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A Saturday for Sobota

On Saturday October 20th, the Kelvin Smith Library and the Rowfant Club will launch a bookbinding exhibit to honor and praise the works of Jan Bohuslav Sobota, Master of Bookbinding.

The exhibit hosts numerous examples of Sobota’s art, including a tiny version of “Hamlet”hidden underneath a sculptured skull, an automobile manual disguised behind a very realistic car façade, and religious texts transformed into detailed crosses. There will also be several pieces done by his wife and close friends on display.
Sobota’s work is one very valid exception to the “don’t judge a book by its cover” rule because it is more than likely that what is on the book’s cover is a very accurate description of what awaits in the text.

According to curator Amanda Castleberry, “The outside reflects what’s inside. It’s not purely decorative.”
Co-curator Esther Park also shares admiration for Sobota’s work. Park believes his book sculptures question “the line between art and book binding” and that all of his works in the exhibit “attest to his skills as a bookbinder.”

Park and Castleberry are current graduate students studying at Case Western Reserve University. Both students enjoyed preparing the exhibit and working at KSL, though this type of work is not necessarily their career choices. Castleberry appreciates the “practical experience” she has gained through organizing the Sobota exhibit.
To formally open the exhibit, guest speakers Ladislav Hanka, Robert Chesier, and Nicholas Basbanes will present a symposium on Sobota’s work from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. These speakers have had a personal connection with Sobota, especially Hanka, who wrote an endearing obituary after his death.

The symposium is free and open to the public, although registering through the KSL website before attending is encouraged.

Also occurring on the same day is the Folded Book Sculpture Workshop hosted by bookbinder Gene Epstein, where anyone interested may view a demonstration on artistic bookbinding and create books as well. This event runs from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and registration through the KSL website is also recommended.

CWRU has a unique tie to Sobota, having employed him in the early 80s through sponsorship of the Rowfant Club, an avid group of book collectors here in Cleveland. Sobota accepted this offer and left the Czech Republic in 1984 to work for the conservation lab of CWRU.

However, he did not give up on his innovative craftsmanship and opened many galleries and workshops wherever he and his wife Jarmilla, also a Master of Bookbinding, travelled to earn more money.

They even opened one in Euclid, Ohio, named “Saturday’s Book Arts Gallery.” Humorously, “Sobota,” translates to the English word “Saturday” itself.

Later, after much moving around, Sobota returned to the Czech Republic where he opened another book arts studio with his wife called “J. & J. Sobotas’ Book Art Studio.” Here, Sobota lived out the rest of his life, recently passing away in May of 2012 at the age of 73.

This exhibition, since it is occurring so soon after Sobota’s death, will be the first comprehensive posthumous display of his works.

Scholarly Resources and Special Collections Team Leader Chatham Ewing stated that the exhibit will “participate in memorial activity for Sobota,” who was once an important part of CWRU faculty. Ewing, who has developed the Sobota exhibit with help from leading curators such as Castleberry and Park, hopes for its success.

The exhibit, which will continue to be on display through Nov. 30, should interest any book or art lover. The Sobota exhibit will draw book lovers from all over the Cleveland community – not just CWRU. Sobota’s message matches the celebratory theme of Octavofest immaculately and is thus a perfect addition to this year’s Octavofest events.

Ewing believes “anyone who loves books will get a kick out of this exhibition.”


Editors Note: The original print issue of The Observer (10/12/2012) incorrectly stated the date of the Jan Sobota event as Saturday 10/13/2012. The date has been corrected to 10/20/2012 in the above article and a correction will be printed in the 10/19/2012 print issue.


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About the Contributor
Anne Nickoloff
Anne Nickoloff, Director of Print
Anne Nickoloff, the Director of Print for The Observer, is a senior at Case Western. She hopes to one day be a music journalist, and has spent much of her time in Cleveland covering the local concert scene. In addition to her work with The Observer, she is the editor-in-chief of The Athenian, Case Western's humor magazine. Her articles have been published in Cleveland Scene Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Belt Magazine, Cellar Door and Cleveland Street Chronicle.

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