Placida repairs old books
If you visit the Monastery in the summer, it is very likely you’ve seen Sister Placida Wemhoff about the campus. As maintenance manager, she stays busy tending to building repairs, mowing the lawns, taking care of the orchard, and seeing to a host of other outside duties.
But by October, Sister Placida turns to work that is much more meticulous and even contemplative. In her first floor office and studio, she repairs antique books. “I am called to the solitariness of the work; I enjoy the solitude. Underneath the concentration of the craft is another element: I can go to God.”
After retiring from teaching in 1993, Sister Placida took lessons in bookbinding from an artisan in Pullman, Washington. As more people learned of her skill in repairing books, Sister Placida was able to get the practice she needed to become an adept. She repairs both cloth-bound and leather-bound books and uses bookbinding equipment that has been at the Monastery for as long as Sister Placida can remember.
“To be with a book that way is a funny feeling. This book has been through a lot of history I haven’t,” says Sister Placida. “I have to make sure I don’t get too engrossed and start reading the book!”
Most of the books that Sister Placida repairs were published in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. “Back then books were made with water soluble glue,” explains Sister Placida. “That is what I use to repair the books. But by the fifties and sixties, books were being made with plastic-based glue that is irremovable and books like that cannot be repaired.”
The glue is essentially what determines the repair time. “It is always difficult to say how long it will take the glue to dry. You just can’t push a book repair project. It has to unfold.” That is why Sister Placida can’t be specific as to when a repair job will be completed. At the least, she promises that the book will be finished by early May, when she has to return to her outside work. If there are not books to repair, she makes journals that are available in the Monastery book and gift shop.
Sister Placida acknowledges that some books aren’t worth the time and cost to repair them, but family heirlooms and Bibles that have been handed down from generation to generation are certainly worth the investment.
To inquire about an estimate for repairing an antique book, call Sister Placida at 208-962-5015.
Sister Placida Wemhoff repairs antique books.