I’m always up for a little history lesson, not to mention some classic art and literature. When you mix all of them together then you’ve hit the damn trifecta. Try your best to go back in time to about 618 CE, more than 1,000 years ago. This was when China was at the very beginning of the Tang Dynasty. It was then that the ancient art of dragon scale bookbinding was born.
“Dream of the Red Chamber” | Image Via CNN
It was an ancient literary art passed down between royals, nobles, and affluent families. They believed it resembled a fierce dragon and that every page looked like the beast’s scales. Now, with only a few of these special books still around and the process nearly obsolete, Zhang Xiaodong is using his studio in Beijing to bring it back to life.
Image Via Pinterest
According to CNN, Xiaodong spent four years referring back to the Forbidden City Palace Museum’s one and only existing dragon scale bound book, Dream of the Red Chamber. He is tasked with laying hundreds of thin sheets of paper on top of one another until a clear image is formed. Once the chapters unfold, they fan out similarly to an accordion. His hard work was recently put on display at an art fair and garnered much attention.
Image Via CNN
“When there is a slight movement in the air, [the pages] flow, giving life to the book itself,” said exhibit curator Ying Kwok. “This makes the whole experience of reading a book three-dimensional.” With 120 chapters and 230 images replicated from a Qing Dynasty artist, Xiaodong manages to combine new technology with only cutting and folding techniques to get his work right.
Although this ancient process remains a lost art, Yink Kwok is hoping for a revival to preserve old and new traditions. “There has always been an interest in traditional Chinese art but now there are more people interested in experimental and modern takes on traditional techniques… It shows how a younger generation of artists can actually use traditional formats to respond to their surroundings.”
The craft of bookbinding has been in development for well over a thousand years. Although a lot of the books you and I read go through a commercial binding process, many craftspeople still do their cutting, measuring, and gluing by hand.
The Binding Studio in New Zealand is home to one such binder, Louise James. James started binding in 2001 and opened her home-based studio in 2009. The Binding Studio creates bespoke bindings for special orders. James takes the orders, does the measuring, crafts the binding, and ships it essentially by herself. She’s a classic bookbinder.
To get an idea of the meticulous process behind bookbinding, check out this gorgeous video!