Books. Where do they come from? How do they get from an author’s fingertips and onto the shelves of Barnes & Nobel and other bookstores around the world? For the most part, they’re mass produced by machines in large factories by publishing companies such as Random House and Penguin. However, there are people out there who still adhere to the sometimes not so traditional art known as book binding.
Richard Creighton, part-time professor and full- time book binder, is one such individual. Although he is currently employed as a book binder at Distinctive Bookbinding in Rockville, Maryland Creighton did not initially set out to become a professional bookbinder.
“My bachelor’s degree was in computer science and graphic,” said Creighton. “Although I use both those skills in my current position, I had no idea when I was in college that I would someday end up working in a shop that produces custom-bound books.”
At Distinctive Bookbinding, Creighton has come into contact with all sorts of different books not often seen by the general public. According to Creighton, approximately 50 percent of all Distinctive’s business comes from the conservation and repair of old books.
“I have made display/archival boxes for an 18th century illuminated Koran,” said Creighton, “I have also made a clamshell case for a second edition Nostrodamus Quatrains published in the late 1500s. I also helped restore, rebind, and re-cover a few Bibles from the early 1500s (one German and one Latin) and an English Bible from the early 1600s.”
In addition to the privilege of being to handle such delicate and often priceless historical artifacts, Creighton also feels a different sort of pride from his work.
“Handling and working with these old books is a real privilege, because not only do I get to see and touch pieces of history, but I get to preserve and protect them so that they may continue to live on, and bring joy to people for centuries more into the future,” Creighton said.
Antique books aren’t the only things that Creighton works with, though. The company he works for also binds books for the president of the United States.
“Every year for Christmas, our shop binds books for the President of the United States, which he gives to his White House staff as a gift,” explains Creighton. “It is printed in full color, and has photos and press releases of all the interesting visitors and events that happen in the White House from the previous year. We bind them in red leather with the Presidential Seal in gold on the cover, and the year stamped in gold on the spine. In 2014, we made 136 copies of this book.”
In addition to making books for the President, Creighton and the rest of the company also does work for the U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Commerce, and for the Supreme Court just to name a few.
So, what exactly makes these books so desirable over the books that are mass produced? Creighton has his own theory:
“Manufacturing small editions or one-of-a-kind books are not the same as the books that mass-produced, and they are more like a "work of art" than a consumer product.”
This artistry is something which Creighton and Hood College intends to keep alive through the Book Arts course. In addition to keeping his craft alive, Creighton is also fulfilling his life-long dream.
“My real loves are teaching and letterpress printing,” said Creighton, “My "dream job" would be to be a full-time college instructor in printmaking, book arts and graphic design.”
Currently, Creighton teaches Book Arts in the basement level of Gambrill Gymnasium on Monday nights from 5:40 p.m. until approximately 8 p.m. Maeve Goldstien, a senior at Hood College, is currently doing her independent study with Creighton.
“I saw some of Mr. Creighton’s work before I decided to do my independent study with him,” said Goldstein. “I was and continue to be highly impressed with his work.”
As a teacher, Creighton has gained a reputation amongst his students of being a fair and knowledgeable instructor. Megan McGill, a senior and studio art major, is currently taking his book arts class and is thoroughly impressed with Creighton’s skills not only as an artist, but as an instructor as well.
“I respect Mr. Creighton. I think he has a lot of knowledge on the subject,” said McGill. “I enjoy how loose the structure of the class is and how we do frequent group critiques. All in all, I feel it [book arts] is a useful skill to have under my belt.”
The class will continued to be offered in the upcoming years with Mr. Creighton as an instructor. If you wish to contact Distinctive Bookbinding, call (240)-268-5550.