Books in Conversation at the Grolier Club

Grolier Club exhibition 2024 The First Writing

My artist book, The First Writing, has leapt again into the wide world in a new show entitled “Language, Decipherment, and Translation – from Then to Now,” at The Grolier Club in New York City. The show opened on Leap Day, February 29, and runs through May 11, 2024. She is welcomed for her symbols and her goddess alphabet I imagined from marks discovered in Neolithic archeological digs.

After all the frolic of the “Alphabets Alive!” exhibit last summer in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, my little book continues her adventures. I know it is a bit precious to think of The First Writing as a “she” but the book is, after all, about women’s place in the origins of writing, much as the first calendars are thought to have been lunar, to align with the monthly flow of women’s bodies. It’s been just about twenty-one years from her conception date, when I made her first draft in 2003. So, yes, she has come of age. She is having a moment.

The curator of the new show is Grolier member Deirdre  E. Lawrence, featuring books from her extensive personal collection of contemporary artist books and “historic touchstones.” The exhibition is timed to resonate with the 200th anniversary of the deciphering (1822) of the Rosetta Stone, which, with its three carved languages explicating the same text, unlocked the secret of Egyptian hieroglyphics, an event which excited the world’s imagination.

Grolier-The First Writing on display next to a book about the Rosetta Stone translation

Here my book is shown at the entrance to the exhibit, paired with the dryly named Report of the Committee to the Philomathean Society of the University of Philadelphia … well, surely this is the very definition of “the academy.” The book, dated 1858, published the first full English translation of the Rosetta Stone. It is lavishly illuminated in a Victorian style, reproduced on the page by the new process of chromolithography. Clearly I have become interested in this book, since my work is placed next to it. Here you can see every page of it, composed in three different handwritings plus facsimiles of the marks of each language on the Rosetta Stone. A rather charming account of the translation process accompanies the splendid decorations. It turns out the “committee” was composed of three young men, undergraduates whose assignment to venture into arcane meanderings of ancient languages was no doubt the experience of a lifetime.


Books which come together in exhibitions like this have a unique opportunity to tell their stories to us and to each other.  I like to imagine the books whispering their secrets to their neighbors at night when everyone else has left, creating a special alchemy that people can feel in the room when they come back the next day. Gathering all these portals to unique worlds in one place is powerful magic.

An online exhibition is viewable on the Grolier Club website, arranged around the themes of the show, including pictures of the books and extensive label information.

I would love to see this exhibition, but if I don’t get there, I will certainly be attending the virtual tour on May 2. I’m sure I would enjoy visiting the Grolier Club, haven for bibliophiles since 1884 with lovely library shelves and old-fashioned architecture.

If any of my readers are in New York and visit this exhibition, please do let me know!

More details in the PDF linked here.

Grolier-Language, Decipehrment and Translation_ExhibitImage

Apologies – this post went out in newsletter form on March 1 with the name of the show wrongly written in a subtitle. The title of the exhibition at the Grolier Club is “Language, Decipherment and Translation–from Then to Now.”

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Cari 03/02/2024, 7:54 am

    In the world of newsletter publishing, there is no backing up. The dispatch that went out yesterday, with the above post, mistitled the name of the exhibition, using the word language twice. It’s all corrected now, insofar as I can. I will not send out another newsletter with so paltry a correction. My perfectionist nerve is irritated but in the big picture it doesn’t matter too much (with apologies to Deirdre, whose show it is). Thank you for reading.

Leave a Comment