The art of book binding

First aired on In Town and Out (02/03/13)

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In this age of interactive e-books and tablet computers, visiting Fernando Martinez at work is like taking a step back in time. As a third generation book binder and restorer for the Library of Parliament, Martinez is surrounded by the traditional tools of the trade. He cuts and shapes leather covers, breathing new life into old texts. He feels like a doctor of books sometimes, he told CBC's In Town and Out recently.

"I feel like the book is sick, and I have to do something," he said. "Sometimes there is a challenge. I love challenges. When I'm finished, it's so great. I saw the book healthy and that made me feel happy."

Finishing one book typically takes him about 30 hours, nearly a full week of meticulous work. But sometimes he's presented with a project that truly inspires him. Last year, to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, he was asked to prepare two books -- one for the House of Commons and one for the Senate. The books were bound in full leather and featured the emblem of the queen. He considers those books among his best works ever.

Book binding is in his blood, he said. The Colombian-born Martinez comes from a long line of book binders and restorers. This was his father's craft, as well as his grandfather's. He remembers, from the age of nine or ten, having to help out at the bindery after school with his brothers and sisters, cleaning up the equipment, learning the patient art. His after-school duties didn't leave him much time for friends, but he came to appreciate these dying skills. He's now been binding books for more than 40 years.

He has two children of his own, both adults now. Martinez has tried to spark their interest in this art, but they've decided to take different paths. However, the family tradition does continue, as some of his nephews and nieces are now book binders, ensuring that this increasingly rare craft will last at least another generation.