By Marissa Harrison
Asst. news editor
Many have observed the elaborate details and ornate inscriptions that adorn antique books, such as those in the Dunham Bible Museum. However, few consider those who maintain the pristine condition of these books after centuries of wear.
The task of preserving and restoring ancient books has been the life-long passion of Francisco Rodriguez, who is now a sixth-generation book restorer and has been practicing this ancient art for 45 years.
University students and others interested in book restoration were invited to come and preview Rodriguez’s work at the Dunham Bible Museum Feb. 16, and were able to learn firsthand how he utilizes different tools and techniques. Visitors could also receive recommendations on how to repair their own valuable books.
Rodriguez began his love for book restoration as a child, observing his father and grandfather’s work in his spare time.
He eventually traveled to Italy and later attended a restoration institute in the Dominican Republic, where he learned to perfect the use of various tools and techniques needed for this profession.
He continued to practice his skill while helping with book restoration efforts at the National Library of his native Colombia.
Rodriguez began his career in the U.S. 35 years ago at the Columbus Memorial Library in Washington D.C., and has continued to work in the U.S. since.
Rodriguez compared the job of ancient book restoration to that of a doctor.
He uses many specialized scalpels and forceps to delicately cut and lift pages away to be re-sewn, and he noted that, like patients, each book comes with a different abnormality that must be diagnosed and treated, just as a patient would be.
Rodriguez added that many aspects of the book restoration process are not a hard science, and he often must rely on his instinct from years of experience and senses such as smell to determine what needs to be restored.
“You wouldn’t normally think smell is important for book restoration, but I know if the paper is too humid or too dry simply from the smell,” he said. “Things like that that utilize the senses will tell you how to deal with it, how to treat it.”
One of the many challenges Rodriguez faces when restoring books that are centuries old is simply finding the tools he needs to complete the process.
Often these tools have been out of circulation for hundreds of years, and it may take him up to three or four years to find a unique tool or import one from a specialized company in Italy or England.
Additionally, Rodriguez explained that it may take him up to ten hours to carefully clean each page of large books such as Bibles, but the result is well worth the wait.
Books that were delivered to him in shambles are restored to their former state of glory, which is demonstrated in a few of the 15th century Bibles he has restored in the University’s Dunham Bible Museum.
Diana Severance, director of the Dunham Bible Museum, expressed her appreciation for Rodriguez’s skill in restoring many of the museum’s rare volumes from the 16th and 17th centuries.
“He has great skill in returning the binding to very much its original condition as well as repairing pages which have become eaten by insects, or ragged at the edges or even spoiled by use,” she said. “He works with painstaking patience, and the results of his time and skill always amaze me.”
Laura Thompson attended the event and said she appreciates Rodriguez’s skill and noticeable love for his work.
“It was very interesting to see how he does it,” Thompson said. “He does it out of love, and we appreciate that.”
Rodriguez said that though he enjoys restoring books of all sorts, he has a special passion for restoring Bibles, and hopes his work will serve as a tribute to the sacrifices earlier Christians made to obtain a Bible.
“Sometimes we mistreat and forget our Bible and we forget the work that they put into it,” he said. “Some people, to even have the Bible with them would cause them to lose their lives, and I think we have to pay some tribute to those people.”