The University Record, November 13, 2000

Book preservationist an artist of many talents

By Mary Nehls-Frumkin
University Library

Muir is shown above at right using the Library's preservation equipment. At left is Muir's illustration for the Library's inclement weather book bags. The design appears on the 2000 version of the bags, which have a silver color and the emblem 'Help save the human record: Protect your books.' Photos courtesy University Library
Twenty years ago if you had asked Len Muir what he thought he would be doing in the new millennium, restoring books, creating art from wasp nests and designing weather bags for the University Library were probably not high on his list of probable pursuits. Yet, that’s exactly where life has taken Muir—with some early detours.

Art and design always have surrounded Muir. His mother was a professional artist who did design work for Gerber Baby Products first in Oakland, Calif., then at the company’s headquarters in Fremont, Mich. Muir studied graphic arts after high school and, prior to 1985, worked for the now defunct Michigan Free Press in Ann Arbor, did graphic design for Litho-Crafters, worked as a shoe salesman and was an elevator operator at University Hospital.

In 1985, Muir saw a job notice for a bookbinder in the Library’s Preservation Unit. Thinking it involved printing and was a way to get into the graphic design area at the University, he applied and, much to his surprise, was hired by former staff member Martha Little. During the successive 15 years, Muir has gone from taking workshops on book repair to teaching those same workshops, and has become a member of the Guild of Book Workers.

Muir’s sense of detail also is evident in his “paper cut” art. Starting with plain paper and using a scalpel, Muir painstakingly cuts out small areas and creates a delicate, intricately designed paper “pop-up” book. His paper-cut books have been featured in several exhibitions, including the Michigan Book Artists exhibition in the Special Collections Library. In addition, Library Director William Gosling has acquired a number of Muir’s books.

Featured here is one of Muir's pieces, created using thin layers of wasp nests.
Not satisfied with “normal” mediums, Muir has created a unique art form using the thin layers of wasp nests. “When you peel the layers upon layers of a nest apart, you find they look like lace,” Muir says. He makes a mold (usually a canoe because this relates to another one of his interests) and then glues each lacy nest piece onto it. Each piece has a pattern that he matches to the next piece—not an easy task, since the pieces usually are not even an inch wide or long.

In 1994, Muir was approached by Maria Grandinette to design a preservation weather bag. Muir added plastic bag art to his repertoire, devising the Library’s “walking book” that has become a signature of the inclement weather bags.