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Billings bookbinder honored to preserve history, memories and traditions

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Posted at 1:32 AM, Nov 09, 2023

The family that owns Americana Bookcraft near Division Street and North 33rd Street has been there for 41 years.

There are not very many bookbinders in Montana and Wyoming, which makes this a unique business.

A visit to Americana Bookcraft is like a trip into the past.

John Rist is preserving history one stitch and thread at a time.

"A lot of these big old Bibles have been passed down from generation to generation," Rist said.

Rist has made a career of preserving the past, having purchased and worked on some very old books, including a Bible from 1845.

"I've done so many of these old Bibles," Rist said. "And they're all beautiful in their own in their own way.

It's a business his parents started about 40 years ago.

"I lost my father about a year ago," Rist said. "He was a really hard worker. And everything in here is what he did. He set everything up."

His inspiration was first to help his parents, and now he and his wife continue the legacy of the business.

His mom died eight years ago, and his dad passed away last year.

He saved a message he received on the way to his dad's memorial.

"Just know that Ann and I send our love and our sympathy and are very sorry to learn of the death of your dear father," former U.S. Sen.Alan Simpson relayed to Rist.

One of his most famous customers is Simpson, who has brought in several books, from Wyoming to Billings, including some from his great-grandfather.

"He knows that his customers have sentimental value towards those books," Simpson said.

Before taking over the business, Rist worked for KTVQ.

And as a former photographer, he encountered a big story after he became a bookbinder.

"And God said let the water under the heaven be gathered in one place," Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman read from the Bible on Christmas Eve in 1968.

Rist bound, the entire transcripts from the mission for Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders,

"If I had some Super Bowls of bookbinding, the Apollo 8 astronaut book is probably right up there on the top," Rist said.

Rist put the book in leather-bound copies, one for each day.

"Every word that was said on that six-day mission was in that book," Wrist said.

Other customers are perhaps less well known.

Several years ago, Rist's Dad bound some books for his friend Leland Cade, who researched and wrote about his family and other homesteaders near Lavina.

"It was very, very important to Leland that this part of our history, not be lost," said Charlotte Ainslie, a Lavina resident and friend of Cade's.

History preserved thanks to a Billings man, passionate about his craft, even though others like him are difficult to find.

"It's a real honor for me to help these people out to preserve their history for the next generation," Wrist said.