The "Pear" Binding by Jan Sobota
Solomon’s Song of Songs.
Illustrated manuscript on paper.
[Dallas, Texas, 1990]. (BRMS 209)
Internationally acclaimed bookbinder and conservator Jan Bohuslav Sobota was born in Czechoslovakia in 1939. He studied binding in Pilzen and Prague until 1957, and by 1977 he had earned international recognition as a “Master of Bookbinding.” Defecting to Switzerland in 1982, he brought his family to the United States in 1984, working as a conservator at Case Western Reserve University before coming to Bridwell Library, where he served as Director of Conservation from 1990 until 1997, when he and his family returned to the Czech Republic.
Sobota’s “sculptural” bindings were among the first of this type to emerge in the 1960s. Taking the forms of seated devils, giant fish, Frank Lloyd Wright houses, and fruit, his bindings clearly echo the contents of the books. Like several of the artist’s sculptural bindings, the exhibited work of 1990 is lightly erotic, combining the shape of a pear and a female lower rear torso. In this case, it appears that the binding reflects the dual nature of the Song of Songs, which celebrates the love of God through the allegory of physical love. The “pear” is covered in green and yellow painted buckskin surmounted by a stem, while the torso is in crushed white buckskin. Within the two-part leather “box” is a manuscript by the calligrapher Michael Sull, the leaves of which echo the shape of the outer container. The “pear” binding protects the manuscript within just as did the medieval box bindings that provided its initial inspiration.