Elke M. Shihadeh, bookbinder

Elke M. Shihadeh
Elke M. Shihadeh
Posted: January 27, 2014

Elke M. Shihadeh, 78, of Ardmore, an expert in the art of hand bookbinding and historic-document restoration, died of pneumonia Wednesday, Jan. 15, at home.

The former Elke Nissen practiced the highly specialized craft of restoring rare books with her husband, Fred H. Shihadeh, from her early 20s into her 70s.

Mrs. Shihadeh had a special expertise in the restoration of damaged papers of historical significance.

She personally restored the broadsides announcing the Declaration of Independence. Broadsides were a large sheet of paper printed on one side only, suited for proclamations.

She also worked on rare elephant folio editions of John James Audubon's original bird renderings, according to her niece Karen Schaufeld.

Since Audubon's birds were drawn life-size, the paper on which they were printed was large - about 25 by 38 inches. That is the genesis of the term double elephant folio prints.

Mrs. Shihadeh created the hand-marbled paper that is sewn to the inner covers of very old books. The work was part of her restoration process, her niece said.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1935, Mrs. Shihadeh attended school there and graduated from the Wirtschaftoberschule in 1955.

Her skill with English, French, and Arabic led to a job preparing foreign correspondence at Frachtcontor Junge & Co.

She met her husband while visiting her aunt and uncle in Germany. Shihadeh, an Ardmore native, was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Bremerhaven, after World War II.

"Fred fell in love with the artistry of hand-bookbinding still practiced in Europe, and also fell in love with Elke," said her niece.

After their marriage in 1960, and at the completion of his apprenticeship to German bookbinding masters, the two came to the United States and settled in Ardmore.

Eventually, they became among the few remaining experts on the binding of rare books in the United States, her niece said. They used tissue paper, homemade wheat paste, fine-linen thread, and great care.

"To take a pile of damaged and disheveled pages, and restore them to something useful and lovely to touch and look at, is very satisfying," Shihadeh told a reporter in 1987. "I am resurrecting the dead and preserving the past."

After her husband died in 2004, Mrs. Shihadeh gradually wound down her work with rare books.

To honor her husband's legacy, she set up a bookbindery in Historic Sugartown, a restored crossroads village in Malvern dating from the early 1800s. The bookbindery includes the equipment from their former workshop.

Mrs. Shihadeh loved reading, and growing flowers and vegetables.

"She will always be remembered as a person who quietly, and without acknowledgment, helped others around her. She has donated her estate to charity," her niece said.

Besides her niece, she is survived by another niece, Sandra Shihadeh, and a nephew, Edward Shihadeh.

Services were Jan. 19.

Donations may be made to Doctors Without Borders via www.doctorswithoutborders.org/



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