Almost Lost Arts by Emily Freidenrich


9781452170206This book is a celebration of tactile beauty and a tribute to human ingenuity. In-depth profiles tell the stories of 20 artisans who have devoted their lives to preserving traditional techniques. Gorgeous photographs reveal these crafts people’s studios, from Oaxaca to Kyoto and from Milan to Tennessee. Two essays explore the challenges and rewards of engaging deeply with the past. With an elegant three-piece case and foil stamping, this rich volume will be an inspiration to makers, collectors, and history lovers.

The subtitle of this book is “Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive,” which accurately reflects the content, but does not come close to expressing the sheer joy and steadfast commitment these artisans find in their work.

As a librarian, I was pleased to see a chapter devoted to Donald Vass, the “Book Mender” for the King County Library System in Issaquah, Washington. Book mending is truly a lost art in libraries, given the relatively low cost and low quality of the books being published today. It’s cheaper to buy a new one than fix a book with a broken spine. Most library systems, including mine, eliminated the Book Menders years ago. It brings me joy to see Mr. Vass carefully attending to these broken books, and the photo of the “century-old cast-iron board cutter” leaves me envious. It also makes me sad to read “he has worried that the program will dissolve with his retirement.” I’m betting that’s true.

There are lots of “lost arts” books out there right now, but this one features some artisans and skills I did not expect. There’s

  • Peter Bellerby, who makes custom globes that are works of art;
  • Brittany Nicole Cox, the Antiquarian Horologist who repairs vintage and ancient clocks and timekeeping devices;
  • Wet plate photographers who actually create *new* tin types;
  • Steve Stepp & Robert Coverston, who create new cassette tapes;
  • Image colorists Matt Loughrey and Grace Rawson who bring new details to life in vintage photos through exacting coloring techniques.

Almost Lost Arts introduces you to these and so many more people across the globe who are keeping the old crafts and arts alive. There is a good balance of text and color photos which blend together to describe the history and the current application of the particular art. The descriptive text is fascinating and well-researched.

I have only two technical issues: there are some editing issues in the advanced copy I received (page 67 in the wet plate photography chapter has some misspelled words, and sentences that repeat); and something that annoys me in books that rely on photos and words to tell the story – when you have captioned photos on a page, end the text block with a period. Don’t make the reader go to the next page to finish the sentence/paragraph then have to go back to read the photo captions.

Other than those two minor quibbles, this is a fabulous book. Beautiful and informative. Buy it for every maker you know who loves the old ways. They will not be disappointed.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Chronicle Books for the review copy