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Stella Patri - From the San Franciso Chronicle, 6 April, 2001
- To: BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU
- Subject: Stella Patri - From the San Franciso Chronicle, 6 April, 2001
- From: Guild of Book Workers <gbw@DREAMSCAPE.COM>
- Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2001 19:10:29 -0400
- Message-Id: <200104142308.QAA21362@palimpsest.Stanford.EDU>
- Sender: "Book_Arts-L: READ THE FAQ at http://www.philobiblon.com" <BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU>
[N.B. Stella joined the Guild of Book Workers in 1962 and was made an
Honorary Member of the organization in 1993. She was a founding member of
the Hand Bookbinders of California. She will be missed]
Stella Patri, Doyenne of S.F. Bookbinders
Eric Brazil, Chronicle Staff Writer , Friday, April 6, 2001
San Francisco -- Stella Nicole Patri, who became an icon among American
bookbinders and manuscript restorers during a career she began when she was
in her 60s, is dead at age 104.
Mrs. Patri's eventful and adventurous life touched on three centuries, from
her birth in 1896 in Montreal, Canada, to her death March 31 at the Sonoma
home of her son Remo Patri.
"She was the grand dame of bookbinding and an incredible friend," said
Johanna Goldschmid, a bookbinder and rare book specialist, "She was a great
inspiration. No superlatives could reach how wonderful Stella was."
Among the honors accorded her was San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's
declaration of Nov. 1, 1996, as "Stella Nicole Patri Day".
Mrs. Patri was a survivor of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and
before embarking on her life's work had been a wife and mother, an expert
milliner, a welder, a bookseller and a committed social activist.
The Hand Bookbinders of California, of which she was a founding member,
lavished tributes on Mrs. Patri on her 100th birthday and called her "a
model of a persistent spirit."
Bookbinder Margaret Johnson said her old friend was "energetic and
independent. In her 90s she was still moving her furniture around."
At age 90, she traveled alone to Japan to see the cherry blossoms.
"She was a delight -- and she certainly spoke her mind," Johnson said.
Mrs. Patri's son Tito recalled that his grandmother used to say "If Stella
were to drown, we'd look for her upstream."
Mrs. Patri, a lifelong pacifist, was forced to resign as president of the
PTA at her sons' school for lobbying merchants to display anti-war posters
during World War II. Her response was to become a journeyman welder on
Liberty ships in Sausalito. She later worked for the American Red Cross,
helping returning soldiers reconnect with their families.
It was while working at Newbegins and Paul Elder San Francisco bookstores
after her divorce from art school founder Giacomo Patri that Mrs. Patri
became interested in the physical structure of books. In 1962, she sailed
for Rome to study the restoration of antique documents at the Instituto di
Patologia dei Libri, which became the foundation of her professional
career. She also studied bookbinding in London and fancy book finishing in
Paris. When the Arno River flooded Florence, Italy, in 1966, soaking whole
libraries of valuable ancient documents in mud and slime, Mrs. Patri, who
spoke Italian, was among the "mud angel" volunteers who repaired and
restored the damaged books. She later became an instructor for other
"When she came back, she was an inspired icon in bookbinding for many
years, " Goldschmid said.
In her 70s, Mrs. Patri enrolled in high school night classes in chemistry
in order to keep up with technical progress in paper conservation. She
became the acknowledged expert in paper repair in the Bay Area. Her clients
included the San Francisco Public Library and the University of California
Medical Center Library, where she worked on the restoration of medieval
medical textbooks, including illuminated Latin manuscripts.
At age 95, she traveled again to Japan with her son Piero to see the cherry
blossoms one last time.
Even late in life, when she had to use a wheelchair, Mrs. Patri was a
lively presence in North Beach, particularly at Cafe Greco, among old
friends. "The Golden Age -- that's a lot of baloney," she told an
interviewer on her 100th birthday, ". . . the spirit will, but the body
won't. . . . My advice is not to get old. It's no fun and it doesn't pay."
Mrs. Patri's honors included the Oscar Lewis Award from the Book Club of
California for outstanding contributions to her profession and from Women's
Achievement Vision and Excellence.
Mrs. Patri is survived by her sons Piero and Remo, both architects, and
Tito, a landscape architect, five grandchildren and five
great-grandchildren. Plans for a celebration of her life are pending.
Mrs. Patri's family requests that donations in her name be made to American
Indian and AIDS causes and to the United Farm Workers, all of which she
supported during her life.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
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