Volume 8, Number 2, May 1986, pp.9-10

Profile: Margaret Lecky

by JoAnne Page

In Los Angeles, Margaret Lecky's name has become synonymous with bookbinding. Since she arrived in 1938, she has been an active participant in the book arts community as teacher, conservator, and designer of fine bindings.

During a recent conversation in her light, sunny bindery, which overlooks her extensive garden, she discussed her training and some of her views about books and bindings.

JP: Let's start at the beginning, and talk about how you began bookbinding. I know it was in High School, and I think it was because you wanted to learn jewelry making.

ML: That's right. I wanted to skip bookbinding, but I had to take it because it was in the order of classes to be taken before I could get to jewelry. I loved books, but binding books... Well, beginning that first day, I've never stopped in these hundred years since! I kept on taking bookbinding all through high school in Pittsburgh. My teacher there was Deborah Carter. After I graduated, I continued to do binding at home. I had a little equipment and I changed my mother's dining room into a sort of bindery. I would do a book, and then I would take it to Deborah Carter, and she would tell me what was right.

Later on, I went to Arden, Delaware as a fabric designer for a weaving shop. When the woman who owned the shop decided to open a New York City office, she sent me to manage it. It was in New York that I married my husband, Eleazer Lecky.

After we were married, I began studying at the Craft Student's League with Ella Fiske. It was at that time I learned gold tooling in private lessons from Mrs. Fiske. She was a demanding teacher: you didn't just glaire and tool it once after blinding in. You glaired it twice, and you tooled it again until it was absolutely bright and clean. Then you got a magnifying glass to make sure it was clean. I learned tooling the hard way, and I'm glad of it.

Later on, I heard about Kathryn and Gerhard Gerlach, who had just come to New York from Leipzig, Germany, and the question was whether to take their class lessons at the Library School at Columbia, or go to their studio and take private lessons. Ez and I decided that with the amount of training I'd had, which was eight years by that time, I'd be better off taking private lessons. So I studied with Kathryn and Gerhard two times a week for two months, and then they asked me to be their assistant. I worked for them until just a week before our son, Tim, was born.

Soon after that we went to Cornell where Ez got his doctorate in English. Those two years at Cornell were just wonderful. We had a funny apartment on the second floor of a house built in 1797, and I had a little bindery there.

Then in 1938 Ez got a position at USC as an assistant professor, so we shipped our dog, cat, and belongings; and we and our two year old drove across the country to the wild west... I didn't know the difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco! But we got settled in, and I had a little supposed bindery in the garage -garages are not good for binderies... the light's bad, and all the dirt comes in...

JP: So all along, wherever you've gone, you've had a bindery?

ML: Always I've had a bindery, and always I've had a private student or two.

During WW II, I volunteered for the Arts and Skills Program of the Red Cross to teach bookbinding and leather work at the Veteran's Hospital in San Pedro. It was at the hospital that I got to know most of the artist craftsmen in town. They were all teaching there too. It was Laura Andreson who told me about the job that was open at UCLA, teaching bookbinding. I began teaching for Extension in 1945, and in 1947 was appointed Lecturer in Art for the Art Department.

JP: You are a founding member of WAAC, aren't you?

ML: Yes, and a founding member of the Southern California Designer Craftsmen, which for a certain period was a tremendously active organization. WAAC was Ben Johnson's idea. About eighteen people were invited to the first meeting to see if they thought it would be a good idea. It was Pat Reeves who suggested WAAC as the name. At first it was a small informal group, and we met in the Board Room at the Museum, and we'd have little programs... and now it has become an enormous organization.

JP: You are well known as a designer of extra fine bindings. Would you define the main difference between a case binding and an extra fine hand binding?

ML: An extra fine binding is a book bound in full leather, sewn through the signatures on either raised or flat cords, with the covers attached to the book block before the leather is put on. That is called forwarding. The execution of the design is called finishing. This kind of binding cannot be done by machine. A case binding is one which can be made by machine, although in my classes it is done by hand. The case is made separately, and then the book block is glued into the case. It is not as strong as an extra find hand binding.

JP: How do you approach designing a fine binding?

ML: I don't believe the binding design should be an illustration. I believe it should, if possible, catch the spirit of the time, of the text and illustrations, if any. My theory is that the book and the design should be related, and that they should work together all the way. Really, the book tells you what to do: consider the content, paper, type style, and illustrations when designing a binding.

JP: What are some of the technical characteristics an extra fine binding should have?

ML: As far as a technique is concerned, one looks very carefully at how well the corners are made, how well the head band is woven, how the headcaps are formed, and whether the leather is neatly folded around the covers. The design should be perfectly executed. This is not an original statement, but a book should fit comfortably in the hands. It should open smoothly and easily, so that you want to go on reading it. It should function well, as a book, to read... and then be an aesthetic pleasure just to see and hold.

Interview by JoAnne Page, Assistant Paper Conservator, Los
Angeles County Museum of Art

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