The bookbinder who's keeping Einstein's legacy alive
A trip to the studio of Ido Agassi, who is painstakingly recreating Einstein's theory of relativity.
Albert Einstein's dog Chico liked to chew things – including some books on the shelf in Einstein's home. It's just a fun canine moment in history for most of us. But for Ido Agassi, it provoked an existential question: To fix or not to fix?
"We had the dilemma: should we fix and preserve the original binding or leave it as is?" he recalled. "We decided this is part of history, and we just left it as is." Agassi is part of a team of preservationists helping keep alive the legacy of the world's favorite genius. There are curators and paper experts and then there's Agassi – an artist whose specialty is the old-fashioned techniques of bookbinding. He's been hired by the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem for several projects – one of which is to repair or strengthen the books from Einstein's home.
"Touching his work and preserving it, it's a great honor. It really is," Agassi told From The Grapevine on a visit to his studio. "It's fun for me to have the opportunity to go through his work and to see the book that he read and to also see the book he never touched."
Perhaps the most intriguing project he's worked on for the Einstein archives has been creating an exact replica of the 46 pages of the general theory of relativity. Using his experience as a restorer of rare books, Agassi hand-cut each page to match the original edges of the document. His choice of materials and colors give an authentic look and feel to the manuscript.
Einstein had drawn an illustration on the original theory of relativity which the publisher needed to cut out to print it properly. Agassi's exact replicas, seen here, also feature the same cut-out. (Photo: Benyamin Cohen)
Why, you ask, would the archives need an exact replica of Einstein's most famous theory if it already has the original? The original theory of relativity is sometimes displayed at museum's around the world. But because the documents are more than 100 years old, much care is taken to ensure their safety. Moreover, prolonged exposure to light and humidity can potentially degrade the papers.
So Agassi was hired to make a perfect replica: after one page has been out all day, the curators often swap in one of Agassi's versions to minimize the light exposure to the original. The next day, another page might get swapped in. This helps maintain the integrity of the pages. Museum goers are alerted ahead of time that some of the pages are exact replicas of the original.
In 2016, which marked a century from the time the theory was published, Agassi made 100 replicas of the theory of relativity for collectors of Einstein memorabilia.
Agassi works out of his family's sprawling gardens and art studio in Rana'ana, Israel, about a half hour north of Tel Aviv. He's a Gen-Xer, but of the hipster variety, attempting to bring back the lost art of bookbinding. It's not a profession you expect from someone his age, let alone anyone in 2019. But it's that uniqueness that ignites his passion.
Inspired by his father, a collector of rare books, Agassi handcrafts tomes that double as art. He shows us a pocket-sized book about David and Goliath. Inside each copy is a tiny stone from the location of where the battle took place. Another book, poems about ballet, features small tutu skirts that hold the book together.
He uses machines that are twice as old as he is and methods that are no longer used in the age of Amazon. "I think I get that reaction a lot when people step into the studio and they feel like it's a couple of decades back, and time has a different rhythm to it, looking at all the machinery and looking at my books."
But for Agassi, it's a labor of love. "For me it's part of the art, the setting of the type, the manual labor in creating the book," he explained. "That's part of the beauty."
So we asked a man who dabbles in antiquity to instead look to the future. Where does he see himself in five years? "I hope to be making more books by hand and giving more workshops and teaching," he told us. "Because really, I think the importance is to preserve the craft and the art of making the book and to spread on the work and teach other people."
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:
Related Topics: Albert Einstein