My friend Dr. Kate Gerry co-curated an exhibition at the lovely Walters Museum and gave me a personal tour pointing out all the best bits. The Saint John’s Bible is a new illuminated manuscript on vellum commissioned by a monastery in Minnesota and executed by the best contemporary calligraphers and artists. The new work is on display along with historical manuscripts and examples of calligraphy from a variety of cultures. At right you see a butterfly from the marginalia which is native to the part of Minnesota where the Bible was commissioned. It is an excellent exhibition.
One of my favorite parts was in the children’s area- a video of a contemporary calligrapher in the Turkish style, the scratching of his handmade reed pen on paper the only sound as the letters curved and twirled like figures dancing.
This sort of craftsmanship is not easy to find- in the U.S. today we do not have too many monasteries where you go to learn a particular art. And Kate pointed out that while the scholarly aspects of the medieval monastery are handled fairly well by contemporary academia, they handle the charitable works not at all. Those are left to non-profits. Where you do the work, but without the ideology to excuse the low pay- and without, often, the beauty to balance it. Interesting.