What would pop into your head if someone told you they were a book artist? If you were !ike me, and thought "illustrator", you'd be wrong. Joan Rentoul is what has traditionally been called a bookbinder, but she doesn't like that title because, "although it requires a number of skills, it doesn't speak at all to the artistic flair I bring to my work." When I apologize for my ignorance and confusion on the subject of book artists Joan replies, "No, that's alright; it helps to remind me of the need to clarify what I do; it reminds me of the schizophrenic nature of my work." Actually, Joans business can be divided in two. There is book binding, which for Joan is almost exclusively the restoration and reparation of old books, and book art, which is the design and construction of one-a-kind leather covers for any keepsake book. It is for the latter that she names herself a book artist.

Bookbinding is a complicated process, and it is obvious Joan knows it well. Joan can repair just about any damage that is done to a book. She can stitch covers back on, restitch pages together, repair torn pages or redo lettering. Joan started working in the bookbinding business when she was hired by Nunan's Bookbindery. That business shut down after a fire next door, but she now works out of the same building, on some of the same equipment. Although she doesn't feel that she is carrying on their business, she does feel she is carrying on the tradition of bookbinding in Guelph.

Joan gets a lot of gratification from both sides of her business. She enjoys repairing old books; she finds it satisfying and feels that it is valuab]e work. She likes to think of old books being given new life. Joan says everyone has a special book and most often they are treasured because they have a history, they are family heirlooms. The cookbook that was originally someone's great-grandmother's in Nova Scotia, has traveled everywhere and has watermarks from the time it was caught in a flood; the reference book or bible that has all the notations that someone's grandfather made in the margins. She shows me one book that she has just finished repairing; it is a small, child's version of "The Night Before Christmas". "It's been in their family since 1949, and they didn't want to lose it," she explains. It looks like a small job, a piece of book cloth replaces the spine, but it brings home the point that the value people place on a particular book has nothing to do with its cost.

Joan also enjoys the artistic side of her work, the creation of unique covers. This is the area in which she can use her artistic training which began with attending an art college in England for four years, the equivalent of attending Ontario Art College. She also holds a Fine Art degree from the University of Guelph. She began to design one-of-kind covers in the '80s; she was attracted to the fact that book art allowed her to use her artistic talent in a unique way. Joan does appointment books, wedding albums, guest books, special bindings for first editions, a book an author wants covered as a keepsake; any book that a person feels is worthy of it. The price ranges from $100 to $500, depending on the consultation time, the type of leather used, how much design work goes into it, whether handmade paper is wanted, and whether she uses commercial inserts. She also works in conjunction with other artists, such as calligraphers, to add any finishing touches that people might want. She would like to continue to expand this area of her expertise, but as with any creative endeavor, the time required to explore it and grow in it is difficult to come by.

Joan sells appointment book covers and address book covers out of her studio on Wyndham Street. Go take a peek. You'll probably start trying to think of something you might be able to commission her to create a cover for. One thing's for sure- you won't mistake her for an illustrator!
Christine Stodart, March 1998