Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Valentyn Kolontai brings back the medieval technique of bookmaking

Young Lvivite knows Slavic and Gothic calligraphy, and he also makes parchment at home
20 April, 2016 - 18:08

After graduation from the Ukrainian Printing Academy in Lviv, Valentyn Kolontai has changed place of work five times. “From time to time I have received orders for making notebooks with medieval-time stylization or reconstruction. I left my work and started to spread information via the Internet that I work in this sphere,” the master says.

Valentyn makes clean pages from a reconstructed book where a person can write down anything s/he likes. This is a peculiar feature of Valentyn’s works. To make the produce look exactly like the original, the master gathers as much information about it as possible: the details about the covers, the material it is made of, and the peculiarities of sewing together.

“If there are molded pieces (corners, claspers, and centerpieces), which I cannot make by myself, I send the pictures to the jeweler, who makes it,” Kolontai explains, “I also buy paper, sew the book block (if it is a gothic book I sew it with leather belts or cords, if it’s Byzantine – with a thread). Then I cut the block and make the cover. I use wood and leather. If I need to make hot embossing on leather with metal forms, I give it to a specialist. I cut forms for embossing from linoleum. I cut a form, soak paper, put it under press, and get an embossment as a result.”

For each stage of work the crafter has a separate instrument: for sewing the book block – Gypsy and surgical needles, waxed twine; for folding paper – a bone knife; for embossing – a roller (a metal roller on a handle, it is heated and used to make lineal embossing). Also a squeezer and clipping come in handy. He uses leather, papers, wood, waxed twine, and metal. It takes one to three months to make one book. Valentyn explains: “Book reconstruction is quite expensive. For example, leather costs 15 to 42 dollars per square meter.” The books are mostly ordered by people involved in historical reconstruction and collectors.

The master likes to reproduce the originals from the period of late gothic and Middle Ages. “The most interesting orders are a belt book of hours of the 15th century, Bavarian work, and Codex Gigas, or the Bible of the devil, which was written in early 13th century on the territory of the Czech Republic.” According to a legend, a monk was supposed to be punished for disobedience. The dean of the monastery set the task before him, to write a book during one night. The monk understood that it was impossible. So he traded his soul to the devil, and in the morning the book of the size 92 to 50 centimeters was ready. You can see there the highest number of medieval depictions of the devil.

According to the master, the reconstruction is only emerging in Ukraine. The best results are in Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Lviv.

Incidentally, Valentyn, apart from reconstructing books, tries to make vellum at home. He says that approximately till the 13th century namely such parchment was used in Galician-Volynian Principality.

“To make vellum, skins of sheep, rabbits, and even squirrels were used. The skins were soaked in limestone, put on a frame, where the fur and fat were removed from the inner side, were polished by pumice, chalk, sometimes covered with egg whites. And the skin became suitable for writing. At the moment I have the first ready piece of parchment. I made it at home,” the master shows, “I soaked the cow skin in the balcony in a bath tub with limestone. I made it at home,” the master shows, “I soaked cow skin in the balcony in a bath tub with limestone. You can feel the smell for five minutes at the beginning, then you get accustomed.”

By Yulia VASYLYNA, Lviv. The illustrations courtesy of Valentyn KOLONTAI