“Illuminating the Word: The Saint John's Bible,” opening tonight at the Canton Museum of Art, is a must-see and a milestone.
"Illuminating the Word: The Saint John's Bible," opening tonight at the Canton Museum of Art, is a must-see and a milestone.
Remarkably, the museum is the first venue to land this full-sized touring exhibition which showcases a monumental, painstaking and inspiring project.
From 2000 until 2011, Donald Jackson, a visionary illuminator based in Wales, and a team of 23 calligraphers and visual artists worked to create an epic new version of the Holy Bible, commissioned by Saint John's University in Minnesota.
"The continuous process of remaining open and accepting of what may reveal itself through hand and heart on a crafted page is the closest I have ever come to God," Jackson, who dreamed of creating a handwritten Bible since childhood, has said.
The ambition of this undertaking is awe-inspiring, especially after viewing some of the finished results. Every word of this 1,127-page Bible, in seven unbound volumes from Genesis to Revelations, was hand-written using quills and 19th-century inks in calligraphy that is remarkable in its precision and consistency.
AN ARTISTIC VISION
Yet this Bible is much more than pages of perfectly rendered manuscript. The artwork illuminating the text is contemporary in feel, rich in color with gold-leaf accents, and more suggestive than specific in details, allowing for open interpretation. The imagery feels fresh, inspired and meaningful, and urges reading of the accompanying words.
"This was about making something for the millennium," Tim Ternes, director of the Saint John's Bible, said Monday. "If we want the scriptures to last for 2,000 more years, it is important to get them into the visual vernacular of the modern world. ... It's not a new word translation, it's a new visual translation."
The Bible's text is the New Revised Standard Version.
On display through March 2 at the Canton museum, in specially made glass cases under required low light, are 68 two-page spreads, each with prominent artwork, from the Saint John's Bible on sheets of vellum that measure approximately 2 by 3 feet. Accompanying panels, sketches, tools, artifacts and video illustrate steps in the Bible's creative process and the tools used.
Ternes described Jackson's creative team as "an amazing collection of artists. One of them used to be director of the art department at American Greetings. Another was a standard commercial artist known for designing the Crunchberry for General Mills. There were people of faith and people not of faith, really a cross section. The one thing they had in common was they are all incredibly talented."
Supervising the artists was a theological team from Saint John's. "Our goal was to make sure it was going to be theologically sound. The artists' job was to make it artistically sound," Ternes said. "That's a very unique pairing right there."
INTRICATE LAYERED IMAGERY
Max Barton, the Canton museum's marketing director, said of the exhibition, "I think people will be stunned. They will stand here and look at it in wonder."
Barton offered a tour of the artwork's intricacies and layered imagery. The creation story in Genesis is presented in seven vertical bands to portray the progress from chaos on the first day to divine order on the seventh. The frontispiece for the Gospel According to Matthew is a genealogy of Christ presented in the shape of a menorah. A visual homage to the Holocaust appears in Ezekial. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse artwork in the Book of Revelations includes military tanks and oil wells.
"The gold throughout the pages is used to represent the presence of the divine," Barton said.
In choosing his calligraphers, Jackson had to find not only people of vast skill but ones willing to work together in concert. "Calligraphy is a solitary art, and these people are known for their individual style," Ternes said. "They had to give that all up to make sure their hands looked as much alike as possible." The Bible's script was designed by Jackson.
The Saint John's Bible exhibition coming to Canton was an idea brought to the museum by Malone University, which owns one of the limited-edition Heritage Editions of the Bible. "They'd been to St. John's and seen the Bible and thought this would be the most amazing thing for Canton," Barton said. "This is the first exhibition where pages from all seven volumes are displayed together."
Vast in scale and highly visual, the Saint John's Bible "reminds us that the Bible is communal. People often want to use the Bible as a hammer and say, 'This is mine,' " Ternes said. "The artwork invites people to come into the scripture to make meaning."