Volume 1 - Spring 1996


Romania - A New Start

by Maureen Duke

Hewit's bookbinding calfskin, paring knives, bone folders and a variety of other tools are now part of the stock in trade of Conservators at the National Library of Romania in Bucharest. Other binders from other cities who have attended the training courses are similarly equipped. So it is that the names of English suppliers and manufacturers are becoming part of the Romanian bookbinders glossary. We use 'Hoover' and 'Lino' to describe more than the precise products of those companies and so it is with Japanese Tissue, India paper and Dutch marbling. I have found myself having to rethink the descriptive names we apply to techniques and materials, for when they are translated into Romanian or even carefully explained they have no relevance. The construction of the Victorian Album needs to be preceded by an historical comment and then one is referring to a 19th century structure that appears all over Europe. Those sixty glorious years of an English queen only confuse.

Some quite strange coincidences in language occur which are useful memory aids. The Spanish word for "paste" is coca - the Romanian translation is cola. Who can forge the ubiquitous Coca Cola? Then there is the oft repeated cry of the lesser and greater conservator 'Put it in a Box'. A carton; yes cartonnes with different accents, spelling or emphasis are boards in languages with Latin ancestry. Can you guess what a capital band is?

The climate which swings from tropical temperature in the summer to sub zero in the winter is a nightmare scenario for the librarian and conservator. Huge ceramic stoves heat the rooms during the cold periods and rather inadequate fans move the warm air and dust around in the hot ones. Bucharest is the land of dust, it lies in layers in Museums and Galleries. There is builders dust, transport dust and antique dust from previous centuries.

One of the most difficult concepts to communicate is that of the cleaner and re-furbisher who has to be a person who is trained to handle precious artefacts. So often the cleaner is equated with those hard working ladies who sweep the streets and pavements. That is no training for gently removing soot and injurious deposits from fine rare bindings. We have come round full circle and must now find a Hoover which can be charged or used from their electric main.

Romanians appear to have no fear of electricity. They have perhaps had more fearful things to deal with, while we blanch as the blue sparks jump about. Certainly my expletives are very English and expressive and it won't be long before they understand me. Together, with good humour, goodwill and a lot of patience we are gently moving the cause of conservation in Romania forward into the limelight.

Maureen Duke is a career bookbinder of 49 years standing. She is well known internationally as a forward thinking advocate of craft bookbinding and until very recently was chairperson of the Society of Bookbinders. Maureen has recently retired as Course Director for the bookbinding and book conservation courses at Guildford College and a few years ago became involved with The European Art Conservation Trust.


The European Art Conservation Trust (E.A.C.T.), has been working with the National Library of Romania in Bucharest since 1990. Last year they also decided to develop a partnership with the Brukental Museum and Library in Sibiu, Transylvania. The success of the work results from the generous way in which people have volunteered their skills and expertise, spending time in this country and in Romania to share their knowledge with Romanian Colleagues. If you would like to find out more about E.A.C.T.'s work and how you could help, either in cash or in kind, please contact the trustees at:

E.A.C.T., 191, St. Johns's Hill, LONDON SW11 1TH - Tel. 0171-223-1629


Skin Deep - Volume 1 - Spring 1996

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