Local bookbinder proves there is poetry beyond the page

| December 28, 2023 | 0 Comments

In an unobtrusive shop near the corner of Melrose Avenue and Larchmont Boulevard, Charlene Matthews quietly works her magic.

BOOKBINDER Charlene Matthews in her shop on Melrose Avenue.

The local businesswoman took her first bookbinding class in 1985, a year and a half after the birth of her daughter. Matthews had become antsy staying home caring for her child and decided to take a class.

“I do a lot of hands-on things. I was raised as a Mormon, so I learned how to sew and knit early… and I read constantly. So, I saw the book- binding class and thought, ‘Hmm … I have some books that need to be fixed…’” Matthews quickly found out the UCLA Extension class was much more than one for book repair. It was a book art class.

Since then, she’s taken a lot of classes. Because Matthews needed to be home with her daughter, she was never able to study under anyone long-term. But a passion for binding had been lit within her. She did a lot of weekend classes and, in her words, “read like crazy.”

For more than a decade, Matthews worked out of her home. Then, 24 years ago, she opened Charlene Matthews Bindery at 5720 Melrose Ave.

As a binder located in Hollywood, Matthews told us that 30 percent of her business is for the film industry. She binds screenplays, does prop work for all eras and is hired to do script presentations. She has been binding director and screenwriter Zack Snyder’s storyboards for years.

But she loves all aspects of binding. Artists come to her to make books that house their text, art and photographs.

Matthews also does book repair, restoring spines, matching materials and working to make sure beloved tomes are brought back to life. Corporations hire her to bind presentations, and individuals come to her to creatively bind their diaries or other personal writings.

The artist often finds herself making special occasion books for people’s birthdays and milestone events, and she loves making museum-quality boxes to house fine objects.

INSIDE Matthews’ shop, a black cutting machine sits near the entryway.

“It’s all handmade,” the artist told us. “There’s only one machine I’ve got that uses electricity.” Matthews works with all sorts of bindings. “The material can be anything.”

The local resident told us she doesn’t read the books she binds. “You can’t read everybody’s books,” she said. “You’d go insane!” When asked how she knows what cover will be right for each book, Matthews told us she talks to her clients, but said, “I’m just really good at that part.” She has a myriad of papers and cloth and told us, “I buy stuff that I like. I have in stock what I would make my own books with.”

Having been in the practice of binding books since 1985, the book artist has bound quite a few of her own works. Some of these are in her shop, but she also has on display a unique piece of art. Over the course of several years, Matthews hand-wrote James Joyce’s “Ulysses” — in its entirety — on 38 seven-foot poles which now hang in her workshop.

Bookbinders, the local artist told us, are a grumpy lot. They tend to like to work alone. Matthews enjoys the solitary nature of her work and spends six days a week at the shop.

“It’s a lot of work to make a book,” said Matthews, “Most people have no idea.” One of the things the businesswoman likes is that, as an American bookbinder, there is no right way to make a book. “I can take these different bindings and mix them all up,” she said. “If I were German or French, I’d have to do it in a certain way. But American bookbinders do it any way we want.”

Her books can be found in libraries, museums and collections around the world.

For more information, email binderess@yahoo.com.

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