One of the world's foremost bookbinders, Jan Bohuslav Sobota, passed away May 2, 2012. Sobota spent a significant amount of time in Cleveland during the 1980s and 1990s.
Sobota studied in Pilsen, (then) Czechoslovakia, and in 1957 he graduated from the School for Applied Arts in Prague. He started his own bookbinding studio, and later worked in Basel, Switzerland at the Papiermuehle, or Paper Mill, the Swiss museum for paper, printing, and writing. Sobota came to the United States in 1984, sponsored by the Rowfant Club of book collectors in Cleveland, and was employed at the conservation lab of Case Western Reserve University. He moved to the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas as director of their Conservation Laboratory. Conservation work paid the bills, but his friends and colleagues all knew that his first love was the making of fine unique design bindings. He arrived during the renaissance of American book arts in the 1980s and hit the ground running as an active promoter and sponsor of shows and workshops. He and his wife Jarmila 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. Day jobs at universities gave Jan financial stability and institutional support, but also multiplied the effect of his book arts efforts. His university affiliations allowed him to 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.
Since 1997, Sobota worked in his bookbinding studio in Loket, Czech Republic. He was one of the initiators of the Society of Czech Bookbinders and was elected the first president of that organization in 1997. He became well-known on the international bookbinding scene for his original and unusual book sculptures and objects. Sobota’s award-winning work has been exhibited in countries on four continents, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.