The Short Story

portrait
1942 Birth of Yehuda Miklaf in Nova Scotia, Canada
1949-59 Education in Nova Scotia to eleventh grade
1959-64 Education in New York to second year university
1965-68 Library technician in Halifax, Nova Scotia
1968-77 Library technician at University of Toronto Library
1972 Began studying bookbinding
1977 Set up as hand binder
1978-81 Taught bookbinding at Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario
1981 Married Maurene Fritz
1983 First trip to Israel
1986 Moved to Jerusalem, Israel
1990 Established Shalom Yehuda Press

The Long Story

Lover of Books

Yehuda Miklaf was born in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1942, and educated there and in New York. The most persistent influence in his life has been the book. His paternal grandmother kept a library in her home before the community had a public library, and for many years afterward. His first paying job, at the age of 13, was as caretaker at the public library, were he spent many early mornings browsing and reading while the coal fire struggled to life. As a university student in Halifax he also worked in the library, and when he tired of study and withdrew, he simply made it a full time job.

Lover of their Bindings Too

In 1968 he moved to Toronto and began working at the University of Toronto Library, where he stayed for almost ten years. During this time he began to learn bookbinding. Returning from work one day, he met a friend who worked at the Rare Book Library. His friend told him that the binder from the Rare Book Library, Emrys Evans, had been teaching an evening class in binding for the past year, and had just begun a second year. Yehuda continued homeward, and met Emrys, who mentioned that there was still space in the class. Perhaps. Yehuda went home and began to make dinner. Suddenly the thought occurred to him: “I am more interested in bookbinding than I am in dinner”. He put away the pots and went to the class.

Hands On

The study of bookbinding requires a lot of time and a lot of equipment. An evening class, even with such a talented and helpful teacher as Emrys Evans, can rarely provide the time and facilities for in-depth study. But Yehuda attacked his new interest with his usual zeal for new projects. He bought equipment from England and set up a small bindery in his apartment. Emrys recognized his talent and enthusiasm, and was very forthcoming with time and extra help. Yehuda often carried equipment to class on the subway so that Emrys could demonstrate techniques that the class would normally not cover.
Yehuda attended this class for three years, taking advantage of Emrys’ generosity by visiting the bindery at the Rare Book Library whenever it was possible. Lunch hours were spent signing books out from the Special Collections that were listed in the catalogue’s binding file, sometimes wading through a dozen dull plain calf bindings before getting something more interesting. He had access to the stacks in the main library, and there he spent countless hours looking at interesting bindings in detail, although they were not usually by well-known binders.
Also at this time, Yehuda befriended two other notable binders in the Toronto area. One was Anton (Tony) Lucas, the binder at the Metropolitan Toronto Library. He welcomed visitors at his workshop and especially if they came to talk bookbinding. A short period of formal learning with Tony happened when he gave a course at the Three Schools of Art, but unfortunately he passed away during the second year.
Michael Wilcox was not well known then, and that worked to Yehuda’s advantage. Michael, like Emrys and Tony, was always generous with his time and knowledge. There were times when Yehuda was able to stay over at Michael and Suzanne’s for two or three days and watch him work, always a very valuable learning experience.
At the time that Tony Lucas passed away, Yehuda was working on two books for Ralph Greenhill, who collected early railroad material. Ralph asked Emrys if he could finish the work, but Emrys could not, and suggested Yehuda. This led to an association that lasted a number of years and gave Yehuda an opportunity to work on a wide range of materials for one of the most demanding clients a binder could have.

As a Career

In 1977, after five years of binding as a hobby, Yehuda began to think of trying to make a living from binding alone. His friend Tom Moore had left the library and become a successful photographer, and he constantly encouraged Yehuda to take a similar course. Finally the decision was made, and Yehuda handed in his resignation. When he phoned Tom to tell him, he was out, and a message was left with the answering service. Later Tom called, and when Yehuda remarked about the message, Tom denied having received it, and was calling on another matter. Yehuda told him the news and asked his. He replied that he was working on a book that was to be presented to Queen Elizabeth, and needed a binder.
In 1978, Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, decided to set up a course in hand bookbinding. They asked Emrys Evans to teach the course, and he agreed, but was only able to leave his regular work one day per week, and therefore asked Yehuda to take the extra day. For the second and third years of the program, Yehuda taught both days. The course was then cancelled, but many of the students have continued to practice binding, and these students were largely responsible for the founding of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG), now a flourishing national organization that publishes a regular journal and organizes workshops and exhibitions.
Also in 1978, David Kotin, then a librarian at the North York Public Library, organized a show of book arts in Ontario at the library. Yehuda was reticent to allow any of his work to be shown, but several items were eventually borrowed from Ralph Greenhill. A similar show on a slightly larger scale was done in 1981, and this time there were several items of Yehuda’s that were more in the direction of design bindings.
When CBBAG was founded and began to offer workshops, Yehuda took whichever ones he could, and several of them had a decided effect of his work. Don Guyot taught paper marbling, and although Yehuda felt this was somewhat removed from the direction he wanted to work, he needed greater variety in the papers he was using to make book-boxes, and therefore took the course. Marbling is seductive, and before long Yehuda had a marbling trough set up in his basement and was producing all his own papers. Probably the most influential workshop was Philip Smith’s on leather onlay. Yehuda had used onlay before, but only after the book had been bound, and they tended to be constrained. Philip’s method of applying the onlay to the leather before binding was immediately adopted, and has been an integral part of Yehuda’s work.

Lover Outside of Books

In 1981, Yehuda married Maurene Fritz. Having moved into her house, Yehuda gave up a great deal of time to renovating it, and was in the midst of a major renovation when they visited Israel in the Fall of 1983. Coming to Israel without any thought of moving there, both Yehuda and Maurene were overcome with the beauty and power of Jerusalem. The next three years were devoted to preparations for moving there, interrupted by the birth of their daughter Shoshi in 1984. In 1986 the move was made, and Yehuda set up shop in Jerusalem, where he remains to this day.

Printing

Yehuda had obviously always been interested in all facets of book arts. Printing held a particular fascination, but there was never an opportunity to learn more about it, despite the connection with printers and private presses in Toronto. It was not until 1989, when Gregory Robison called Yehuda looking for a source of paper, that printing took over a major part of his life. Gregory was in Jerusalem because his wife Liane was working at the American Consulate. Gregory was an amateur printer, and his father also, and fearing that he might be bored, his father packed up a small press and a few drawers of type and shipped them to him. Gregory and Yehuda exchanged visits, and later exchanged lessons in bookbinding and printing.
Before long, Yehuda was given a small table model platen press (by Nellie Stavisky) and soon after a Vandercook SP-15 proofing press (by Ben Tzvi Printing Company). So Shalom Yehuda Press, named for the street on which Yehuda lives in Jerusalem, came into being. The first imprint, a Hebrew translation of Beatrice Warde’s essay The Crystal Goblet, was completed in 1990.

Exhibition History:

Reader, Lover of Books, North York Public Library, Willowdale 1981
20th Century Bookbinding, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton 1982
The Art of the Book, CBBAG, Toronto 1988
Tregaskis Centenary Exhibition, Designer Bookbinders, London 1994
Contemporary Canadian Bookworks, CBBAG, Tokyo 1995
5e Biennale Mondiale de la Reliure d’Art, Saint Jean de Luz 1999
Maestri Rilegatori per il “Cantico delle Creature”, Assisi 2002
8e Biennale Mondiale de la Reliure d’Art, Saint Remy les Chevreuse 2005
Beauty and the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem 2005

Collection History:

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
Jewish Theological Seminary Library, New York
Spencer Collection, New York Public Library
Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati
Library of Congress
Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem
Library of the Ministry of Culture and Education, Jerusalem
Library of the National Archives, Jerusalem
Library of the Knesset, Jerusalem
Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild Library, Toronto
Musee royale des beaux-arts de Belgique
Metropolitan Toronto Library
The British Library
Harvard University Library
Yale University Library
Miniature Book Society Library
San Francisco Public Library

Presentation bindings:

Queen Elizabeth II – Silver Jubilee 1977
US President George W. Bush – Visit to Jerusalem 2008
French President Nikolai Sarkozy – Visit to Jerusalem 2008
His Holiness Benedict XVI – Visit to Israel 2009