I first heard about Bari Zaki during my interview with her good friend Angela Liguori of Studio Carta. Angela and Bari began their friendship before the days of email, DM’s, and text messages. Through hand-written letters, the two women continued their friendship by correspondence until they finally met when Angela returned to the US.
In addition to running her shop, Bari Zaki Studio in Chicago, Bari teaches workshops both in her shop and at Studio Carta in Brookline, Massachusetts. She incorporates ribbons from Studio Carta in her workshops and gives customers a chance to learn the beautiful art of bookbinding.
When did you first become interested in the art of bookbinding?
When I was about 10.
Tell me a bit about the process of bookbinding.
For me, the inspiration comes from the materials people want to be bound—it might a collection of photos, or a treasure trove of ephemera, or an old cherished volume. My approach depends on what we’re trying to create. Then comes selecting the materials—and the choices are practical as well as aesthetic. How a book ultimately looks and feels is incredibly personal. The actual construction is, in many ways, repetitive—I have made thousands of books, but each one is distinguished not only by its materials but also by the “new life” its owner will infuse it with.
What has been the most unique paper you’ve come across in your travels?
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one. A memorable one was at the Harcourt Bindery in Boston, about 20 years ago. I was allowed to look through their paper files and came across a lovely geometric pattern on a hand-dyed sheet. I bought 3 sheets of this pattern, but I’ve yet to use them for anything. Their time will come.
I’ve always been interested in learning new things. What are the essential supplies for someone new to bookbinding?
Bonefolder, shipping clerk’s knife, lightweight awl, some thread, and an assortment of suitable papers. The tools are essential, but the process takes instruction. It’s complicated than simply assembling. I think it’s more akin to baking.
What is the most rewarding part about owning and running Bari Zaki Studio in Chicago?
Meeting like-minded paper appreciators, and inspiring people to preserve their past by documenting their thoughts and life events, whether it’s in a journal, a sketchbook, or a beautiful keepsake box or album.
What are the most popular items in your shop?
Little desk accessories that I cover with Japanese papers— butterfly clips and pencils!
You mentioned that artist Audrey Niffenegger (who would later write the well-known novel The Time Travelers Wife) drew the bookplate that you still use today… How did you first meet and how involved were you with the design process of the bookplate?
We met at Artist Bookworks, where I took my first bookbinding workshop (30 years ago). I noticed one of Audrey’s prints hanging over the board-cutter, and I was immediately enthralled with her style. For the design, she asked me to tell her a couple of things that I wanted to be included, so I said, books (of course) & a sixth sense. She letterpress printed 100 or so bookplates on some lovely lightweight Japanese-y paper, as well as 100 folded notecards on Fabriano Medioevalis.
After the Cubs won the World Series you received a commission to create a two-volume commemorative album. What was the most exciting part about working on this commissioned project?
The most exciting part was seeing everything—photos, clippings, World Series tickets still on their original sheet and getting to organize them. The finished product was originally going to be a smallish memory book. I was so enthused about the extent and richness of the materials and thrilled that the client shared my creative vision to expand into a pair of custom albums.
What do you enjoy the most about preparing for workshops at Studio Carta?
It’s a three-step process, and I enjoy all three phases: assembling all the tools (from inventory) – not only to use in the workshop but for students to take home; deciding on the cover papers; and, last but not least, packing up the mega-parcel.
Is there a ribbon/paper available at Studio Carta that you always use in your workshops?
I love the loose weave Italian cotton ribbon to use for a tie closure. It comes in a lovely assortment of colors, and it makes a beautiful bow.
In addition to giving workshops at Studio Carta, you also have workshops at Bari Zaki Studio ranging from bookbinding to drawing and calligraphy, some of which are offered as private/semi-private classes. What’s it like working one on one with a customer to teach them a new artistic craft?
It gives me time to connect with the person I’m working with, to learn more about them. It also gives the student more time to process the steps… and gives me more time to help them.
All pictures in this post were provided by Bari Zaki