Jan Sobota
Loket, Czech Republic

Internationally acclaimed bookbinder and conservator Jan Bohuslav Sobota died on May 5, 2012, at his home in Loket, Czech Republic. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1939, Jan studied binding in Pilzen and Prague until 1957, and by 1977 he had earned international recognition as a “Master of Bookbinding.” Defecting to Switzerland in 1982, he brought his family to the United States in 1984, working as a conservator at Case Western Reserve University before coming to Bridwell Library, where he served as Director of Conservation from 1990 until 1997. Jan’s contributions to contemporary bookbinding ranged from creative artistic productions to conservation and restoration work based on his fundamental theoretical knowledge and more than fifty years of experience. Between 1969 and 2012, he participated in thirty-five individual shows and 160 group exhibitions, receiving some two-dozen awards for his work. Shortly before he and his family returned to the Czech Republic in 1997, Jan played an essential role in the conception and planning of Bridwell Library’s first Helen Warren DeGolyer Triennial Exhibition and Competition for American Bookbinding, held in 1997. As a participant in the 2003 DeGolyer competition, he won the “Judges’ Distinction for Interpretation” award.


Box binding with three-board structure using Harmatan Nigerian goatskins, black for the binding and dark red for the doublures, with designs based on the Paris 1788 edition of the text. Hand-gilded 23k lines on all three sides of box binding would resemble the engraved plate in the book. Hand-gilded gold circles on the “sliding doors,” made of aluminum sheets, covered with black goatskin. The doors would slide from the center to both sides. In the center will be a magnetic half-round boss, behind which the door would open and close. The same bosses are also in the center above and below the window. Image of the author will be on the inside of the front board, visible when sliding doors are open. The author’s portrait will also be on a wooden board, covered with gold leaf and egg tempera painting suggesting illumination on a parchment. Doublures, covered with dark red goatskin, will have gold printed phrases derived from the text.


Jean de La Fontaine. Fables choisies. Original illustrations by Claire Hénault. Engraving by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Published for the Biennales Mondiale de la Reliure d'Art. Chambon-sur-Lignon, France: Jean-François Manier, 2010.

Box binding made of goatskin, frog leather, elephant leather, and goat horns. Sobota three-board binding structure covered with brown goatskin, book-box edges covered with orange snakeskin, center of boards with oval cutouts, light goat parchment beneath. Edges of the central boards and headbands covered with snakeskin, doublures covered with orange goatskin. In low relief in the oval cutouts on the front and back covers are designs based on two of the illustrations in the volume. On the front, two goats fight on opposite sides of La Fontaine’s book. On the back, an elephant stands upon a small pile of books. Books represented in both ovals are covered with goatskin and gilt with 23k gold. A small frog, based on the engraving by Hyacinthe Rigaud, can be viewed inside the volume through a cut-away in the textblock. The sculptural frog is composed of frog leather and elephant leather.