Flowing Spine Box

Life under lockdown: Toben Lewis

I started this year with a plan, having recently been awarded funding from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. I’ve been binding books for five years now, and working in book design and publishing for nearly twenty. With the aim of expanding my skill base in bookbinding, book restoration, and repair I had lined up a roster of stimulating courses, workshops, and mentorships. The first was meant to start on 18 March. I made it as far as Glasgow, en route to the south of England where it was being held when it was cancelled. I returned home both sad and relieved. It was an anxiety-inducing time to travel and coming back to the safety of our small island was actually somewhat welcome.

One by one my courses and other activities have been cancelled. Amidst the chaos of a global pandemic I have also watched my year of scholarship fall to pieces.

But there have been silver linings.

Early on in the lockdown, the American Guild of Bookworkers released their back catalogue of seminar talks and workshop videos free for online streaming. Watching these, making mini models of new book structures, and practicing the conservation techniques has kept both my hands and brain busy. I’m not talented enough to worry about the health and wellbeing of my family, friends, fellow community members, and other world citizens while also manipulating slippery silk threads into a chevron headband on a traditional Islamic style binding. It forced my mind to be where my hands were.

Bookbinders have always been a resourceful bunch. Collectively we are known for taking up tools from other trades and adapting them for our purposes. My fellow binders have done the same with online learning. From a start with those GBW videos that helped me through the first few weeks of lockdown there’s been a sudden burst of virtual seminars, one on one tutelage using webcams, and workshops on Zoom and other webinar platforms. My year of QEST scholarship is rebuilding itself alongside the rest of the country: slowly, somewhat tentatively, and differently. But it’s still there.

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