About Ars Libri
Ars Libri Studio has been restoring, binding and rebinding books since 1996. After first opening its doors in Edmonton, Ars Libri moved to Kingston, Ontario in 2016 and has been a part of the city’s vibrant historical culture ever since.
My name is Ksenia Kopystynska, I am a professional book conservator, designer hand bookbinder, and the owner of Ars Libri Studio. I do all of the restoration, binding, rebinding, and designer leatherwork myself, by hand in my Kingston Studio.
There is an incredible beauty in book restoration and creating a new binding. The name of my studio - Ars Libri, art of books in Latin – encapsulates pretty accurately the work that I do. Designer bindings and restorations are all individual, complex works of art. Executing designer bindings allows me to unleash my artistic and intellectual imagination.
Some years ago, I became interested in custom designer leatherwork. Well, who knows leather better than a book restorer? It gives me a lot of pleasure to create unique, handstitched items and it is a nice break from the structured work of bookbinding and restoration.
I find most of my inspiration for designer bindings in medieval aesthetics. I modernise it by adding metal industrial elements and semiprecious stones. I see very clear structural and philosophical similarities between elements of the medieval book and medieval cathedral. There isn’t a period in our history when we created more beautiful books than in the Middle Ages. Book covers remind me of cathedral walls, built to protect the Word like cathedrals were built to protect the tabernacle.
I love the flexible style of bindings with exposed cords as they are very sculptural. They remind me of the vaulted ceilings of medieval cathedrals which is why I like to expose the beauty of the binding’s structural elements.
An example is Coptic bindings which can open 360 degrees. This gives me the vantage to create an architectural standing book structure that can be viewed vertically and horizontally. They are also open spine bindings, sewn through the covers, which allows me to make the stitching a feature of the design.
Book restoration is a very structured discipline that requires complex skills allowing me to save, and in some cases recreate and preserve, all the aspects of the original binding. Creating designer bindings offers more freedom, for me it is an artistic commentary or critique of the book.
I like to experiment with dying leather, giving it new shades, texture, depth, and finishes. There are so many ways to blend functionality with intricacy and artistry in creating designer bindings.
Growing up, I was surrounded by old books. My grandparents were both pre-war professors and had, what looked to me then, the most beautiful library. Built from oak, adorned by delicate carvings, with crystal glass doors, the library cases were built by my great grandfather.
Opening the library cases filled with rows of books, most of them printed in Latin, gave me the feeling of entering an enigmatic and exciting world. I still vividly remember the large volumes of The Complete Works of Tertullian, bound in dark blue leather with titles embossed in gold on the spines.
The works of Tertullian are particularly special. Being a young professor of Latin and Greek, my grandfather could not afford an engagement ring, so his father gave him money to buy a diamond and wedding bands. But my grandfather was a compulsive book collector, and on his way to the jeweller he passed an antiquarian bookstore.
He came home with a cheap trinket, no wedding bands, and a cart full of The Complete Works of Tertullian in Latin, all 33 of them. Although at first surprised, my grandmother never objected, and those volumes had a prominent place in the library as long as she lived.
I only know my grandfather through his books as he was killed during WWII. All through the years, my grandmother kept his impressive library intact. I spent my childhood among leatherbound books and listening to countless poems my grandmother used to recite to me during the long evening hours when I could not fall asleep. Many of them I still know by heart, after all, there is not a child whose imagination could not be affected by a passionate recitation of Goethe’s The Earl-King or Under der Linden.
I always had an artistic inclination but that was matched by my intellectual and literary interests. Book restoration and bookbinding as a form of art turned out to be the natural combination of these passions.
I spent 6 years studying for my degree in Library and Information Studies in Poland before coming to Canada. Library Schools in Europe concentrate on the history of books and printing more extensively than their data-driven, North American counterparts.
When I came to Canada, I continued my training in places including Thompson Conservation Laboratory, Fraser Institute, and the Boston School of Bookbinding.
My first degree has proven to be incredibly valuable to my work as I got to know the history of books, printing, and binding technique which are necessary to properly preserve the printed word. It also gave me a sense of what a book really is, its permanence, and role it played in disseminating knowledge. Book restoration really is a marriage of art and academia.
I worked in book preservation at the University of Alberta until I got so many inquiries from people asking me to do personal restoration work for them that I decided to open my own studio. I operated my Ars Libri studio in Edmonton for twenty-five years before moving my business to Kingston.
On my second day in Kingston, I signed a lease for a studio in Kingston's historic downtown. Old limestone interior, high ceilings, beautiful tall windows — all that suits my studio perfectly and is a wonderful background for the books I restore.