Artistic bookbinding

It’s early nineties. I just received my matriculation certificate. After having worked for years in a family enterprise I’m starting something on my own, and that something concerns books. The best time of my life is dawning.

Eight years later I already have a workshop, I am taking commissions from the municipal office, the city’s residents, some bibliophiles. But I dream bigger. I come back to work after having given birth and now I am trying to calibrate between my little girl at home and my occupation. Those are now distant times, times of yellow phone books. A want ad in „Warszawska” costs a lot, but I am putting myself out there. On the other hand I am trying to manoeuvre my way through auction catalogues for bibliophiles and books concerning bibliopegy, all written in English, to me – a foreign language. Internet is emerging as another leeway for an immersion into this reality I have fallen so much into. I am giving it my best. It takes me forever to move on from the display window of a Parisian bookbinding store. They are closed on Saturdays.

In the City of Cracow I am exploring the archives of a great Polish bookbinder – Roman Jahoda. I am then educating my clients to demand more, to want for better. Warsaw bibliophiles are coming in. They are more demanding. Every book becomes a challenge, they test my abilities. I am introducing new materials – novel bindings, natural glue. The studio by Wileńska Street is a place to be: green, wooden windows, doors with bolections, a metal heart for a doorbell, a beechen entresol serving as a storage. It’s atmospheric and quiet. My little daughter often accompanies my work, sleeping lucidly.

I get a phone call one day. A phone call I have been waiting to get. I am incredulous as an invitation is being proffered and I am being asked to come along, have a look on this five-and-a-half century original and see if I can manage the task. I am filled with emotions. I get there a few days later, after having departed in the bleak hour of dawn. There is the bishop, who welcomes me, there are some officials.

There she is – beautiful, legendary, mystique. Well preserved – the bedrock of our civilisation. The first book to be printed with the use of moveable type - a 42-verse Bible printed in Mainz in between 1452 and 1455 by Johannes Gutenberg. It encompasses my attention, I am alone with her, the two volumes she comprises. Folio format, the binding darkened with time, brownish, lacking here and there. Then lacking only little after half a millennium. I try to feel into Gutenberg’s first reaction. I am aware that it is passed to me by hundreds of hands, down the aisle of history. The fearful gasp of a peon is almost audible as I discover, on page 46, a trail left under the column by a slip of a print let loose by an unweary labourer. (The paper is expensive, we’ll let that stay.) Now this smutting teaches us about the shape of the composing stick.

I look through the pages. A perfect contrast of black and white, as the paper is made from rags and the paint from soot. Then there is binding. A floral ornament made with great precision with a tracing wheel and a few negative presses, a dragon in a circle, lines, the inscriptions of a less than modest but able binder: „hin(ri)c(us) cost(er)” and „bant dit”. Then I analyse the leather – calf leather – the literature affirms. But then I inspect the grain and, no, it cannot be that - I listlessly breathe and it resonates quite loudly in an otherwise silent room. They look at me puzzled. I explain, describe the parameters and go back home, to my routine of gluing together paper and leather., with little hope. But I get that call, after a few months. They want me for the job, of all the bookbinders at hand, in Poland and in Europe. It’s not about my price, too.

My journey is gathering momentum.

My name is Dominika Świątkowska.

I am a bookbinder and a bibliophile. I am a craftswoman with almost 30 years of continuous experience in binding the works of literature and creating truly unique, bibliopegist projects. I have been also researching the history of ornamentation and the methodology of binding.

I devoted my life to bookbinding and that with the use of natural resources, historically accurate. I have created two trademarks: Librarium and Pugillares. I adhere to my vision and have great passion for a refined and immaculate craftsmanship of the past ages. The soul of my praxis is rooted in this past.

It’s with devotion that I am recreating ancestral libraries and building collections, which are to mesmerize with their beauty and stand the test of time. I am creating luxurious, unique accessories for cabinet libraries, for people who enjoy the company of exceptional objects. My works are scattered across continents (Europe, Japan, USA). I worked for the Holy See (John Paul II), Elisabeth II, archbishops, bishops, presidents, ambassadors and most importantly for people who have permanence and beauty in high regard.

One of my biggest professional challenges was the issuing of a couple of dozens of copies of the XVI c. binding to the Polish copy of Gutenberg’s 570-years-old Bible by Henry Coster from Lübeck. I recreated the renaissance, organic binding, stitched with cords, embedded in oaken plates, clothed in goatskin, lined with calf parchment, with fittings and clasps – all just as in the original.

Since 2017 I am also publishing and binding literature, which I find particularly deserving to be embellished with a perfected form.

Waldemar Łysiak in his „Empireum” – an opus magnum for all bibliophiles – describes me as… Just find out for yourselves.

I offer then not only craftsmanship, but I will gladly put my heart and soul where my hands are at work. And worry not, each piece of it is paying me off in that currency.

The binding holds and protects what the words have to say. And they tell us the past – not all remains in the eye of the beholder. But it sometimes just happens so, that the form resurrects the matter.

We don’t have that many beautiful books in the history of our country. Librarium’s mission is to enrich this heritage with precious volumes, that will bring their owners joy and wonder.

Librarium’s offer is for those who delight in finesse, rare matter, nuance, artisanry and first and foremost in the subtle susurrus and rustling of pages.