teachers. They’ve
both studied at AAB and Cathy had also studied quite a bit in Ascona, in addition to her
diploma in Fine Binding from AAB, so they covered a lot of ground in 8 weeks. That class was
really my first taste of fine binding. I had no idea there was anything more to bookbinding than
case binding and book arts. I’d never worked with leather or parchment before. I’d never
worked with these more complicated sewing structures. It was fantastic, a great experience.
And while I was at Penland, I found out that I had been accepted to AAB and that I’d received
a scholarship. So it was this fantastic moment in time because I had decided to quit my job as
a librarian and take this leap of faith and pursue bookbinding. From Penland I went to my first
class for AAB, a two-week class for Fine Binding in Summerfield, NC where Monique Lallier
and Don Etherington live. Monique is just, wow! I tend to gush about everyone in bookbinding,
but she was such a phenomenal teacher for that fundamentals class. She does not let you go
astray. She really points you in the right direction and gives you such a solid foundation, which
I think is really important with fine binding because it is so meticulous.
I have to admit you’ve learned in some beautiful places and had some really good teachers.
Yeah, I feel really lucky! All my teachers have been so generous. That strikes me over and over
again with the people I’ve met. The bookbinding community is so small and yet I don’t
encounter very many people who are territorial about it.
I agree. I hear that over and over again. It is so refreshing to have the positive, supportive
environment, no matter what your level of experience. I feel like I get that at Standards too.
Absolutely. It’s a really supportive environment. I was very intimidated coming into that class at
Penland and my first classes at AAB. It can be very scary, especially when you thought you
knew what bookbinding was. Then you find out, oh wow, I only know about the tip of the
iceberg. I was so afraid that I would be sent packing. It was great to discover that people want
you to learn, and they want you to get really good at what you’re doing, to find your personal
artistic voice. I think that there are a lot of wonderful people supporting the younger group of
bookbinders coming up.

I can totally understand that. I was so intimidated during some of the opportunities that I had.
But then you learn and it’s totally life changing; it totally changed my life in a good way.
So it sounds like you took classes at Penland, and with Monique in Summerfield, and then
moved to Michigan and opened a studio. Is that when you started full-time bookbinding?
I did move to Michigan, but I did not start my own studio. I took a job with Bessenberg Bindery
which has been in Ann Arbor since the 1970’s. They had been purchased by Thomson-Shore,
which is a mid-size book manufacturing company. When I came in, the hand bindery was in
transition. There was no real leadership. It was pretty overwhelming because they basically just
handed me the keys and expected me to make it work, but it was also a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to get to work in a bindery like that and to have the resources of a modern-day
book manufacturer right outside the bindery door. We had a Ludlow for typecasting, digital
flatbed cutters that could cut through stacks of board, a pneumatic stamping machine, a
warehouse full of bookcloth. And we worked with some clients I wouldn’t have had access to
otherwise. We did work for Random House, and we had some big corporate clients like Merrill
Lynch and Red Bull. It was a great experience. I was only there for two years, but between
project management, hiring and training new employees and interns, and learning about the
accounting and business side of running a bindery, it was a huge development for me. It gave
me excellent insight into the challenges of making a living as a bookbinder. It’s really hard and
really complicated. So when I had the opportunity to come work at AAB, it was a tough
decision, but ultimately I knew I was getting burned out from the stress of meeting all the
deadlines and trying to make a profit each month. I had such a strong connection to the
school, I knew I had to apply for the job. I do sometimes miss the bindery work...tackling big
projects and working with my hands every day. There’s nothing quite like that. But I’m trying to
find ways to balance my own work with the responsibilities I have at AAB.

What are your favorite kinds of projects?
I love fine binding and working with leather. Right now I’m very focused on learning the ropes
of the job at AAB, but I’m planning to continue to work toward my diploma in Fine Binding.
Some of the projects that I’ve worked on over the last couple of years are ones I started at
Penland. I also did an 8-week letterpress class there and produced quite a bit of printed
material that I could bind for future projects. I would like to continue with that - with generating
my own content and creating design bindings.

Congratulations on your position at AAB. I’m hoping to get there some day. How many years
have you gone?
My first class with AAB was in 2012 in Summerfield. I haven’t been coming to Telluride for too
long. I actually grew up a couple of hours away in Durango and hadn’t been back to Colorado
since I was 18. I came to my first class in Telluride in 2015 and it was late September and all of
the aspen leaves were a brilliant flaming yellow, and the air was incredible. To be in the San
Juan mountains is pretty special. Coming here will change your life - the school, the town, the
mountains. It’s an opportunity to leave all of your day-to-day obligations behind and just focus
on being in the studio. We offer 24-hour studio access, so you can stay up until two in the
morning and work on your project; you can come in at four in the morning and get an early
start. You can move into this obsessive, completely immersive experience while you are here. I
realized during that class in 2015 that I needed to make this the biggest priority in my life - just
coming here for classes. So imagine my delight to have it be my entire life now, to work at the
school full-time. I love that my job is bringing other people here and letting them have that
experience. It’s really important to me. We just finished a class last week co-taught by Don
Glaister and Suzanne Moore where everyone made deeply personal projects, and at the end of
the week there were multiple students that said, “this is a life-changing experience, being
here.” It was just beautiful to see how meaningful this experience can be for people.

That is what I am hoping you will share - a snapshot of what it’s like to go there and to have that
experience. I’ve thought about it so many times, but it’s expensive. I understand you had a
scholarship to go, and I read online that a lot of people can get some scholarship money. I
would like for people to understand how possible it is for them to go take a class - how
affordable it might be and where they might stay and how to get there. What would you tell
someone like me who is interested in going - how can I make that happen for myself?
That is something that we hear a lot. It’s true; it takes a lot to get to Telluride. We are physically
remote; it’s hard to get here; it’s expensive. I really understand that, so we offer as much
financial assistance as we can for students. We have tuition assistance packages available that
are based on the AAB financial aid application. We offer a number of scholarships that are
completely merit-based, which doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an experienced
bookbinder. We had a student come this year who had a background in poetry and
silversmithing. It’s about your intention and your interest in bookbinding. We also have the
annual Fine Binding scholarship which provides $3000 toward tuition and housing.
We work very hard to find affordable housing for our students. It’s a challenge because
Telluride is a resort town, but we’re lucky to have several locals who are willing to rent out their
condos and their homes to us. So we’re able to offer housing for students at a pretty
reasonable rate, considering the environment. But at the end of the day, I still hear students
say, it’s the journey of getting to Telluride that is challenging for people. But I’ve also heard so
many students say that it’s completely worth it for the experience of being in the studio, and
being in this beautiful mountain town. I try to encourage people to just come once and see
what it’s all about and see that it’s completely worth all of the effort in getting here.

You’re selling me. What are the diplomas? There is still the fine binding diploma, but I see that
the conservation program was dropped and was replaced by another.
Yes, the big reason why that’s coming to a close is that a true program in Conservation
nowadays requires coursework in science and lab facilities. We’re just not set up for that at this
time. Meanwhile, we had Peter Geraty who was interested in starting the Integrated Studies
Program which offers a bit of everything. Some students come to it with very little experience.
They start with an Introduction to Bookbinding class; they learn leather binding; they take book
repair classes; they take paper conservation with Renate Mesmer from the Folger Shakespeare
Library; and they have a business class, and a history of the book class. All of this with the idea
that by the time you’re done with the ISP diploma, you’re able to hang out a shingle and work
as a professional bookbinder.
The Fine Binding program is obviously more specific to fine leather binding, and developing the
meticulous hand skills required and your artistic sensibilities. They are very different programs
but as a student I found myself looking at the requirements for both and thinking, “I want to
take all of those classes. They’re all so important and all so valuable for someone who wants to
be pursuing this at a serious level.”

What are the requirements for completing the diplomas?
Well, there’s a list of required courses for each diploma. And for those who aren’t that familiar
with how our school is set up, the time frame for completion is decided by the student. It might
take someone four years to complete the diploma, or it might take them seven years. We want
you to keep your momentum going, but we understand that you may only be able to come for
one week a year, or maybe you can come for four weeks a year. Meanwhile, there is an
expectation that you are working at home when you are not here at the school. Each time you
come to class, we’re expecting students to bring their homework books that they’ve
completed on their own. I think it’s a really important part of our diploma. In some of the
programs that are here in the US, you have an incredible opportunity to work in a fully-
equipped studio where you have everything available to you, but then when you graduate you
need to get all the equipment and tools, find a space to work, etc. A nice part of our program, I
think, is that the students are steadily working toward that goal of getting their home studio set
up as they are going through the program.
Once they’ve completed their courses, they start meeting regularly with the director of their
program - in the Fine Binding Program, it’s Don Glaister, and in the ISP, it’s Peter Geraty. Just
completing the required courses is not enough. We’re very serious about the quality of the
work, and making sure that the students are the best they can possibly be in terms of technical
skills. Once we feel that their work is at that stage, then they start preparing for their jury, which
is comprised of three members of the bookbinding community who evaluate their bindings.
The students also prepare a portfolio to show to the jury, in addition to a research project. It’s a
lot of work! Our diploma students are extremely dedicated.
It’s great that AAB has become involved in starting the triennial Open Set Exhibition. I attended
the reception in Denver and got to visit with Deb Stevens and Lang Ingalls who were so
instrumental in the project. The bindings were fabulous. It is rare to have such an exhibit in the
U.S. that just features fine bindings. The only other one that comes to mind is the Helen Warren
DeGolyer Triennial Exhibition and Competition for American Bookbinding.
Yes, that was the intent behind creating this triennial opportunity, to give fine binders a chance
to exhibit their work, but also to draw attention in the U.S. to fine binding. I think book arts
have become more and more well-known throughout the U.S. There are so many centers
popping up that have book arts classes, and there are university programs. But a lot of people
still don’t know what fine binding is or that it exists. We thought this was a great way to
showcase it as an art form. It’s a wonderful opportunity for bookbinders in the U.S., and really
throughout the world. A lot of the prize winners and participants were from outside of the U.S.
It was a lovely thing to see all of the international participants.

Thank you, Katy, for sharing about AAB and Open Set, and for inspiring us with your story
about how you got into bookbinding. I really enjoyed talking with you and look forward to
meeting you.

Thank you so much for talking with me. It’s really an honor. I’m thrilled to be a part of the
Rocky Mountain Chapter.

 Thank you again.


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