I am astonished and excited that my signature artist book, The First Writing, will be on display and thereafter donated to the permanent collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. The exhibit, Alphabets Alive!, will run from July 19 through January 21, 2024.
This recognition of my work is exceedingly sweet.
The mere name of the Bodleian Library kindles a shimmer of magic for me. In my years of studying calligraphy and illumination, it seemed that nearly every glossy art reproduction I studied was held in the Bodleian collection. And in fact, such manuscripts were the genesis of this library, when the Duke of Humfrey, son of King Henry IV, bequeathed his precious collection of illuminated books in 1447 to what is now the oldest university in England. Glimpses of the Duke’s Library appear in the Harry Potter movies as a stand-in for the Hogwart’s library.
When the book collector Robert Bolick first contacted me about inclusion of my work in his collection with the prospect of an eventual show at the Bodleian, the very idea seemed unreal. Since then I have followed his subsequent acquisitions, books which have been made by friends, teachers I have studied with or other book artists whose work I follow. My page on his Books on Books site is lovely, and the website of this very comprehensive collection is well worth a look around.
I conceived of my book and made the first draft of it exactly 20 years ago. It was the first proper artist book I ever made and in some ways is still the most profound. Symbols I had seen carved on the stone walls at Newgrange on a trip to Britain a few years earlier rang in my memory when I later discovered similar marks collected by the archeologist Marija Gimbutas in her book The Civilization of the Goddess. Whether found in Ireland or unearthed in the digs of Old Europe, these Neolithic marks feel archetypal, the sacred beginnings of mark making, ancestors of our modern writing systems. Her books evoked some fierce scolding from the “academy” but in the forty years since she began publishing them, her ideas have found their way into the hearts and minds of people everywhere. I like to fancy that my book is part of the conversation.
And now the work that I dedicated to the woman who challenged and enlarged the origin stories of our human family is going to be shown at one of the oldest libraries in England, at the university which only began allowing women to matriculate there in the last hundred of its 900-year history.
So I am going to England. An invitation to the artist reception to see my little book on the revered Oxford campus is as good a reason as any to make a pilgrimage to the country that has sung my name since I was a child. I have booked my flight and rooms and will be in England from mid-July through the start of August. I will actually be staying in a dorm room on the campus at Jesus College for about a week. Just another way in which this whole trip feels a bit charmed: I was able to find a room in the middle of Oxford at the height of tourist season with very little lead time to reserve it.
Or, as one might say, to book it.
Top photo credit, David Illif, accessed through this website, My Modern Met