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Iraj navidi

This video is taken by Iraj.

I “met” Iraj Navidi in LinkedIn. He is a traditional book binder who specialises in book covers made in old Iranian traditional style. He posted pictures of the book covers he had made and my jaw dropped. Amazing pieces of art, each one. He kindly agreed to this interview. 

After the questions is an article Iraj has written about traditional Iranian hand book binding.

Tell us about yourself. You create exquisite leather book covers. I have never seen anything quite like them. Making them must require great skill. How long have you done these? 

My name is Iraj Navidi and I was born in 1965 in Tehran, Iran. I have been making leather work and book covers for 37 years now (the interview was made in January 2021)

Where did you learn the skill? Did someone teach you?

I never had a teacher - I learned by studying and observing the work of others and then applying what I learned - it was a journey of trial and error. The work is not only about making covers but knowing how to make paper, how to colour, how to know which materials and adhesives to use. Painting skills are needed, as well as an eye for design and knowledge of various binding techniques.

I continued doing all this as my job, but then I learned of traditional bookbinding, and felt like I had entered another world - it was so elegant and sophisticated. Working on bookbinding equaled to finding joy - I knew I had found my calling. I love this work.

This art has almost vanished, and I find it as my duty to do my part to prevent this from happening. I try to teach the skill to others as well to keep this art form alive. I was a teacher in 2015 at the Center for Restoration of Books and Manuscripts in Istanbul, Turkey (suleymanieh kitap şifahanesi). I taught how natural materials and colours were used in books and old leather works.

Did you start with books straight away or did you do something else at first?

I started working with leather quite young - I was 14, and my first job was at a workshop that made leather. I loved the job, but wanted to develop, to do more. I started with painting leather bags and belts. Then I made leather folders and boxes, and office and advertising supplies for companies. 

What kind of books do you most like to make covers for?

I like most making book covers for poetry books; Omar Khayam, Hafez, Ferdowsi… I feel poetry books have a unique feeling and I feel they give me more inspiration and freedom of design.

Is there a symbolic meaning to the colours you use?

There is symbology in the colours I use, but these are not absolute - they have relativity the painter can combine according to their own artistic vision and other concepts related to the subject they are working on. 

White: spirit, purity, angels, light

Black: power, eternity

Gold: purity, sun, power, elegance

Silver: water

Turquoise and blue: sky and paradise

Yellow: happiness and comfort

Ochre: body, earth

Azure: sky, night

Red and pink: fire and the material world

Grey: sadness

Brown: earth, trees

Green: life

These are also used in traditional Iranian paintings, miniatures, architecture and carpet weaving. (According to the old Iranian beliefs there are four main elements that make the world water, wind, fire and earth.)

Where do you get the ideas for the covers? Do your designs stem from your local, old tradition? Do you have a favourite theme? 

I think I like birds most. I choose the designs on the cover according to the content of the book. I do my best to follow the principles and specifications of traditional Iranian book cover making. However, I have designed and made book covers for other countries and cultures as well -  Iranian is simply my favourite, because it is my culture and tradition. 

The main difference and characteristic of the Iranian cover making is that there is a painting on the cover of the book, with several colours and gold used. Also I’d like to mention there are different types of Iranian book covers like lacquer covers and percussion covers.

I feel this cultural work is part of the human heritage and should be kept alive.

Do you also do restoration work for old books? Their covers, torn pages etc? 

I do book restoration work, like repairing torn paper, damaged paintings and damaged covers.

What other kind of leather work you do? 

I make leather boxes, chess boards, miniature paintings on leather, leather boards, leather office supplies… Covers and folders and boxes for them for business and advertising use. All sorts of things. 

Do you have an online store / where could people buy your work?

I don’t have an online store / web page at the moment, perhaps because my work is usually commissioned by people who know me. 

Where can people find you? 

My email address:

WhatsApp: 00989190911597 

iranian traditional hand bookbinding

written by iraj Navidi


A Summary of the History of Iranian Traditional Hand Bookbinding

Iranians learned to make papers from the Chinese. And, they started making papers in the city of Samarkand. Examples of Iranian papers were Samarkand, Khorasan, Tabriz and etc. papers. And, the need for bookbinding emerged over time to keep and protect materials and also preserve poems, paintings and important materials and transfer one’s experiences to future generations.

Wood was sometimes used in bookbinding in the beginning. Later, using leather and also making cardboard for protecting books became popular.

We can witness the evolution of Iranian bookbinding in different historical eras of Iran in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries coinciding with Shah Esmaeil seizing power when he gathered the two previous schools from Harat and Tabriz in his royal court. Shah Tahmaseb started up bookbinding workshops in Tabriz. Iranian bookbinding reached Europe through Turkey over time together with poetry books from Iranian writers.

iranian book covers were divided into 7 categories

1. Wooden book covers (Using thin wood with lacquer coating on top)

2. Cardboard book covers – With leather coating

3. Fabric book covers - Leather spine and corners

4. Golden book covers – Some type of fabric with gold appearance

5. Velvet book covers – Velvet fabric is used

6. Paper book cover – Cardboard book cover – Fabric spine for more rigidity

7. Oil and lacquer book covers

some characteristics of iranian book covers

Decorations in the central section and in form of a rhombus with round corners similar to an ellipse, technically known as “Toranj” altogether called a Shamseh; The middle and the angles are filled with small flowers and decorative leaves or artistic figures or intertwined curves on the book cover. And, it is gilded or covered with gold ink. This method is the origin of decorations that are seen in Iranian rugs.

Natural dyes, adhesives and oils used in the works are from three origins, plants, inorganic materials and animal products. The knowledge to make them was very similar to the knowledge of making dyes used in Iranian carpets. Consequently, the quality of the materials is so high that their quality can still be witnessed in the works in different museums after passage of many years.

method of making book cover by stroke

A piece of metal was prepared from brass or copper. A drawer drew the concerned figures on them with brush and ink. Then, an emboss worker or an engraver emptied the brass or copper metal piece with a chisel and a hammer so that the figures would be embossed. Then, the brass piece was heated up. And, it was pressed either by hammer stroke or on leather, which was mainly goat leather until the figure of the brass molds was reflected on the leather. And, this work was sometimes done without heating up the mold. Then, a painter decorated these figures with gold ink or gold leaves or painted them using natural dyes. And, it was finished with lacquer or special oil (Kaman Oil - a traditional Persian resin–oil varnish) to become resistant to humidity and other factors.

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