OSU shows calligraphers, illustrators illuminations of St. John’s Bible
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 02:11
It seems that in the age of digital technology, where Pinterest prowess reigns and iPhone infatuations thrive, the general public has lost its appreciation for ancient processes of communication.
The Saint John’s Bible, however, challenges modern machines when considering its historical significance, spiritual importance and pure aestheticism. The seven volume Bible is the first of its kind produced in 500 years. Oregon State’s Private Collection recently had the honor of hosting a presentation of the manuscript which described its process, product and historical significance.
Donald Jackson had an extensive background in calligraphy when he first expressed interest in creating a handwritten and hand-illuminated Bible in 1970. He had held the position as the senior scribe for the Queen of England, as well as a renowned reputation as a master in his craft in Western countries, holding calligraphy seminars in central Minnesota that attracted enthusiasts from all over the United States.
In 1995, after some years of deliberating foundational logistics of a handmade manuscript, Jackson began a discussion of preliminary details with former executive director of the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University in Minnesota. Throughout the last half of the 90s, feasibility was explored, sample manuscripts were produced and ideas for illuminating such a manuscript were developed.
Six skilled calligraphers and illuminators worked for seven years by means of an ancient process of working by hand on vellum to produce a Bible which has the dimensions of two feet by three feet, consisting of seven volumes with more than 160 illuminations and a total of 1130 pages.
The private collections department of the library recently hosted a representative from Saint John’s University, Jim Triggs, who was involved in taking one of the copies of the Bible on a global tour and spreading the main point of the manuscript.
“The mission of the Saint John’s Bible is to ignite the spiritual imagination of people around the world of all faith journeys,” Triggs said.
During a presentation, Triggs discussed that the process was just as significant as the product. The original copy was printed by hand on vellum which was selected by Donald Johnson and his fellow calligraphers working on the Bible.
“The nature of the vellum was one of many considerations that the team had to keep in mind,” Triggs said.
Two different textures on each sheet proved to be the challenge of working on such an ancient material that held the test of time. Specific techniques of gold leafing proved to be another challenge as all of the illuminations in every one of the 299 copies were processed by hand.
As he carefully turned the grandiose pages of one of the volumes, Triggs brought viewers’ attention to another detail taken into account.
“The footnotes were included on the sides so as to not clutter the bottoms of the pages,” Triggs said.
Although some may declare these details are arbitrary, they are exactly what gives this manuscript historical significance. Artists used a variety of media, from color pastel and pen and ink, to oil paint and watercolor to illuminate the Bible with aggregations of symbols pertaining to many world religions. For example, Celtic motifs are repeated on the cover of one of the volumes while another displays a design influenced by a Jewish menorah.
The artists’ ephemeral interpretations of photographs from the Hubble space station meld with religious symbols in ornate compositions. On another page, intricate botanical illustrations absorb the viewer while the Bible’s handwritten words have the potential to satisfy and enrich the soul.
The details of the original Bible are astounding and the attention to detail was carried over to the production of the 299 editions. So far, 30 states and 10 countries own an edition of the Saint John’s Bible.
Oregon State University’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center in the Valley Library recognizes the potential and cultural benefits of the addition of the Saint John’s Bible to the university’s collection. There is an unconventional value to the presence of a traditionally produced manuscript with influences of our modern time.
“[The collection] holds illuminated manuscripts, rare books, and archival collections that are available to students, faculty, and the general public,” said Anne Bahde, history of science librarian of the special collections and archives research center.
Alice Marshall, arts reporter