Saturday, April 01, 2017

Find Delight In the Book Arts

Noam Sienna:  Contemporary art with early modern roots.
I work with rare and beautiful books every day.  In every respect they are examples of the art and craft of bookmaking, from the design of the type font or the letter form, to the marbled end papers, to the illustrations.

As our knowledge sources become more digital, the book as physical object, whether a manuscript or printed, is becoming more precious.  The Minnesota Center for Book Arts celebrates the book and the book arts, their traditions and new incarnations.

I was fortunate to attend the opening of a new exhibit at MCBA this week:  Take Words With You:  In Our Home and In Our Ways.  One of the students in my graduate seminar, Noam Sienna, is one of the featured artists.  I encourage you to check it out;  it will be on display through May 28, 2017 in the Cowles Literary Commons in the Open Book building, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis.


Noam Sienna is a Hebrew calligrapher and manuscript artist who investigates the relationship between letters, image, color and light, inspired by the tradition of Jewish books throughout the centuries. His graduate work in Jewish History and Museum Studies provides his art with deep roots and a commitment to seeing the past come alive again in the present.
Aaron Greenberg Silver’s artwork is typically created by cutting paper, but he has also worked in watercolor, steel, and clay. He invites the viewer to see objects and ideas in new ways, extracting the essence of a scene or object to portray it unencumbered by extraneous material.
Demetrios Vital’s artmaking begins in awe and curiosity of natural history and Jewish community. In search of a connection between letters and life, he creates and restores sacred manuscripts with careful attention to their history and place within their community. His calligraphic art combines Hebrew scribal traditions and text, with modern sources of inspiration.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Magazines, magazines, magazines

I'm a hoarder.  I confess it.  Magazines have taken over my family room.  I just may need that  recipe for the perfect short ribs (with the bonus recipe for short rib tacos made from the leftovers) or the instructions for cleverly painting floor cloths using cut potatoes and milk paint sometime in the future, so even though I have already read these magazines cover to cover, I feel I must keep them. Something in them might come in handy someday.

I have thought about getting rid of them. Indeed, I have come up with several strategies.  I could cut out all of the recipes and paste them onto paper and put the paper into binders--ridiculous for so many reasons! I could type all of the recipes I think I might want into a database, but life is way too short-- and getting shorter.  I could get a fancy hand-held scanner and scan all of the recipes into the computer, but then I would still have to figure out how to organize them and they would take up loads of web space that I don't have.   I could rip out and put into tidy folders all of the decorating ideas.  But I'm not in need of another project.  I already have a lot of projects (a subject for another time).  And I don't have the shelf or drawer space all of the tidy folders would take up should I actually figure out how to organize all of the ideas.

Periodically in these magazines there is an article about decluttering and I get inspired.  I decide that I will read through the magazines one last time and then get rid of them.  However, there seems to be no such thing as one last time.  I find something I want to try and decide to keep it. And I run out of time--I have a couple hundred of these magazines.   You wouldn't think this would be such a dilemma for someone who works in a library; maybe that's why it's so difficult. Sigh.

Last Sunday, however, I had a break through.  I read, in yet another magazine, the same ideas but put quite differently:  "Make room to breathe."  "Simplify." "Make room for what matters."  The article wasn't referring only to physical clutter but mental and emotional clutter, as well.  I realized that my inability to come to a decision about these magazines was creating a lot of unnecessary stress in my life.  They were taking up space, both physical and mental, that could be used more wisely, to better effect. 

I filled a bag with magazines that I know a friend would like and put it in the car, ready to deliver.  I filled two more bags for recycling.  That was all I had time for but I now have an entire shelf emptied.  What's more, I copied down the urls for the magazines, where they regularly post recipes and ideas.  My husband and I agreed to cancel all our subscriptions.  No magazines come into the house except mindfully and they go out at the end of the month--no matter what!

I'm kind of sad.  I love to hold books and magazines, I like to flip pages.  Magazines can be carted around easily, no power source or internet necessary; I can read them anywhere.  I appreciate their design, how the image and text come together harmoniously.  I will miss them.   But it was time.

I would rather be a collector, mindfully acquiring beloved, useful things, rather than a hoarder.  And I do collect things:  cake stands, vintage linens, antique tea cups and dessert plates…. But these are lovely things that I use to entertain family and friends, that one day will be passed down to a grandchild, niece or nephew.  I also collect books, but again I am now collecting them more mindfully.  Paperback books that I know I won't read again are passed on to new readers quickly, and I'm getting more and more light reading for my Kindle. 

Ummm...while searching online for the image included with this post, I discovered a site that demonstrates how to make collages using magazines....

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Cronicle of Alfonso X

The Estoria de Espanna Digital project is an electronic research environment and searchable digital edition of the chronicle of Alfonso X, king of Castile and Leon.  Aengus Ward, University of Birmingham, UK, has assembled a team of scholars to bring together the rich manuscript tradition of this document in digital form.

During the month of February 2017, several of the extant manuscripts are being exhibited by the institutions that hold them in their collections.  The University of Minnesota's copy will be on display at the James Ford Bell Library through the end of the month.  Following the exhibition, it may be seen in person by request at the Bell Library.  The complete manuscript is also available online: Primera Cronica General de EspaƱa

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Library Cats I

I  wish we could have a library cat like other libraries do.  However, we really can't risk a hairball suddenly gracing the open pages of the first printed edition of Marco Polo's Travels (Bell Call # 1477 Po).  Hence the title of this blog:  it reflects my own cat-like curiosity about the world and its books.  And although I can't cuddle up with one on a rainy afternoon at work, cats do grace several of the pages in the Bell Library's rare book collection.  Take this one, for instance, a medieval mouser complete with trophy.
Bell Library shelf mark: 1400 oBa
It's a hand-drawn marginal illustration in our copy of Bartholomeus Anglicus' Le propriĆ©taire des choses.  This late 14th-century Old French edition of the 13th-century Latin original, De proprietatibus rerum, is a marvelous example of a decorated and illuminated European book.

Bartholomeus, a Franciscan monk, compiled his master work ca. 1240;  it was translated into French by Jean Corbechon in 1372.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Following Captain Cook

I was on a crowded bus heading north, my husband beside me, when the driver said "And on your right is Cook's Inlet." My mind blew up. Captain James Cook and his crew had actually sailed the Resolution into that bay--the very first Europeans to have seen it. And here I was, driving along its shore myself, a faint drizzle marring what would be a rather blurry photo. All of a sudden I was there, aboard the Resolution, awestruck by the way the land rose directly up from the sea, how the mist shrouded some but not all of ridges. I stayed in this state of suspended historical animation for the entire Alaska cruise, from Seward to Vancouver.
We began our Alaskan adventure in Anchorage, after an easy non-stop five-hour flight. (It took us 14 hours and 4 planes to get to Acapulco last January so we already were in heaven.) The Anchorage Museum, outside of which we would pick up our bus to Seward and the cruise ship, had on exhibit a fabulous homage to Captain Cook and his third voyage: Artic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage. It was brilliantly done, with original paintings, diaries, and other items on loan from Australia, England, and other places, as well as items from the museum's own collection. As a curator of rare materials who often mounts exhibitions, I was green with envy at the custom made cases and exhibit stands, the custom interpretative maps and models. My husband found it very amusing as I went around the exhibit mumbling "we have that," we have that, too," "Oooh, I wish we had that one," "Look honey, we have that at home!" The Bell Collection is super when it comes to Cook materials, but we don't have any of the original drawings or watercolors that were part of this exhibition. The image featured here is by artist John Webber: A Man of Oonalashka. From James Cook, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean. London: G. Nicol and T. Cadell, 1785. Bell Library Call# 1785 Co  You can find it and other images in our online exhibition: Captain Cook's Voyages of Discovery.

Alaska is the most moving and beautiful place I have ever been. It was also the most surprising--from the world-class cuisine at Seward's The Cookery to the sparse population of even the largest of its few cities to the local history about which I was appalling ignorant. On March 30, 1867, the U.S. government, in the person of Secretary of State William Seward, reached an agreement with the Russian empire to purchase Alaska for more than $7 million. Called "Seward's Folly," opposition to the purchase didn't really die down until gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896.

The people of Alaska, descendants of the indigenous population and transplanted "southerners" alike, work hard to keep that history alive and to share it with visitors. Our visit to Skagway immersed us in history from the very beginning, when we boarded an old trolley car, converted to wheels, for a tour. 

Our tour guide posing at Reid's tombstone.
Our tour guide shared a variety of fun facts, history, and local sites, from the cost of a gallon of milk -- $7.00 -- to the story of the shootout between Frank H. Reid, a local businessman and city surveyor and outlaw Jefferson "Soapy" Smith in July of 1898. Control of the town was at stake.  Smith shot Reid, who died of his wounds eight days later.  We also saw Sarah Palin's childhood home.

I was hoping to see a lot of wildlife, but the weather often made visibility poor--if they were there, we didn't see them.  We did see amazing scenery at every turn, including this and other glaciers. 

Despite the distance of time, it was easy to picture Cook and his crew in every bay and along every shore.