Johnston: A Family Memoir


Grace Roth Johnston (1877–1962) wrote her memoir manuscripts in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, intending their primary audience to be her children, who had long prompted her to record various aspects of her life. My client, one of her grandsons, wanted to produce the memoir in a very printerly and elegant manner for generations to come.

The three shorter memoir sections are bound pamphlet style; the four lengthier are bound Japanese style. All sections are stitched with the same silk linen thread. The limited edition covers are handmade paper, made from table linens that had belonged to the client’s grandmother. For one of the sections, the papermaker pressed a piece of lace tablecloth into the still-damp paper, creating a beautiful embossed pattern. For the trade edition, the covers are printed on Mohawk Superfine (matching the text pages of both editions). In the trade edition, we included a swatch of the “tablecloth cover” in a glassine sleeve, so that recipients can use it as a bookmark.

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The client wanted a way to present her complete set of Minotaure magazines. Published in Paris between 1933 and 1939, each of the 11 issues features richly-illustrated articles on the art, architecture, and design of the day. Each cover showcased an original representation of the mythical Minotaur by prestigious artists, including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

The client’s creative muse and I decided to cover the four slipcases using a single enlargement of one of the client’s favorite Minotaure covers. The image, inkjet-printed on bookcloth, was reproduced four times, to wrap each slipcase separately. However, the image needed to shift 2 inches on each slipcase, to create one continuous spine image.

I made a spacer for the interior of each case, ½” wide each to hold the magazines upright. Without this, the slipcases wouldn’t have been wide enough for their spines to show the entire image. The spacers are covered in tan fabric and glued in place.



Alphabet of Distinction

Lettering artist Julie Wildman ( purchased this book at my studio sale in 2013. The long-stitch binding uses waxed linen thread. The archival paper for the cover, handmade by Timothy Barrett, is100% flax. (Timothy is director of the University of Iowa Center for the Book and the recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for his papermaking.) Interior pages are Fabriano Artistico.

Julie used this book to create an alphabet book as her entry in the Chicago Calligraphy Collective’s annual exhibition at the Newberry Library. Each year, the Library purchases one work from the show for their permanent collection… and Julie was the recipient of the Newberry Purchase Prize.

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Presentation Box

The box to house this altered book by Fluxus artist Ray Johson is a rounded drop-spine construction, covered in leatherette. The tray holding the book is covered in red linen, and the entire right edge of the tray is a drop-leaf with a pair of magnetic closures.

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"Socialist Industry" Designed by El Lissitsky

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This project involved creating a portfolio (approx.14 x 10 x 3 in.) to house a set of Soviet propaganda booklets from the 1940s in their vintage box, which had been “doctored” at some point. I designed a drop-spine box to allow easy access to the artworks without risk of further bending or crushing them. Four separate elements are foil stamped (2 red and 2 silver), requiring precise registration when covering the box. New archival materials maintain the look and feel of the original case.


Family History

Starting in the 1970s, the client's mother made calendars for her family. Her son Jim wanted his children to enjoy their grandmother's handiwork, so he commissioned two albums. The calendar's size varied from year to year, and the albums' divider pages (Fabriano Tiziano, foil-stamped in matte silver) follow suit. Each calendar page is hinged and scored to French fold. End-sheets are hand-marbled Cockerell from Britain. Recess in the cover holds a family photo.


Paper Party Favors

Italian papermakers Gruppo Cordenons hosted an event in Chicago, to re-introduce their papers to the design community. Each guest received a swag bag, including a set of pamphlet-style notebooks made for the occasion. I suggested a stitched binding (rather than stapled). Five notebooks are tied together with Italian cotton ribbon and the business card is looped on with baker's twine. (500 sets)


Custom Storage

I constructed and covered ten boxes in Missoni fabric imported from Italy. The fabric was paper backed to allow for gluing. The finishing touch is a double-thick, double-wide Mokuba satin ribbon tab that allows the box to slide out easily in the dressing room where they now live. These are the largest boxes I’ve built (so far!).


Delight is in the Detail

An interior designer commissioned a keepsake album for her client, documenting the fabrics, passementeries, other materials, and wall and window treatments in the home. To accommodate the thickness of the various samples, I created spacer bars of foam core, covered in fabric that matches the album binding and box.


To Hold a Cherished Volume

This drop-spine box is lined and covered in black linen. The Japanese decorative paper is stencil-dyed.


Set of Gentleman's Portfolios

Interior architect Darcy Bonner is a long-time client. For his new portfolios, he selected the paper and ribbon combinations. Two of the marbled papers are from Atelier Flavio Aquilina, a Neapolitan hand-marbler whose "marbling concoction" gives the papers a vintage look. The other three are from Payhembury Marbled Papers in Cambridgeshire in the UK. All five portfolios have coordinating Japanese grosgrain ties. Each portfolio (13" x 19") has three archival interior flaps to protect and hold the contents in place.


Jewelry Box a la Japonaise

This box is simply elegant on the outside, with a button for lifting the lid. Outside dimensions are 7”w x 9”l x 4”h.

Shown here: Box covered in crinkly Kodai paper from Japan.

Construction: Tray (très perfect for pearls) rests atop built-in compartments. Tray is fully covered in Moriki, a complementary uncrinkly paper; cotton ribbon loops attached to the tray allow easy removal and resetting. Compartments are lined in Japanese Momi, a crinkly paper.

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Owens First Book

Screw-post binder (10" x 12") with Japanese cloth cover and recessed panel for calligraphed name card. Multi-coloured pages: pale blue and deep blue are hand-lettered in white; cream and white pages are hand-lettered in blue. Many pages provide spaces for recording Owen's statistics and memorable moments. Calligraphy by


Tribute Book For Patty

Commissioned for a long-time executive with McDonald's on the occasion of her retirement to honor her years of service. The client provided a continuous digital output - taller than Patty herself! - which I scored and folded into an accordion-format and then affixed to covers, in this case heavy bookboard wrapped in linen. A recessed square on the cover frames a tipped-on McDonald's logo. Overall dimensions: 6” x 8”.

Photos Courtesy of Joe DeNatale

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S.R. Crown Hall

Presented to the Crown family to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of S.R. Crown Hall, and to celebrate the Hall's completed renovation. (For a virtual tour of this Ludwig Mies van der Rohe landmark on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, visit

Right: Warm gray linen wrap-around cover. The front is debossed with a large line drawing of S.R. Crown Hall. Overall dimensions are 10” x 13”.

Left: Three 1/2“ screw-posts are hidden by a covered tab. The binder holds approximately 30 pages with drilled holes and opens completely flat for viewing. Architectural drawings make the perfect endpapers.