Wiering ’92 can still recall how certain of his father’s books
felt in his hands 30 years ago. A tactile learner in a home without a
TV, he entertained himself by studying how things were put together and
making versions of his own: boxes and picture frames, for example.
And book bindings, the first of which he made as a teenager — a
replacement binding for a library book he’d lost, paid for, then
found, falling apart. Crude as it was — scrap fabric, stiff cardboard
and contact cement — that binding gave Wiering a particular satisfaction,
so that he began to teach himself the rudiments of bookbinding.
Today, Wiering makes new bindings for books out of fine leathers. He uses
brass type set in a stamping press to print titles and authors’
names in gold foil or gold leaf. To the red goatskin cover of a 1545 missal
from the Abbey of Gethsemane he attaches darkened silver clasps. With
antique hand tools he carefully imprints ornaments distinctive to the
era of the book’s first publication.
This is the rare art of book restoration, an art that’s attracted
more attention in the last 50 years. “That’s when people began
to value old things again, including books,” Wiering said. “Instead
of throwing them away, people wanted to preserve them.” But by then
the traditional way of learning bookbinding — apprentices working
alongside master craftsmen — had crumbled. Wiering had to teach
his hands the art by reading books — and practicing a lot.
It pleases him, being paid to practice what had, until four years ago,
been simply a well-loved hobby.
“When I was in college, I bought tools from a small bookbinder who
was going out of business — $200 for everything he had. I kept them
in my apartment, and for pleasure and distraction I’d make journals
and bind books for my friends — that sort of thing.”
After graduation Wiering and his wife, Lorilyn Kamps-Wiering ’91,
moved to Zuni, N.M., to teach. For the seven years they were there he
made journals and art books and sold them through a local gallery. He
expected bookbinding to keep that kind of place in his life.
But in a job search crisis the Spirit led otherwise. When Wiering and
Lorilyn moved back to Grand Rapids in 2000, he looked for a teaching job
and didn’t find one. To make ends meet he did odd jobs, including
binding the manuscript of a family memoir. Word got out. Wiering discovered
there was a market for bookbinding and began gradually to advertise his
services, setting up shop in his home and teaching himself restoration
skills one step ahead of each new project.
His fine craftsmanship has earned him restoration work from the Grand
Rapids Public Library, Calvin’s Meeter Center and Western Michigan
University’s rare book room, which houses collections from other
small institutions — like the Abbey of Gethsemane — around
Businesses are also clients; he recently rebound a mechanic’s manual
for a local car repair shop. Private individuals come to him, too, sometimes
with one-of-a-kind challenges, like the man who brought an eight-inch
scrimshaw whale tooth and the ship’s log of the Civil War-era whaler
who made it. He commissioned Wiering not only to restore the logbook,
but also to make a box to display both book and tooth together.
“I feel like I’m giving new life to objects with history and
meaning,” Wiering said.
And a beautiful new life it is.
To learn more about Wiering’s skills and services see his Web site: