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January 02, 2011

Legato :: Jason Thompson

le•ga•to :: In a manner that is smooth and connected

Welcome to Legato. I'm excited to announce this new department, which will be featured here and  on our CRESCENDOh homepage. It is where I will be conducting interesting interviews with interesting people. I'm honored to launch Legato with my first interview that features Jason Thompson, author of Playing with Books and co-proprietor of Rag & Bone Bindery. Here we go.

Jason Thompson

JD :: You've stated that books are more than pages, but that they are artifacts of the human spirit and hand. You also point out that with the production of so many books, many make their way into landfills. Is there a book you own that you value so much that you would never ever consider tearing up and transforming into a new artifact of the human spirit?

JT :: All of them! A personal collection of books shouldn't be used as a resource for bookish materials. Those books should be read, cherished and shared. I describe several places to find books to disassemble for their pages & covers in the introduction of Playing With Books. Surprisingly, the library is the best source for unwanted books. Our local branch was kind enough to donate most of the books used in the writing of Playing with Books. Finding these books was as simple as asking the librarian. He brought me to an unmarked room in the basement below the stacks, unlocked the door, turned on the lights and said something to the effect of, "Go at it".

The room was filled with decommissioned library books stacked in boxes which were piled high from floor to ceiling. As a book lover, I don't think too much about a books end-of-life, but they're tossed into dumpsters and recycling bins every day at libraries. Repurposing these books into creative projects is a good use of materials which are otherwise destined for the recycling center or landfill. To answer your question about a book in my collection I would never deconstruct, it would be Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen. I still have my first copy and cherish it.
Jason Thompson
JD :: You, me, and so many within mixed-media gravitate toward the beauty of using pages of text in our work. What's that about? Why is it so pleasing to look at typed words on paper?

JT :: The pages and covers of books carry with them their bookish legacy. A work of art which utilizes book pages, such as collage, has a different feel than the same work which is created using plain paper. Book pages bring with them a history, a short hand for literacy and knowledge. This preconceived impression can be used creatively within functional and decorative art projects. Book pages also add dimension to an otherwise flat medium. They are often yellowed which adds another dimension to artwork, that of the passage of time or aging.
Jason Thompson
JD :: You dropped out of high school. Your partner graduated from the RI School of Design. What have you taught her? What has she taught you?

JT :: I can't speak for Ilira, but she has taught me many valuable lessons as my wife and business partner. First and foremost, she introduced me to bookbinding. If it weren't for her love of the craft, I wouldn't have become a bookbinder. We work together every day and it's an equal partnership. We both have different skills, so we try not to get in each others way. Although she is the RISD grad, her role in the company is finance, which comes from her family background. With her finance & art background she has taught that skill and perfection, the art of the craft - not additional pennies - are what matter most. Customers will know when you care about the work. And that in turn will be what grows the business. We're not attempting to build a corporation, but rather a life, one which encompasses books, craft, our family and business.
Jason Thompson
JD :: So tell me about your business, Rag & Bone. What makes the consumer's experience of working with Rag & Bone so special?
JT :: Rag & Bone books are made by hand. We haven't deviated from that mission since I founded the company 19 years ago. The books are bound using traditional bookbinding tools and materials in our Rhode Island studio, however we put our own unique spin on our books by using contemporary textiles and decorative papers. Our longevity has been a benefit to our success, I know that sounds like circular logic, but having a successful history shows customers that we're going to be here for the long haul and that we fulfill our obligations. The studio climate is friendly, we're like an extended family, we socialize outside of work. I think this shows in our interactions with customers, who are not just buying a beautiful book or album for their new baby, their wedding or for their family, but they're also buying into our company philosophy - handmade, integrity and fun!  

JD :: At the end of each day, what are you most thankful for?
JT :: My family! I can't say this enough. Ilira & I are supportive to each other and we have two wonderful children, Faye who is nine and Ian who is four. They remind us everyday to love each other and have fun - their creative outlook on life is endless. We renovated an historic mill building for Rag & Bone, and we live in a loft above the bindery. We're grateful that they are growing up around books and a family business. Books and family are our life and I'm grateful for both.
JD :: Think fast and give me the first word (or two) that comes to mind when I toss out these words:


The Sopranos
encaustic wax

high school



    Glossy paper

Rhode Island


    Inky fingers!

    Signing books

The Godfather


JD :: What was the funnest part of authoring Playing with Books?
JT :: The funnest was making the crafts with my daughter Faye. We worked on the projects together, there were several which didn't make the book, so for several months every evening we had an excuse to head downstairs, turn on the lights in the Bindery and dig through the piles of books from the library storage room and cut, tear, fold, rip and have fun. She worked on her own projects and I was able to watch her follow along and put her own spin on papercrafting.

JD :: What's the best book you've read?
JT :: The Book Of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe

JD :: What's the latest book you've read?
JT :: At the moment I'm reading Stephen King's book On Writing. I just joined an online writing workshop, I hope someday to write fiction. 

JD :: What's your favorite song?
JT :: Marquee Moon by Television

JD ::
What's your favorite word?

JT ::

JD ::
Finish this sentence: "Very few people know that I ...

JT ::
... eat Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches like a salad! Recipe: Place a glop of PB and a glop of jelly into a bowl, tear toasted bread into small pieces and sprinkle into the bowl. Eat with a fork. I picked up this habit when I had braces and it stuck. Neater than a PB&J sandwich! I also collect polar exploration memorabilia and can solve a Rubik's cube.

Jason Thompson

All images shown are courtesy of Jason Thompson, author of Playing with Books (Quarry, 2010) and co-proprietor of Rag & Bone Bindery. Read my review of Playing with Books here. Many thanks to Jason for all of his quality support for this, the premier interview for Legato.


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Great interview. And I LOVE the artwork - super inspiring photos. Thanks for sharing. xo

hankyou for the interview! I bought Jasons book a few months ago, I love the clever projects inside it!

Love the interview. The photos are inspiring & make me want to get the book. My library puts discarded books (including books that were donated by not wanted for the used booksale) out in the parking garage's elevator foyer, free for the taking; I've gotten many interesting books this way. Maybe folks should suggest that their library do something similar, if it does not do this already.

I love this playful, insightful interview! Great job to both of you! I'm intrigued by your work. I love the concept and love of words. I love how page by page, you have crafted a new way to look at this art form!

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