Obituary: Jan Sobota, book conservator and fine binder

Jan Bohuslav Sobota passed away the 2nd of May, 2012. He was an active member of the Guild of Book Workers since the early-1980s.

Jan came to the USA in 1984, sponsored by the Rowfant Club of book collectors in Cleveland. He’d been in Switzerland, exiled from his native Czechoslovakia and was employed at the conservation lab of Case Western Reserve University, eventually going to the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Conservation work paid the bills, but his friends and colleagues all know that his first love was the making of fine unique design bindings. He arrived during the renaissance of American book arts in the 1980’s and hit the ground running as an active promoter and sponsor of shows and workshops.

Jan Sobota was a tsunami of the book arts, affecting all around him. With his wife Jarmila, they immediately established the Saturday’s Book Arts Gallery in Euclid, Ohio and kept the name and concept of that gallery alive in various places and incarnations as they moved about the world. (Sobota means Saturday in Czech). Day jobs at universities gave Jan financial stability and institutional support, but also multiplied the effect of his book arts efforts, allowing him to better apply the benefits of his coming from an unbroken tradition of apprenticeships and bring a profound knowledge of the craft and tradition of bookbinding to the many American students eager to learn at a time when that knowledge was being lost at a staggering rate. He shared that knowledge generously with anybody who would listen.

Jan died in his sleep – just closed up shop one evening and went to bed for the last time, leaving behind piles of books in various stages of completion.

–Excerpt from obituary written by Lad Hanka

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