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Archive for June, 2009

Illustrated Books in Baltimore 2

Posted by ddrees on June 21, 2009

a496lso during spring break, I went to the Walters Art Museum to see an exhibit called The Saint John’s Bible: a Modern Vision through Medieval Methods

I first read about The Saint John’s Bible in an article in the Smithsonian Magazine titled Inscribing the Word. Smithsonian Magazine. (December 2000). Named for Saint John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota, the Bible manuscript is an unprecedented project in modern times to make a superb new version of the Bible on parchment with entirely original artwork to reflect contemporary times.I made note and saved some clippings but I did not anticipate being able to see the real thing in the future.

walters_exhibit_March_2009

This from the Walter’s brochure;

Since the earliest days of Christianity, scribes and artists have been creating beautiful copies of Holy Scripture. The Saint John’s Bible carries this tradition forward into the 21st century. This magnificent hand-illuminated seven-volume bible, commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, is the result of more than 10 years of collaborative work between artists, scribes and theologians. This exhibition features leaves from the Books of Wisdom and Prophets, interspersed with examples of Christian and Jewish texts from medieval Europe, Islamic manuscripts from the Middle East and India and Buddhist scriptures from Thailand.

Designing this new handmade book was aided by computer in preliminary layouts. It makes it so much more of a wonder that handmade book production in the middle ages was so fine. The St. John’s Bible designers were able to do their copy-fitting on computer before  starting on the parchment sheets.The style is painterly and reflects various expressionist tendencies of contemporary times. I get the sense that early Kandinsky is an influence or sensibility. The typographic designs remind me a little of Paul Klee.  The illuminations are authored by more than one artist but the project is much specified by common goals. I really liked most of the images and by the time they were painted on the final parchments, they were beautifully crafted and I could see them first hand. There is a lot to be said for the textures of the real thing, the way raking light passes over areas of greater and lesser slickness and such. Screen pictures homogenize images and much is lost.

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I bought the wonderful companion book Illuminating the Word; the making of The Saint John’s Bible by Christopher Calderhead ,which describes the project including tools, techniques and editorial decisions.The book has wonderful discussions of the grid system and typographic hierarchy that I shall be happy to use in Design and layout class when discussing the same. There are also facsimiles and prints of all these available, albeit expensive, to share the book with the world and to cover some of the vast expense of making it. Manuscripts were enormously expensive in the old days as well and the Gutenberg revolution was a massive shift as is the ability to publish blogs.

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Official website for the Bible is so good as a resource it could be used to augment a college course in manuscript illumination.It has  videos of designers and calligraphers, materials,a great glossary of terms, bibliography, Internet resources, and page by page images of the book.

The largest images available on the site, but with watermarks across them, are in the custom print section of the site’s store.

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The site is a little difficult to navigate  and there are areas hidden within a curriculum resources page which are worth pursuing. For example my search for illuminated D initials at the Hill Museum and Manuscript library yielded 1924 results. So much for my little folder of initials that I have been collecting from here and there for over ten years.

The Walters Museum where I saw the exhibit  has excellent manuscript and rare book collections, 18th and 19th Century art, Asian art, Egyptian, Nubian and Ethiopian art, to mention a few.

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is internationally renowned for its collection of art, which was amassed substantially by two men, William and Henry Walters, and eventually bequeathed to the City of Baltimore. The collection presents an overview of world art from pre-dynastic Egypt to 20th-century Europe, and counts among its many treasures Greek sculpture and Roman sarcophagi; medieval ivories and Old Master paintings; Art Deco jewelry and 19th-century European and American masterpieces.

The Saint John’s Bible show at the Walter’s also has a nice page, but I am not sure how long it will be there.The show was curated by Ben Tilghman, Zanvyl Krieger Curatorial Fellow, and Kathryn Gerry, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books. It included more than The St. Johns Bible as the Walter’s writes below.

Featuring nearly 40 volumes from the Walters’ world-renowned collection of manuscripts and rare books, this exhibition will examine the historical traditions of illuminated scripture in the context of a 21st-century manuscript, The Saint John’s Bible. Although it is still yet to be finished, The Saint John’s Bible has already been recognized as a masterpiece of contemporary calligraphy and book arts, and this exhibition marks the first time the manuscript has been examined in its historical context.

The idea of making a manuscript Bible may seem strange at the dawn of the 21st century, particularly considering the time and resources that go into making such a large book: when finished, the seven-volume bible will contain 1,150 pages and measure approximately three feet wide by two feet tall when open. But a quick glance at the illuminations throughout the book reveals that this is a project very much of its time. The artists use bold, abstract designs and collage techniques to create stirring compositions that often incorporate visual imagery from the modern world, such as computer voice-prints and images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The community at Saint John’s University and Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, which commissioned the manuscript, has a long tradition of scholarly inquiry and social engagement, and many of the illuminations reflect these concerns through references to the biblical past and current events. As a whole, the project represents an ambitious effort to envision a modern biblical art that is nevertheless deeply rooted in the long-standing tradition of manuscript production

That tradition, both in Christianity and in religions throughout the world, can be traced through the Walters superb collection of manuscripts and rare books. Featured in this exhibition will be manuscripts from many different religious traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Particularly striking and beautiful is a Thai manuscript, in an accordion-folding format, that illustrates the many ways in which elephants were believed to bring good luck to the Thai royal court. The exhibition will also look at the history of calligraphy, both in the past and as it is practiced today. Fine examples of Medieval, Renaissance, and Islamic scripts will accompany works by highly-regarded contemporary calligraphers Sheila Waters, Julian Waters, and Mohamed Zakariya, vividly showing how contemporary lettering artists continue to build on the tradition they have inherited.

As a whole, the history of manuscripts, particularly as represented in this show, encourages us to reflect on how our understanding of what we read depends on the form in which we read it. In an age of disposable media—magazines, newspapers, and, above all, digital texts viewed on computers—it is easy to read things quickly and without much thought. When each book is a unique object, as all manuscripts are, both the maker and the reader are inspired to consider words and pictures much more carefully and deeply.

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We can look forward to future shows relating to the Walter’s fine manuscript and book collection. So I am again enriched by having looked at the actual illustrations for books first hand.

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Illustrated Books in Baltimore 1

Posted by ddrees on June 20, 2009

t-49.exehis post was planned for April during spring break but, alas, other demands for my time emerged so the content is becoming more historic than current for Baltimore. After I graduated from Penn State in 1970 and failed to find a teaching job in higher education after sending perhaps two hundred letters of application, I landed in Baltimore working as Gallery Director for Ferdinand Roten Galleries on Mulberry Street. Roten’s was near the main Hutzler’s, and other still flourishing but soon to disappear downtown department stores. The job was wonderful in that I got to see terrific prints and meet some of the artists, but I wanted a teaching job. I immediately started on a second round campaign to get a higher education job. As it happens, I was around the corner from the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library so I immediately started combing their shelves of college catalogues for art department chairperson names and such. There was no easy way to look colleges up without the WWW . There was a directory of college personnel, whose title I forget, but you couldn’t get information about the department and what their faculty artwork looked like and such in the same place. Pratt had an excellent collection of catalogues. I could go to the Pratt on lunch hour. What a boon.

cathedral from prattwindow©bronxbob

cathedral from prattwindow©bronxbob

pratt gallery

pratt gallery

Pratt window©Bronx bob

Pratt window©Bronx bob

prattacrosscourt

prattacrosscourt

pratt cofferedcieling

pratt cofferedcieling

Anyway, from the second round of application letters, I got an interview at Catonsville Community College, now CCBC, and had an instructor spot by February 1971. Though I felt that my being in Baltimore was by lame chance, perhaps as Fred Astaire once said “luck is a fool’s name for fate”.  Baltimore has proved to be a rich place to be. I had and have a strong interest in illustrated books. Coming out of PSU I had done some study in illuminated manuscripts with the incomparable Tony Cutler, Evan Pugh Professor of Art History. I like to mention these connections because of the six degrees of separation phenomenon.I had already modestly started collecting illustrated children’s books , notably buying a first edition of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are when it came out in 1963.

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Soon enough I discovered that Baltimore was a great repository of illustrated books of all types. The Pratt was wonderful but there was the Evergreen Museum and Library of JHU, which had natural history books. There was JHU Sheridan Libraries, which had a rare book collection. I got my gloved hands on manuscripts at JHU while taking illuminated manuscript art history classes under Dr. Sandra Hindman now of Les Enluminures . I also put up an exhibition of called The Art of Marbling in the Sheridan in 1991.And there was the Walters Art Museum with its superb collection of manuscripts and books where I have seen numerous wonderful exhibits over the years. I wish I hadn’t been so influenced by the academic rhetoric of my younger years that called illustration a a “minor” art form, because it certainly has been a joy to me.

golden legacy ©Child at Art

golden legacy ©Child at Art

This spring break we went to the Enoch Pratt Free library to see the exhibit,Golden Legacy: Original Art from 65 Years of golden Books sponsored by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene Texas and touring till January 2012. This show closed at the Pratt on May 18. Next stop Omaha Nebraska.

This exhibition will present the most extensive public showing ever of original illustration art from American publishing’s best loved and most consequential picture-book series, Little Golden Books—the history-making experiment that celebrates its 65th anniversary in 2007. Launched in 1942—the first full year of America’s involvement in the Second World War—Little Golden Books made high quality illustrated books available at affordable prices for the first time to millions of young children and their parents. Among the artists who contributed to the ambitious series were greats of the European émigré community (including Garth Williams, Feodor Rojankovsky, and Tibor Gergely) who had gathered in New York as the European situation worsened; alumni of the Walt Disney Studios (including Gustaf Tenggren, Martin Provensen, J.P. Miller, and Mary Blair), who came East for the artistic freedom and control associated with picture-book making; and such American originals as Eloise Wilkin, Elizabeth Orton Jones, Richard Scarry, and Hilary Knight.

golden legacy ©Picture Books

golden legacy ©Picture Books

kids at show©Picture books

kids at show©Picture books

There is a book on the exhibit available at NCCIL as well as children’s books signed by the authors in their store. NCCIL has other touring shows available and a schedule on their site. The site also has information about contemporary artists. We took some pictures of the artwork but it was difficult to shoot. Two of my Baltimore /Flickr contacts have picture sets about this show as well, Child at Art and Picture Books. My sisters and I owned quite a few of these books and they may still be in my mother’s attic. I include a few favorites here but check the Flickr sites and NCCIL for much more. The Pratt continues to have great book related exhibits and is a beautiful place to visit itself. I really enjoyed seeing the original artwork with its fine craftsmanship up close.

color kittens provensen

color kittens provensen

Feodor Rojankovsky

Feodor Rojankovsky

firetruck tibor gergely

firetruck tibor gergely

gergely

gergely

maryblair atpratt

maryblair atpratt

i can fly mary Blair

i can fly mary Blair

richard scarry

richard scarry

rooster struts scarr

rooster struts scarr

scarry i am abunny©Child at art

scarry i am abunny©Child at art

scarrybunny

scarrybunny

tibor gergely

tibor gergely

garthwilliams

garthwilliams

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