This project is truly unfinished, as the supple red goat leather taunting me from its tube in the corner can attest. But since hours of YouTube tutorials are still needed before nearing completion, I’m posting my progress, despite bare boards, unfinished illumination and the lack of a calendar.
BOOK ARTS FINAL PROJECT:
We were tasked with delving in to an aspect of book arts that we touched on in class during the semester. Apart from running the proposal past our professor for critique, there was virtually no restriction. Given my penchant for the history of the book generally and Books of Hours specifically, I proposed an artist’s book rendition of the history of the book contained within the format of a medieval Book of Hours.
Before continuing, a definition of ‘Book of Hours’ (BoH) is helpful. This personal, religious text exploded in popularity a few centuries prior to the printing press and continued to keep binderies and printing houses in business well after moveable type’s introduction. It proved a fascinating combination of industrial and artisanal work.
Because these devotional books were meant for at-home contemplation and guidance through prayers, they are frequently more personalised, the better to hold spiritual meaning to the individual reader. In particular, the choice of offices included and the invocation of the saints are the most self-tailored. The calendars are also specific to regions, as well as individuals, indicated by which saints were given the greatest importance in the area and by the owner. As a side note, the phrase ‘red letter day’ comes from the red ink used to indicate the important feast days on these calendars. (‘Minding your ‘p’s and ‘q’s’ and ‘out of sorts’ are also cool phrases derived from the book arts, though these two relate to the printing press rather than book content).
Many of these texts are undecorated or only partially illuminated, and even more are unfinished, likely due to either the death of the patron or to incomplete payment. (For more history of a general nature, see the Wiki page).
The result – at least for me – of their gradual trailing off of the illumination, combined with BoH’s contemplative nature, ended in the sense that the reader or creator became so engrossed in her thoughts that she simply couldn’t be bothered with the material world any longer. It was this playful sense of utter absorption and the style of personalised religious expression that inspired my artist’s book rendition of a BoH. I wished to maintain that feeling of increasingly internal thoughtfulness and meditation paired with self-expression.
My challenge was to gradually release my book from the strictures of a BoH into modern communication & information expression in a way that felt natural. Typical readers no longer feel moved by medieval Church Latin, nor are modern texts limited solely to the codex form. To meld these two aspects together, I used the history of the book to allow the BoH structure to melt into the modern context, moving from hand lettered sheep skin parchment that dissolves into both a Pinterest board (noted in the book as only a URL) Litany of Saints and blank pages available for a reader’s own meditations & expression.
THE CONTENT AND FORMAT:
My artist’s rendition moves from what will be a completed, traditionally ruled calendar on vellum to the first Gospel excerpt (not the standard, stodgy Gospel of John selection, but still a snippet from the Gospels) in Church Latin on thick creamy paper reminiscent of handmade paper. As the text continues, it moves on to two more modern calligraphic scripts and a typeface harkening back to early majuscule script. Here lies the first English intercession with a sneaky Mary, Mary Quite Contrary insertion in the middle of a passage.
The second signature shifts to a more modern paper, still somewhat creamy and textured and of a heavier weight than we use now. The typeface here brings the book into the 15th century with a typeface reminiscent of the Italian developments in Roman type. It is here that the book switches into English and the second content intercession occurs; the song Que Sera Sera makes an appearance. After a Hail Mary in English, modern poetry starts taking the place of formulaic prayer to inspire contemplation. Following this is the shift into the modern context with the use of a typewriter (borrowed from Wellesley’s Archives).
Since I’m charmed by the BoH’s self-tailored nature, I used poetry with which I feel a connection and that has helped me find my spiritual and personal centre. With the insertion of modern poetry also comes the first breakdown of regular ruling.
In the third quire, the paper changes to thoroughly modern paper that is milky white with a satiny feel and light weight. I formatted these pages using a computer program and then printing them using a laser jet printer. The ruling continues to fall away, becoming more abstract and the signature ends with the URL for the Pinterest page for an irregular Litany of Saints (Instead of the proper order, I chose saints that I found interesting or inspirational).
In the fourth quire, all text and ruling has fallen away, leaving blank modern paper. The fifth quire is also blank, but of the medium weight paper. The sixth quire is blank, but of the handmade-style paper. The following quire is of the same paper, but the traditional ruling returns, followed by a signature of the medium weight paper with moderate ruling, and completed by a signature of the modern paper with the minimal ruling.
It looks complicated written out, but feels relatively natural as readers flip through.
If you would like further reading on BoHs or the history of the book, please post, and I’ll get back to you. And of course, feel free to ask any questions!