At what stage of your life did you learn bookbinding?” I ask.

“Well, I graduated from Emerson College with a degree in mass communications,” Jamie Currier replies, “and decided that I really didn’t want to work for anybody. So, I went home to Connecticut and one day read in my father’s Brown University alumni magazine of this man, Dan Knowlton, who taught bookbinding at night as an extension class. Dan did restoration work for Brown’s John Hay Library. I used to drive up once a week for a three-hour class. This was 1971. I did that for about a year.”

The scope of the class was basic bookbinding. Currier adds, “Dan started all his classes with somebody bringing in a book they wanted to repair or rebind. We learned how to break a book down to its signatures, which are groups of folded paper. This is what a good book is made up of. Then, those signatures are sewn together on a sewing frame. Then the cover is made and put on. I would come up and spend time at his bindery. He knew that I was interested in making a career of this.”

“You knew that then?” I want to know.

“Yeah,” Currier replies, “as soon as I saw that article on bookbinding. After about a year, Dan decided that he was going to buy Markey and Asplund, a commercial bindery in Providence. He wanted to keep his job at Brown, so I became the manager. The previous owner stayed on for a couple of months and taught me a lot about semi-commercial binding. Not really what I wanted to do, but it allowed an opportunity to learn another facet of bookbinding.

“I spent a few years at Markey and Asplund,” he continues. “Then, I met Ray Chin. He had just graduated from RISD, and we decided that we were going to start a workshop called Colophon Workshops. We set up a space for printmaking, etching, lithography and bookbinding. We also built a macerator for making paper.”

“What’s a macerator?” I ask.

“A macerator,” he explains, “is a barrel about six inches around of blades that will shred rags into their threads and then shred those threads into their fibers. Ray made one. We also made some papermaking screens. Our idea being that somebody could come down and make their print and then either bind or box the final result. We had a lot of people from RISD come down and learn box making.

“It amazed me,” Currier continues. “This was 1975, maybe 1976. RISD was turning out these printmakers, but they never taught them how to present their work. They would go in for a final critique with a handful of prints, just throw them down, and say ‘well, here’s my stuff.’ It should have been a fundamental aspect to turning out printmakers. About two years later, RISD started to teach presentation techniques. I did a lot of work for museums and artists. I still make boxes.”

“How did you get to Newport?” I ask.

“My father,” he replies, “was brought up in Newport. I like to sail. I learned bookbinding in Providence. It seemed like a natural place to gravitate to. I started my first bindery down on Lower Thames Street in Newport in 1978. I have had three or four shops on Thames Street. My wife, Kristyn, and I moved away to Connecticut for about eight years. We moved back to Newport in 1995.”

“So, your business really is mobile?” I want to know.

Currier says, “When we were going to leave Connecticut, we could have gone anywhere, within reason. We thought of Maine or somewhere down on the inter-coastal, like Virginia or something. Ninety percent of my work comes by UPS. The equipment is big and heavy. You don’t want to be changing your mind about where you are going to be setting up too many times.

“What services do you offer?” I ask.

Currier replies, “I do rebinding, book repair, gold stamping and slipcases, which are the open-ended boxes that books slip into. I also do clamshell boxes, which is a folding box. You open it up, and the book would be on the right hand side. The left side would be a lid. It would be a one-piece box. I also do paper repair. To a minor degree. I am not really set up for doing large paper sizes. Most of the papers are done with flour and water paste and Japanese tissue. Bob Hauser, who does the paper restoration work for the New Bedford Whaling Museum, taught me. I also do some de-acidification of paper. It’s a bath that neutralizes the acidity in the paper.”

“Why would someone want that?” I want to know.

“It might not be so much for de-acidification,” Currier says, “but for washing. A lot of times the title page of a book will be smudged and very, very dirty. Washing the title page would get it back to looking like the rest of the pages. Pretty much. All things vary. So, I do some of that but usually just as an adjunct to whatever book I am working on.

“I love restoration work,” he continues. “I like to do books that are used. I do a lot of Bibles, but I know that as soon as I give them their Bible back it’s going back into storage somewhere. Probably back to the attic from where it came because someone was suffering a guilt trip about the state of their family Bible. So, I like to do scrapbooks, photo albums, music books, cookbooks…. I love doing books that have to work. A nice thing about hand-bookbinding is that a hand-bound book works well.

“How would you profile your clientele?” I ask him.

“Somewhere back in the ’70’s,” he replies, “I met a book dealer, Judith Bowman, who is probably one of the premiere dealers in angling. I started doing work for her, and it wasn’t too long after I started doing her work that I got a few of her collectors, then a few more dealers who were friends of hers. She was really my step into the book dealers. Most of that was all word of mouth. Book dealers are probably ninety percent of my business. Not all book dealers do any work to any of their books. A lot of the dealers buy a book and sell it as is.”

“Where are these dealers?” I want to know.

Currier replies, “I have some in New York. I have a couple of in California. Also, Mississippi. They are really all over. The majority of them are within three hours of Newport. Then, I get some of their collectors, some of their clients. They want to know where they can get a book fixed.’

“How do you estimate a job?” I ask.

“Most of my dealers,” Currier tells me, “will send me a box of books. They know more or less what it’s going to be. For individuals, they bring me a book and we discuss the possibilities, which would range from restoration to rebinding or boxing. Then I would come up with an estimate and go from there.”

I ask Currier to describe his equipment.

“My board cutter,” he explains, “is 1880, 1890 maybe in vintage. It will cut a piece of binder’s board, which is a cardboard that you make your covers up with. You can cut cloth on it, paper on it, board on it and leather on it. That’s one of the most important pieces of equipment. I have a backing press. That’s a vise with beveled jaws. You use the backing press to put the round spine onto a book. Then, there are hand tools for gilding. Those get heated up and impressed onto the leather, and gold leaf put on, and then hit again with the tool to melt the gold.”

For titling and doing labels, Currier has probably 30 trays of type. It is the old way of doing things, setting lead. He explains, “The type goes into a holder that gets heated up and brought down to the book cloth or leather and the gold is melted. And, then there are hand-lettering pallets. Basically the same process. Also, I have seven or eight wheels to create different designs. Sewing frames. I have two of them. Needle and thread. Scissors.”

Currier also has computer equipment. “What are the applications?” I ask.

He replies, “I use the computer a lot. I do quite a few angling books. Many of them during the period 1880’s to 1940’s were issued in boxes, slipcovers, folding boxes or two-piece boxes. Over the years, a lot of the boxes have been lost. As I come across an original box, I’ll measure it and take the specs. I might scan the label on the original box. Then, if somebody wants a facsimile of the original, I make it up. I use that for a database. Sometimes the endpapers, which are the papers that paste down inside the cover, are printed with a design. There might be a piece missing on the front, so I might scan the back where that missing piece is shown. Then I can print that on to a piece of paper and fit it into the front. I just bought a wide-format printer, and I have been putting book cloth through it. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”

“So, what would be the application for this printer? I ask him.

Currier gives me an example. “I did an early edition set, twenty-five volumes, of Mark Twain. It was a fairly valuable set. The first volume was signed by Mark Twain. Each volume needed the title, a volume number and a listing of what stories were in a particular volume. The covers were shot, and ninety percent of the spines were missing. They were leather volumes, and to repair them would have cost three times what the set was probably worth. So, we decided that we would rebind them in cloth. I figured that I would print the cloth using the computer. It worked very well, and it made that job cost effective.”

“What,” I ask Currier, “is your competition?”

“I don’t think of competition,” he replies. “There is a lot of work out there. I don’t feel that I am in competition with anybody. I am a member of the Guild of Bookworkers. They meet yearly and have lectures on various aspects of restoration or bookbinding.”

When I ask him what advice he would give people that want to go into bookbinding, he tells me, “I would try to get a good apprenticeship somewhere and maybe apprentice with several different people. There’s so much to learn. I think that you miss out on a lot if you go off on your own too quickly.”

“I have had apprentices,” he continues. “I usually don’t look for somebody. It works a lot better when they find me. Somebody would have to really profess an interest. An apprentice will start off doing the most mundane things. Like taking books apart and sewing them back together. Then they would learn how to lift up the materials that need to be replaced. The basic three are leather, cloth and paper. They would also learn how to put the covers onto the book, how to repair the endpapers, how to tool, how to title, how to skive leather, and how to make boxes. You have to be somewhat skillful with your hands. You can’t be too clumsy. But, it’s not rocket science.”

Movement is dance. Everybody’s dancing, but a lot of people are not aware that they are dancing

.”
– Mihailo “Misha” Djuric, Artistic Director of Festival Ballet Providence

“We all move, we dance through life,” says Mihailo “Misha” Djuric, Artistic Director of Festival Ballet Providence. “Movement is dance. Everybody’s dancing, but a lot of people are not aware that they are dancing.”

Originally from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Djuric says he was born to be a dancer. His enthusiasm is contagious. You can easily understand why this very talented man is a main reason for the spectacular emergence of Festival Ballet Providence as a leading arts success story. Not just an artistic director, his career in Europe and the United States spans that of actor, dancer, choreographer and costume designer.

Misha Djuric was hired in the summer of 1998 to lead the organization into the new millennium. His multi-pronged vision for Festival Ballet Providence encompassed increasing the number and variety of performances, developing a stronger resident company and increasing community collaboration, and developing the dance school.

What did he inherit?

Christine Hennessy and Winthrop Corey, formerly principal dancers with the Canadian Royal Winnipeg Ballet founded festival Ballet in 1978. With Corey’s departure in the 1980s and the untimely passing of Hennessy in 1997, the organization was in serious need of focus and direction. It launched an international search for a successor, found Djuric and hired him. While the seeds of what Festival Ballet was and would become already were sewn, it took the fresh energy of the new artistic director to move it forward.

Like a turbo charger, enter Misha Djuric. Lots of good things have happened, and they continue to happen — not only just through his vision and efforts. Apparently, it’s a fantastic, synergistic effort. Perfect timing, perfect positioning, with many very talented people pitching in. Lisa LaDew, Managing Director, kindly invited me to come talk with her and see Festival Ballet’s new space at 825 Hope Street.

The former home of Festival Ballet was a spartan and in many ways inadequate space. “It was about 4,500 square feet,” she tells me. “It had basically one office and two studios. Everybody was piled on top of each other. The ceilings were maybe 8 feet, so the dancers could never practice their lifts. It was an old building behind Rhode Island College. Nobody knew where we were.”

The Board of Trustees created a site search committee, comprised of board members and with a committee head who is an architect. In conducting an extensive search, certain criteria had to be met. The company wanted to move where it would be more visible. There were certain obvious space requirements, including more space and higher ceilings. In fact, it took them about two and a half years to find the space on Hope Street. They moved into their new building in September 2001.

“What was the building when it was originally built?” I ask LaDew.

“A grocery store,” she tells me,” so there are no bearing walls. Everything’s just opened up, which is why we have those lovely studio spaces. Then it became a funeral parlor. They did leave the embalming table for us. We started the renovations in July and in September we moved in.”

Now they have proper dressing rooms for the dancers, ample studio space with diffused and ambient lighting, and — most importantly — beautifully sprung floors in the studios.

Apparently, one of the first questions a dancer asks about a space is “How’s the floor?”

Soft and springy is good. Hard and unforgiving is not good.

Why did Festival Ballet change its name?

“For many years,” LaDew explains, “we were incorporated as Festival Ballet of Rhode Island. Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci has been very supportive of us in many ways. With our move to Providence, we wanted to be part of that cultural renaissance. We wanted to be in a league with Trinity Rep, with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and with the performances and shows that come into the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC). The Board thought that having ‘Providence’ in the name would give us more credibility as a professional arts organization based in Providence. So, our corporate name is ‘Festival Ballet Providence.’”

What is Festival Ballet’s mission statement?

As adopted by the Board of Trustees, it is “We seek to thrill and move our audiences, dancers, choreographers, students, supporters and staff with art and discipline. We dance to enrich and inspire lives.”

It would appear that they are doing an excellent job in terms of meeting their objective. In addition to the professional company, Festival Ballet has a Center for Dance Education. It offers comprehensive, educational programs. These programs include Young Children’s Program (ages 3-7), Core Dance Program (ages 8 – adult) and a Summer Dance Program. The Core Dance Program includes Beginner Ballet Division, Intermediate Ballet Division, Boys Division, Adult Ballet Division and Enrichment Division.

But, these classes are not just ballet. You can take classes in Hip-Hop/Jazz, Ballroom Dancing, The Festival Ballet Workout, Yoga and Cultural Dance. “We have a large number of classes for students of all interests and all abilities,” LaDew tells me. “Since we have moved to the East Side of Providence, we’re seeing what the needs are and what the demands are for additional classes. So, we are still playing with the schedule. The school is a very significant part of our business and certainly a significant part of our income as well.”

“How many people attend your school?” I ask.

“We have,” she replies, “about 360 children and adults enrolled right now. When we left North Providence we were at 130. We had actually hoped to hit the 200 mark. Here we are approaching the 400 mark, so pretty impressive growth. The students range from ‘I am going to have fun in a hip-hop jazz class’ to serious, advanced ballet students who are here 8-10 hours a week taking class. We get new registrations every day.”

LaDew explains that the other component is the professional company, which does the public performances. Festival Ballet Providence does five a year. Three are for adults and two are part of the Dance-Me-A-Story Family Series for young children. This year they are Carnival with the Animals and King Arthur & The Knights of the Square Tables. “The performances,” she tells me, “are 45 to 50 minutes, and the kids have an opportunity to go up on stage, meet the performers, get autographs, feel their toe shoes and kind of experience a ballet beyond just watching it.”

Another new and innovative program is Discover Dance, which reaches out to students, senior citizens, persons with handicaps, and other groups. Audience members have the opportunity to meet the artistic director, see a full performance, and ask questions at the conclusion of the ballet. In the 1999-2000 season over 4,000 people enjoyed The Nutcracker and Dracula through this program.

Last year under Djuric’s direction, Festival Ballet presented eight different productions in four states, including 38 performances to an audience of over 30,000. The 2000/2001 Season consists of seven different productions, with an expanded company, touring Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

To learn more about Festival Ballet Providence, including the information about the company, performances, classes, and programs, you can access their website at www.festivalballet.com

“How do you see yourself situated amongst the other leading arts organizations in Providence?” I ask her.

LaDew replies, “I think the Board and the people who come to our performances believe that we are on a par, that we are a very professional company, and that in the world of ballet this is it in terms of Rhode Island. Like the Philharmonic is it, and you know Trinity Rep is. I think in terms of dance we see our competition for an audience more from Boston Ballet than from other dance companies in Rhode Island.”

“As Managing Director,” I ask LaDew, “what is your vision for Festival Ballet Providence?”

Next year is their 25th year, and they are planning a celebration. “We have a capital campaign going on right now,” she explains. “Our Artistic Director is very well connected in the ballet world, and he has professional dancers who have agreed to lend their names to our capital campaign as honorary chairs. They would come over here for a gala performance that we would market on a national scale. Because people from all over would come to see principal couples from the American Ballet Theatre, from Boston Ballet, from the Canadian Ballet and from the Royal Ballet in London.”

In a separate telephone chat with Chairman of the Board of Trustees Don Wineberg, he stated that “Dance enthusiasts from all over the country would come because it would be the only time in your life you would have chance to see all of these dancers together.”

How does Wineberg see Festival Ballet Providence positioned today and where does he see it in five years?

“Now,” he tells me, “it is an up and coming regional ballet company. Four years ago it had a budget of $300,000. Today the budget is over $1Million. In five years I see it as a national and international force in dance.”

LaDew tells me that they grew so quickly in those four years that they are playing catch-up most of the time. For her, it has been a great opportunity to use the management and organizational skills, developed in her other career, to do something fun. She has over 20 years experience in health care administration, and most recently served as COO and CEO of the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island. An avid fan of dance, she joined the Festival Ballet Board of Trustees in 1998. In 1999 she became Vice-President of Strategic Planning, and in the fall of 2000 she volunteered to cover the vacant position of Managing Director. LaDew was hired in the spring of 2001 to the full-time paid position of Managing Director.

“Are you a dancer?” I ask her.

“No, I have never danced professionally,” she replies. Apparently, however, LaDew did take formal dance training, and she danced a lot when she was younger. “But the mid-western side of me said, ‘you’re never going to be really good. You may make the corps somewhere, but then you are going to have to retire by the time you are 30 and go back to college and have a career anyway. So, why not skip the dancing and go for the career.’”

She tells me that she just started her five-year old daughter in Festival Ballet’s pre-ballet class called Creative Movement, and that she lives vicariously through her.”

I re-live Misha’s statement. He’s right.

Everybody’s dancing.