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Introduction

This website, which was not a part of my original Carson Grant proposal, has become the natural outgrowth of such an undertaking— the creation of illuminated manuscripts using medieval methods and techniques so far as possible— in the contemporary world. From the moment I first conceived of taking photographs as a form of documenting my progress, the site grew in my mind alongside the physical manuscripts. It fostered itself upon long-standing tradition— scribes documenting their own contributions to a manuscript by inserting a self-portrait or colophon— but sought the use of new territories created by the Internet, as well.

This project began as a fairly straightforward proposal: "Through my study of ancient, medieval, and modern views of the written word, I will use the medium of illuminated manuscripts to test the literary arts for their capacity to represent [visual, auditory, and spatial arts], particularly in view of the rapidly changing world of literature and publishing." I chose ancient texts in Latin and Greek to illuminate, and studied medieval and modern methods of making illuminated manuscripts; and for twelve weeks, I immersed myself in the process of becoming illuminated myself. The beginning of the design process, in which I chose texts, studied manuscript facsimiles, and read medieval books on technique, was very much founded in the scholarly and literary arts. Once I had read enough, I planned out how I would set my words to pictures. Here began the collaboration with visual art that continued throughout the project. Letters and images were carefully juxtaposed and integrated with one another on the page. Calligraphy with quill and crowquill followed, and for me, it was this part of making the manuscripts that most connected with the auditory arts. Though the sound of nib against vellum made only the slightest whisper, it set up a rhythm and flow that my whole body fell into. Each movement of the fingers and wrists must be smooth and regular or risk asymmetrical letterforms; each word and letter must be restated aloud or risk thoughtless spelling errors. With gilding and painting came the connection with the spatial arts. The gesso, gums, and each color of paint were all made by hand, procedures often requiring great physical endurance, delicacy, and patience. Gesso was built up on the surface area of the vellum; gold leaf retained the facets from gum application and burnishing. Binding medium and pigment size caused a varying consistency and temperament for each color of paint, some smooth and luminous, others gritty or uneven. Although the layers added up to no more than fractions of a millimeter in total thickness, the process of glazing shades one over another— dark underpaintings, pale backgrounds, progressively darkening details, and finally white highlights— gave me a sense of physical construction. I finished up at the end of each day with aching fingers, tired back, and exhausted mind. It was a remarkable experience.

I chose to document my progress with photographs, working out the details of the future website with each shot, but I also documented my progress with a written journal. This was mostly for my own benefit: a catalog of what was working and what was not, ideas for future implementation, and accounts of my purchases. I had intended to write in it every day, but because of the natural flow set up by my project— depending on weather, drying times, and other unexpected delays and victories— this was not feasible. The journal is included here for your edification.

I made these two manuscripts according to traditions preserved in writing hundreds of years ago. Many of the original illuminations that resulted from these techniques have survived to the present day, and with care, I hope that my manuscripts will last equally as long. However, there is currently a movement among libraries and universities to further preserve such literary and artistic treasures for future generations through the means of digital media. Such works are photographed in detail, saved in multiple resolutions and formats, and placed onto CD-ROMs and websites, often with supplementary material— transliterations, translations, art historical information and the like— that not only prevents wear and tear on the originals, but informs the viewer of the very existence of such manuscripts and provides him or her with enough knowledge to appreciate them for what they are. Willamette University is one such institution that has begun that effort; please look at the Digital Mimesis Project (now part of the Hatfield Library digital collection), a cooperative effort of Hatfield Library and WITS, to learn more. My website, then, looks to the burgeoning tradition of twenty-first century digital preservation as well as to the venerated literary practices of the past thousand years.