Jim Croft with Brien Beidler in Santa, Idaho on making books and paper from the ground up

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By Kelly Moody : Herbalist, Philosopher, Photographer and Writer and Kelly Moody. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
Episode #38 of the Ground Shots Podcast features a conversation with Jim Croft, medieval era bookbinder, hand papermaker and wonderful storyteller. This podcast episode was recorded summer 2019 in Santa, Idaho on his homestead during he and his partner Melody’s ‘Old Ways of Making Books’ class they host most summers. This interview was co-facilitated by Brien Beidler, who was featured along Mary Sullivan on Episode #32 of the podcast.

Jim Croft is a Medieval bookbinder and papermaker. He is internationally known for his skills, and he travels annually to various locations in the USA to teach students how to make books with wooden covers and brass clasps. In the summer, he offers a two week intensive workshop teaching students how to spin thread from raw fibers, make paper, create book covers from raw wood, design and make brass clasps, and then how to bind everything together. Jim is always the first one up in the morning, and the last one to retire at night.

Jim has lived in Santa, Idaho on his rural off-grid homestead with his partner Melody Eckroft, who is an accomplished basket-weaver, for over 40 years. They raised three children living close to the land and making their handmade crafts a part of daily life. I’ve had the honor of spending time on their land the last three summers. I first came to their homestead because I was interested in making things from the ‘ground up’ after taking a bookbinding, paper-making, and printmaking Spring intensive at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina, where many folks had suggested I give Jim a call. SO, I did. And, everything changed from there.

I’ve been doing natural brain-tanning and bark-tanning animal hides for awhile now, and I'm also interested in other crafts that engage a relationship with plants, ecology and natural materials. My work in brain-tanning and bark-tanning leather caught Jim’s attention and we became friends right away. Since he focuses on period specific bookbinding that utilizes natural or up-cycled materials as much as possible, he wanted to learn more about leather and ‘shammy' (although, he already knows more than he gives himself credit).

I ended up wandering to Jim and Melody’s a year and a half after my Penland experience. I took their two week ‘Old Ways of Making Books’ class while also facilitating the hide tanning portion of the class so that folks could learn about naturally tanning their book materials. I started the podcast the next year, and then this past summer Jim agreed to record a conversation. I asked Brien to help co-facilitate since he and Jim are colleagues and great friends with many shared experiences and a mutual love of hand bookbinding.

About co-facilitator Brien Beidler: From the beginning, Brien Beidler has been inspired by historic bindings, and is consistently delighted by their ability to harmonize fine craftsmanship, quirky but elegant aesthetics, and evidence of the hands that made them. Though traditionally structured and bound with integrity, Brien's bindings seek ways to create new compositions and juxtapositions of these historic precedents.

Naturally, a healthy love of the tools of the trade followed suit, and with the generosity and encouragement of toolmaking legends Jim Croft and Shanna Leino, Brien also creates a limited assortment of specialized hand tools for bookbinding and its related trades.

Over the last nine years Brien has taken and taught a variety of bookbinding and toolmaking workshops, and is an active member of the Guild of Book Workers. In the fall of 2016, he and his wife upped their roots in Charleston, South Carolina and set up shop in Bloomington, Indiana, where Brien works from his home studio with Wren, his curmudgeonly Brittany.

Since Ground Shots Podcast episode #32 where I interview Brien Beidler and Mary Sullivan on bookbinding and papermaking, Brien started a podcast of his own co-hosted with Amy Umbel called Cut the Craft Podcast featuring interviews with craftsfolk. Check it out!

In this conversation with Jim Croft featuring Brien Beidler, we talk about:

stories of where Jim grew up, when he worked on a boat, discovering bookbinding in Europe

Jim’s classic meandering stories on woodworking, adventures, building, fiber processing, his house fire, meeting Melody Eckroft his partner of over 40 years

living off grid in rural Oregon and northern Idaho

making and building as much by hand as possible

investigating craft and materials through regular experimentation and engagement

some history of bookbinding and fine binding, paper-making

the importance of hemp and flax for paper, clothing and rope fiber

making bone tools

using mostly hand tools to make books

Jim's relationship with scavenging from logging sites, junk yards, or abandoned buildings for materials to make things

book conservation vs. repair

Jim and and Jack Thompson making a water-powered hand stamp paper mill in Santa, Idaho (the only other ones basically exist in Europe)

Links:

Jim and Melody’s website, where you can contact them about future classes out in Idaho (calling or writing letters is best): https://cargocollective.com/oldway

Brien’s website: https://www.beidlermade.com/

Brien’s instagram: @bhbeidler http://www.instagram.com/bhbeidler

Jeff Peachy, mentioned in the podcast https://jeffpeachey.com/

Guild of Bookworkers: https://guildofbookworkers.org/

Friends of Dard Hunter paper-making conference: https://friendsofdardhunter.org/conference

University of Iowa Center for the Book: https://www.iowacenterforthebook.org

Paper and Book Intensive: https://www.paperbookintensive.org

Penland School of Craft: https://penland.org/

Stamp Mill for Paper-making, a piece of technology Jim co-built with others on his land https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_mill

Suave Mechanicals: Volume 2 – mentioned in the podcast, a publication Jim wrote a piece for, published by Legacy Press : https://the-center-for-book-arts.myshopify.com/collections/center-publications/products/copy-of-suave-mechanicals-volume-2

Support the podcast on Patreon to contribute to our grassroots self-funding of this project.

Support the Ground Shots Project with a one time donation via Paypal at: paypal.me/petitfawn

Our website with backlog of episodes, plant profiles, travelogue and more: http://www.ofsedgeandsalt.com

Our blog post for this episode (featuring photos from the class with Jim in 2019) http://www.ofsedgeandsalt.com/podcastblog/jimcroft

Our Instagram page @goldenberries

Join the Ground Shots Podcast Facebook Group to discuss the episodes

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Theme music: 'Sweat and Splinters' by Mother Marrow

Interstitial Music: cover of music by Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croft, Melody Eckroft and Peter Thomas, live recording summer 2019 in Santa, Idaho.

Hosted by: Kelly Moody

Produced by: Kelly Moody and Opia Creative

64 episodes