Yes, we're finally back to the tablets! Why the long delay? Well, during all of 2017, I was able to complete only 11 tablets (as of today, I'm up to 14!! While I was able to sew during the holiday season, there was no chance to finish tablets). Each one takes a l-o-n-g time to make. Let's start with the tablet I used as the basis for my holiday card:
Baghdad, House of Wisdom
When I was in school, teachers focused almost exclusively on western culture. America was most important, followed by Europe: the rest of the world was taught only enough so we'd know who the enemy was in all those wars. In doing this series of tablets, I've happily been researching other cultures, and learning of their incredible scientific discoveries (back when Europeans hadn't discovered soap, hot water or the New World).
The picture on the right: the shelves behind the scholars hold piles of books. I took the shape of the shelf openings in my design.
As you can see, there are several variations of one image.
Researching online is complicated: on the one hand, everything is all right there! I can sit in my pajamas and access a universe of knowledge. But....being so effortless, it's easy to get sloppy, to delight in the wealth of images without checking them too deeply. Which is how, when I went back to investigate a little further (after I had started sewing) I found that my image of the House of Wisdom was...the one in Istanbul, not Baghdad. Oops.
I found this error while trying to name all of the devices being used in the picture. I did get most of them, but there's a long oval with something red on it (under the astrolabe) which defied identification. I sent it to a professor of Medieval History, who suggested it was their lunch.........(really? just say "I don't know")
I did my usual Photoshop tricks to create this design:
Painted it with dyes, and realized I had to do it over:
I went back and changed a few bits in the design, reprinted, painted again and sewed (see final tablet below). What's different? The scholars on the far right are now facing in, not out, the shelves of scientific knowledge go all the way across, the globe is larger, and a design has been added under the bottom lettering (wouldn't want to have any empty spaces...). Just minor changes, but they give a more coherent design
Baghdad, House of Wisdom, finished tablet. Look closely, and you can see the word ISTANBUL embroidered on a paper on the table.
Now, you may ask "when you found this major mistake, why didn't you go back and start over?" I've re-done several others. But, I've come to understand how much of what we call history is a vast collection of errors and exaggerations. Considering how many times people have worked to expunge history (this 'erased' stone carving being just one very tiny sample) it's a miracle we have anything left to study. So I decided to acknowledge the mistake, and move on.
Once upon a time, before instant Kindle books, before Amazon, before Barnes & Noble, before the printing press, books were made by hand. From scratch. They made the paper (and before that, they made papyrus and parchment) and wrote each word. At some point, pages were bound together with leather covers, but there were many collections of pages wrapped in covers, like you see here. The books might be stored in wooden chests, or on ceramic shelves.
A quick side note here: if you've traveled in the Middle East, you may have come upon wall cubbies, like this:
They are NOT book shelves - these are dovecotes, where they raised small birds as food. OK? back to books...
However they were stored, when danger threatened in Timbuktu manuscripts/books were hidden in chests and buried, or smuggled away for safety from invaders.
In any Google image search of 'Timbuktu Libraries', you come across this image, of a scholar with metal cases of manuscripts. Is he packing them away, or examining the uncovered treasure? You also find pictures of plain old wooden chests:
These 2 chests have damaged paper linings. The one on the right seems to be lined with the comics page of a newspaper.
this is one of my favorites - 3 open wooden chests, stuffed with books, with more piled on top. I love the textural pattern of this literary treasure.
In addition to the books, I needed images of crates, so I collected a variety of them, and started seeing how they would work as line drawings:
Next post will have the finished design, and the finished tablet.
As usual, I took the images and changed them into line drawings. Are you wondering why those 2 monks are vomiting frogs? They're purging unclean spirits, of course.
And with my usual restraint, I carefully selected just a few creatures for the tablet. Really more like a clown car of weird animals....
As I've said, I paint the dye on these twice. This time, I took a photo of the piece after the first dyeing, and played with it on the computer. I realized that if I darkened the center, it would pull the eye there. The photo of the right is after the second dyeing. While it's nowhere near as dark as the black I added in Photoshop, (on the left) it's dark enough to center the image. And this time, instead of embroidery, I beaded...
..I sewed on beads and sequins and bits of leather (for the horns) and dyed pieces of yarn and some embroidery and just had great fun.
The elephant was one of the last. I thought about using some leather from old mittens, but when I photoshopped them in, it was just too drab.If you look closely, you can see that I also photoshopped in the rest of the blue beads, near the top, just to make sure they worked.
I looked through all my beads (when not sure what to do next, wander through the supplies for awhile...) and found some dark gold beads, which really seemed to fit. Here's the finished tablet:
This is a composite photo of the lettering on the top and bottom, just so you can see it better:
It says: "THE FICTITIOUS ANIMALS IN A MEDIEVAL BESTIARY WERE MEANT TO TEACH MORAL LESSONS"
My plan is for the beastiary tablet to have a companion piece:
This one has been designed, printed and has the first dyes painted on.
This is another case where I had to print and paint twice. I did the first one too quickly, and the gray background was uneven. Dharma Trading Company just came out with a great new gray dye, and I used it on this second version. Worked beautifully! The huge pink stitches on this one are the basting stitches I use to hold the layers together.
The books, the manuscripts, are the central element in this story. I spent a good deal of time designing and painting them into the image. But then I decided to add them in a more physical manner: I created tiny books. Some of these have leather covers, with fine leather from my stock of old gloves and wallets. Some of them are constructed from real library books. You see, my younger sister works in a college library, and she sends me the covers of books that are being discarded. I take the cloth ones and soak them, scrape off the cardboard, scrub the cloth and save it for projects like this.
Here's a few of my book covers and old wallets.
But the library books were destroyed. To communicate that visually, I embroidered the wording on black silk....
...and sewed it over the books, like a layer of black soot:
It took several attempts to sew words on silk. What finally worked was an ungainly assemblage of 1. a double layer of silk 2. Wonder Under and 3. Sulky - that filmy material that can be washed away. Here's a close-up of the lettering:
And here's the back of the silk. you can see where I've scraped away most of the Wonder Under, and cut away most of the second layer of silk:
Yes, some of the open books have copied pages of medieval manuscripts printed on cloth.
Compare these embroidered letters with the dyed ones at the start of this post:
This piece hasn't yet been mounted on a tablet. I just finally finished the sewing last night.
Actually, looking at it here, it may need just a bit more embroidery on the arches on the right side.. [a few days later] ..oh, yeah: a bit more here, and there and....OK, now it's mounted, so it really IS finished:
Here's a detail shot of the added wording:
If you look closely in the rubble under the arches on the left side, you can see the letters FURORE TEUTONICO DIRUTA - Latin for destroyed by German fury
Enough with doom and destruction: next week's posting will be the much brighter story of medieval beastiaries! And this Friday? A look back at a piece of my early work.