Helmut Fricker reveals the secret to the ancient craft of bookbinding and restoration
Helmut Fricker fancies himself a doctor of old books; if they're literally falling apart at the seams, he fixes them. He works in the studio of his Vail Valley, Colorado home. The workshop is filled with Bibles, cookbooks and historical literature that date back to the early 1700's. Stacks of colored leather sheets, thread and manuscript paper line one wall of the room and in the center stands his workbench, cluttered with odd-looking tools older than their 76-year-old owner. At any given time he is working on several old, heavy-looking Bibles. Fricker was commissioned by the owners to rebind the covers and restore ripped pages. “I get books from people all over the world and I get so much work and I'll never finish it in my lifetime,” Fricker said. And it all comes to him through word of mouth.
When he was a boy growing up in Germany, Fricker had a choice: Go to high school or finish middle school and learn a trade. He chose a trade, that of a bookbinder - a skill that can be traced back to the 15th century. He studied for five years as an apprentice and finally became a master bookbinder in 1955.
Most know Fricker as the jolly, alpenhorn blowing, lederhosen-wearing mascot of Beaver Creek. He has been working for the mountain since it opened in 1980 and claims to be the first employee. But there is more than meets the eye with this man. Behind closed doors he labors over disintegrating volumes cherished by the owners. His hands delicately work needle and thread through heavy pages in an effort to restore the works to their original glory. Depending on the work needed on a particular book, he may have to guild a cover with gold designs or clean old stains and blemishes from its pages. Sometimes it's as simple as making a new book look ancient. The hand-crafted details he puts into his work take a lot of time, patience and talent. When restoring a book, he only uses materials and binding styles related to the books age. He tries hard to make a book look exactly like it would in the era it was printed.
Fricker doesn't just restore old works, he also creates new ones. Atop his workbench sits a wooden sewing frame which he is using to stitch together what will eventually be a guest book for a wedding. Fancy photo albums, leather-inlaid furniture and wooden signs are parts of his work that keep him busier than he can handle.
Two of Fricker's original books are on display at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. One is a scrap book of Betty Ford's personal letters from longtime locals and national dignitaries. “You just don't see stuff like this everywhere ... you can sense that it's going to be around a lot longer than any other book in your library,” said Stephen Wood, media liaison for Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. “This is hand-made, hand-crafted artwork with a higher purpose.”
Fricker said that there will always be people who wish to preserve their family heirlooms and historic documents. And Fricker said he will keep doing it as long as he can. If you are interested in having Helmut create or restore books for you call him at 970-471-2779 or email him at HelmutFricker@Gmail.com
We’ll repair Mom's special cookbook or bind Dad’s favorite book in leather. Let us create a special, one of a kind guest book or preserve your family bible or heirloom children’s books.