December 30, 2014 § 1 Comment
Date of Visit: November 2014
Numerous Churches in Aksum and Lalibela
According to the ancient Julian calendar Christmas (Ganna) will arrive in Ethiopia on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015. The holiday will begin with a day of fasting followed by a 4 am church service the next day. No special events happen until January 19th when a 3-day celebration (Timkat) commemorates the baptism of Christ. There is no exchange of presents, instead a traditional feast, music and games are enjoyed after religious ceremonies. Clearly not part of the Christian world’s Christmas frenzy, Ethiopia enjoys its own treasures of early Christian architecture, artifacts and Bibles. In November 2014, Designtraveler photographer, Eric Allen, visited the country for a humanitarian mission but took time off to visit ancient churches and photograph the Byzantine illustration in early Bibles.
Ethiopia is the only African nation never colonized by another country therefore no crusading army or missionary ever imposed its religion on the populace. Christianity came peacefully in the 1st century when a prisoner from Tyre, Frumentius, converted a ruler of the Aksumite kingdom; by the 4th century it was adopted as the official state religion, making Ethiopia the second Christian nation in the world (after Armenia).
Moslems conquered neighboring Egypt in 640, leaving Ethiopia cut off from the rest of the Christian world (except for a weak link to the surviving Coptic Church in Egypt). This separation along with the blending of the spirits and devils of the established African traditional faiths made for a unique form of Christianity.
The Churches and Bibles of Lalibela
The mountain town of Lalibela, one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, is home to eleven churches hewn from living volcanic rock. The edifices, constructed in the 12th century, are positioned in a manner that replicates Jerusalem. The churches in the Lalibela area are entirely hand hewn from rock, beginning at the earth’s surface and continuing underground.
The Holy City of Aksum
About 300 BC the Aksumite empire, a civilization that, in its heyday, rivaled Rome and Persia, established a capital in Aksum. One can still visit a number of inscribed stone stelae from that period.
Erected in the 4th century Aksum’s holiest church, St. Mary of Zion, is reportedly the home to the Ark of the Covenant. During the 10th century the ruling power shifted to the Zagwe Dynasty, practitioners of a Judaic form of Christianity. The capital moved to Lalibela, 200 miles to the south.
All photographs Eric Allen
Additional Content Sources:
Cotter, Holland. Bedrock of Art and Faith, April 20, 2012, New York Times.
November 13, 2014 § 2 Comments
Date of visit: September 2014
25 Rue du 1er Film,
69008 Lyon, France
Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication
13, rue de la Poulaillerie
69002 Lyon, France
Mémorial de la prison de Montluc
4 rue Jeanne Hachette
69003 Lyon, France
Lyon’s geographic position at the confluence of important European trade routes has fostered its wealth and intellectual growth since its days as the capital of Gaul. Today it is a center of gastronomy, banking, history and architecture. In the evenings, the city glows in warm lights illuminating the facades of many of the beautiful landmarks. By day visitors can experience other forms of light—projections of cinematic history, typesetting with strobe lights, enlightened French cuisine and the light of truth shone upon the dark relics of the Gestapo.
The Institute Lumière
During the late 1800’s, inventors sought ways to create the illusion of motion using still photographs. Through the efforts of Lyon residents, the Lumière brothers, that illusion was achieved, and for the first time the moving images were projected for an audience to enjoy. Their invention, the Cinematographe, a combination camera and projector, makes Lyon the birthplace of cinema.
Auguste and Louis Lumière, (lumière is ‘light’ in French) inherited a photographic heritage and wealth from their father, a manufacturer of photographic supplies. Their former family residence, Villa Lumière, now preserved as a museum was our first destination in Lyon.
We arrived at Institut Lumière on a rainy but warm September afternoon. The building is an opulent art nouveau affair with many of its period details intact. First floor galleries are devoted to a history of cinematography with displays of antique artifacts from the early attempts at image animation: shadow puppetry, magic lanterns and zoetropes. One of the Lumieres’ inspirations, Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope (1891) is included in working condition. Edison’s device was a standing wooden box with a peephole through which only one person could watch. The Lumières’ Cinematographe (1895) not only projected to audience, the hand cranking power source allowed portability.
Using their employees as ‘actors’ the brothers first film, La Sortie de usines Lumière (1894), captured a crowd of men and women leaving the nearby Lumière manufacturing plant. The brothers filmed ten such “documentary shorts” and then sold tickets for public displays in theaters. The culture of public cinema was born.
Louis turned his attention to color photography, experimenting with dyed potato flour to separate color in an additive process he named ‘autochrome’ in 1903. His ever-inventive mind moved on to experiments including huge circular panoramas and 3-D photography.
The second floor of the museum presents Lumière projects outside the field of photography. Auguste concentrated on medical inventions in response to the horrific injuries sustained by soldiers in World War I. He developed a special gauze bandage for burns (still used today) as well as a functioning prosthetic hand for amputees. (Undoubtedly the loss of a younger brother in that conflict was an influence.)
Cinema is the focus of the institute and a large modern film complex on the grounds hosts current movie showings and cultural events. After several hours at the museum, we left in search of some legendary Lyonnais food. Fortunately, the famous food hall, Les Halles du Paul Bocuse, was only about 15 minutes by foot. Paul Bocouse is known for lightening the traditional French cooking into today’s nouvelle cuisine which stresses fresh, high quality ingredients. The sleek modern hall placed us squarely back in the 21st century. We sat down at one of the food stalls to enjoy a plate of mixed oysters and a glass of wine as we observed the end-of-day gastronomical activities whirl around us.
The Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Lyon emerged as an important location for Europe’s growing publishing market. A flourishing book trade and active printing community supplied rich local book collections, both public and private. To preserve this legacy printer and book historian, Maurice Audin, along with Henri-Jean Martin, chief curator at the Library of Lyon, sought and received strong support from their community. By 1964 their efforts culminated in the opening of The Museum of Printing, dedicated “to educate the broader population on the role of printing and books in the formation of Western culture”. The privately funded collection became a national museum in 2005.
We arrived at the museum on a day celebrating French cultural heritage, when all national museums are open free to the public, including foreign visitors. As part of the celebrations live book arts demonstrations were in progress throughout the establishment. (You can read a general overview of the visit on the website, printeresting.org.)
For the type obsessed read on…
Our specific intent for visiting the museum was to learn more about phototypesetting, a technology with a connection to Lyon. Although the commercial phototypesetting era lasted only from the 1960’s through 1990’s, it was a significant period of transition from hot metal to digital typography. Having very little knowledge of this technology we were fortunate to make the acquaintance of Dr. Alan Marshall, an expert in printing history and the author of Plum a la lumiere (Lead to light: Lumitype-Photon and the birth of modern graphic arts). After escorting us to a room dedicated to the history of phototypesetting he gave us a quick run down on some of the particulars of the local connection. It was a very busy day for him and we appreciated his time and expertise.
As much as photography rocked the traditional world of 19th century painting, it also had a transformational effect on the industry of typesetting. Starting in the 1860’s, inventors sought ways to use the new technology to replace the labor of metal type casting. With newspapers and magazines demanding faster and cheaper ways of typesetting, various parties in Germany, England, Japan and the US raced to achieve that goal using photography. It was not until 1894 that Hungarian Eugene Porzolt succeeded in producing the first working model. All of the early attempts were transitional technologies that in some way retrofitted existing linotype or monotype machines. Their technological improvement lay in replacing hot metal type with film and photographic paper, allowing type to made the jump from the third dimension to a flat photographic image.
While the first generation phototypesetters relied on mechanics, the second consisted of electromechanical equipment with valves, relays and other electronic devices. The first successful prototype of this version was the brainchild of two French telecommunication engineers who worked in Lyon, René Higonnet (1902 –1983) and Louis Moyroud (1914–2010). Higonnet and Moyroud, not previously involved in typesetting, were appalled when they encountered the painfully long processes used to prepare type for offset printing: typesetting, casting the type, printing the type and then photographing the printed type for a negative to make an offset plate. Surely they could find a better method in 1943!
By 1944 they had developed enough drawings and plans to apply for a patent and seek financial backing. Higgonet traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts and through a connection made via the eminent American engineer, Vannevar Bush, Higgonet met with William Garth, owner of an offset duplication company (Lithomat, later Photon). Enthusiastic about the project, Garth raised funds by forming the Graphic Arts Research Foundation, a collection of large publishers and printers interested in the cost savings that phototypesetting promised.
The Lumitype “used three essential elements in the process: a master image of the type character, a lens system to size it and a positioning system to place the characters in a line in the proper sequence”. Dr. Marshall explained that one of the problems Higonnet and Moyroud needed to overcome was the difficulty of “freezing” the image of a letter onto the photographic paper. Other attempts to develop a fast “shuttering system” to capture a sharp, crisp letter image had fallen short. Working in the US at MIT the pair adopted Harold Edgerton’s stroboscope (electronic flash) as the solution to that problem. For imaging the type they arranged negatives of the letters onto a round disc and fashioned a method to spin the disc into place at high speeds.
During the input stage, every keystroke is recorded on a memory that notes the width of each character. When each line is complete, a binary computer allocates space for justification of the line. “The signals are then sent on to the setter, at whose heart is a disc made from glass or plastic. The disc carries glyphs (in negative) arranged in concentric circles. When the character is in front of the window display, the electronic tube emits a strobe flash to expose the image through a lens (for sizing) onto a prism or mirror that moved on a track to the required escapement widths for each character. The characters were projected on photo-sensitive paper or film and then developed with chemistry.” (Frank Romano)
Lacking a typographic background, the pair naively selected a bastard version of Bodoni as the font to reproduce. Bodoni was a terrible choice because it has extremely difficult hairline serifs that were difficult to hold using photography. They finally opted for the sturdier Scotch roman style.
Higonnet and Moyroud sold the North and South American distribution rights to Garth and retained the distribution rights for the rest of the world. They demonstrated their invention in Europe in 1948 to a skeptical audience but the French type foundry, Deberney and Peignot, invested heavily in the new technology. Charles Peignot marketed the machine using the name Lumitype in 1954. A young Swiss type designer on the D&B staff, Adrian Frutiger, converted existing typefaces to Lumitype format but earned considerable fame from his original sans serif designed specifically for phototypesetting. The font, Univers, a design he had been working on since his student days, was released simultaneously in both metal and film technologies.
The Lumitype, under the brand Lumitype Photon, was presented in New York in 1949. Garth had spent over $1 million to create the prototype (named Petunia) that typeset the first book using phototypesetting, “Wonderful World of Insects” in 1953. The following year the first phototypeset newspaper, The Patriot Ledger, was printed in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Phototypesetting was not a perfect solution to making type. The letterforms tended to become thin, making pages of text look pale. The spacing tended towards tightness because the physical metal bodies of letters had disappeared, leaving the spacing determination up to the taste and skill of the individual setter. I was required to use an ancient Compugraphic phototypesetter while designing publications at the Philadelphia Museum of Art way back in the early 1980’s. A clunky affair, it had a rubbery black curtain that draped over one’s head and shoulders to create a tiny darkroom. Filmstrips of letters were exposed onto a roll of photopaper about four inches wide. Despite zero training as a typesetter, I set headlines for books and posters for the museum. Sadly my lack of training shows, the letter spacing collapsed and the exposure of the letters was hard to manage under primitive conditions (unacceptable now but the über tight setting was fairly common in that era).
In 1983, Louis Moyroud deposited all the Lumitype archives in the Printing Museum in Lyon. Moyroud and Higonnet were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1985, the year in which a new third generation of typesetting was introduced. The new machines did not use negatives or flash tubes to create a letter, rather the glyphs formed electronically on an illuminated CRT tube. That story is for another time…
Our final destination was Montluc Prison. This grim and quiet place served as a prison since 1932 but took on a more sinister role during World War 2. When the northern half of France fell under military occupation by the Germans, the south was declared a “free zone” under the Vichy government, a puppet regime. To ensure Vichy cooperation the Germans kept two million French soldiers in forced labor inside of Germany. As part of the condition for relative autonomy the Vichy authorities were required to round up Communists, deGaulle supporters, resistance fighters, political refuges, Jews and “others considered undesirable by the Nazis.” Who was left I wonder?
Montluc Prison functioned as the holding station for those arrested, where their fate and final destination was determined before exportation. After the fall of the Vichy in 1942 the Germans ramped up the activities to executions and torture interrogations, many of which were at the hands of Gestapo head, Klaus Barbie, the infamous “Butcher of Lyon”. After the war the building returned to its role as a domestic prison and later closed, only to be reopened in 2010 as a “monument of major importance.”
We were almost the only visitors in the prison museum; most opt to see the Center for Resistance and Deportation Museum closer to the city center. On the exterior there was very little to indicate the entrance but the large and imposing walls gave away the purpose for the structure.
Inside many of the cells are pictures and biographies of the men, women and children who passed through during the war. All are poignant: a group of 44 orphans that Barbie sent to Auschwitz, mothers and children split up and shipped off to different destinations, the Catholic nun Élise Rivet shipped to Ravensbrück concentration camp and executed for hiding refugees and resistance materials.
While it is not a pleasant visit, it is important to keep the reminders of the cruelty of war close by. Unfortunately such prisons and tortures continue today, although not on the popular radar and easily forgotten by the distractions of pretty culture and the constantly shifting news stream. There is much to morn in this place, but also one cannot help but be impressed by the conviction of the resistance fighters who fought to free France.
Sources and Acknowledgements
Dr. Alan Marshall, September 20, 2014.
Andrew Boag, “Monotype and phototypesetting”
Frank Romano, “The Phototypesetting Era”
The Journal of the American Printing History Association
Volume XXIII, Number 2, 2003.
All photography, Eric Allen
with the exception of the Higgonet and Moulard from
Kevin Donley, “Louis Moulard: 1914-2010
July 8, 2014 § 1 Comment
Black Mountain College & Penland School of Crafts
Date of Visit: June 2014
1. Black Mountain College /Defunct Campus*
375 Eden Lake Road
Black Mountain, North Carolina
*Currently privately owned by Camp Rockmont for Boys
2. Black Mountain College and Museum Arts Center
56 Broadway Street
Asheville, North Carolina
3. Penland School of Crafts
Penland, North Carolina
Where western North Carolina rubs shoulders with Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina rise the Blue Ridge Mountains, some of the most beautiful mountains in the United States. The southern Appalachian peaks are higher than any others east of the Mississippi but of equal stature are the music, art and crafts that flow out of the hollows and valleys in between. We visited two centers of art education that originated in these mountains, one highly experimental (Black Mountain College) and the other more traditional (Penland School of Crafts). Although these schools started within 10 years of each other and both had a focus on the arts there is very little documented interaction between the two. Read on to understand why.
Black Mountain College
Although Black Mountain College existed for only 20-some years, never achieved accreditation and barely enrolled more than about 50-80 students per term, the impressive roster of students and teachers who passed through significantly impacted American art ; Josef and Annie Albers, Ruth Asawa, Joseph Beuys, Harry Callahan, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, R. Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Franz Kline, Elaine Marie de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, Cy Twombly, Peter Voulkos and many others.
We had been under the impression that the school was some kind of a “new world Bauhaus” but under closer investigation we learned that art was just one part of the BMC curricular view that music, art and drama “should no longer have a precarious existence on the fringes of the curriculum but…should be at the very center of things.”  It was not originally intended as an art school, in fact the most influential member of its group of founders, John Andrew Rice, considered art schools as the “most awful places in the world.” At BMC the arts were originally meant as way for students to “express something of a student’s inner being, “not a ‘neurotic”, egoistic focus on making art.
Rice, fired from his professorship at Rollins College for unorthodox behavior and battling the administration, rounded up a few other ex-Rollins faculty and students to start their own educational experiment in 1933. Their initial effort coalesced within the buildings of a religious summer conference center left vacant during the winter in the town of Black Mountain (about an hour from Asheville). Because the founding group did not include art educators painter Josef Albers and his wife, textile artist Anni (both past instructors at the Bauhaus in Germany) were hired on the recommendation of Architect Phillip Johnson and the then director of the Museum of Modern Art, Edward M.M. Warburg (who was active in relocating artists who fled persecution in Europe). Mr. Albers did not speak English however his lack of language meshed with his pedagogy that art cannot be explained by words or literal descriptions…”the performance, how it is done, that is the content of art.”  It must have been a culture shock for the Albers to land in the American South shortly after leaving their home in Berlin.
BMC was an exercise in democratic cooperation— the faculty owned the college and included the students in decisions about curriculum and policy. Faculty and students lived in close proximity and dined together at each meal. Every decision of consequence, including student applicants and faculty hiring, was by consensus in a seemingly endless schedule of community meetings. As in all such intimate arrangements personalities, personal philosophies, slights and major disagreements lead to dissension. Rice lost the confidence of the community after professional and personal missteps and was asked to resign in 1940.
By 1941 the college relocated to their own year-round campus on a rural setting of 667 acres featuring a small lake and a few cottages. Grandiose plans for the new buildings were drawn up by Walter Gropius and his partner Marcel Breuer but the estimated construction cost was out of reach for the perennially cash-strapped college. A. Lawrence Kocher (on the faculty from 1940-43) proposed a more modest general “studies building.” The construction was overseen by a local contractor using the labor of BMC students. (Can you imagine asking students to help build their own campus today?) There was, understandably, some student discontent about the arrangement and the work sessions reduced to 3 afternoons a week.
The Albers introduced Black Mountain’s most successful program, the Summer Institutes, in 1944. Summer 1945 included visual and performing arts; Walter Gropius, Lionel Feininger, Alvin Lustig, Robert Motherwell on the art faculty and musicians and composers Ronald Hayes, Carol Brice and Alfred Einstein in the Music Institute. The success of the summer program convinced Albers and sympathetic faculty that the college should concentrate specifically on the arts during the winter term. During this early post-war period the full-time student body grew to almost 100 funded by tuitions from the GI bill. BMC painting stars, Robert Rauschenberg (drawn to Josef Albers’s rigorous curriculum) his future wife, Susan Weil, and Kenneth Noland studied at the college.
Crafts were not taught at BMC although a ceramics studio was established. The Albers looked down on ceramics, and crafts in general as “associated with hobbies, Nazi kitsch, and therapy.”  Nevertheless an impressive number of important artists-in-residence worked in ceramics: Daniel Rhodes, Warren MacKenzie, Peter Volkous, Karen Karnes and David Weinrib. Voulkos and Weinri pushed ceramics beyond the craft arena into fine art sculpture. None of the faculty received much salary. Karnes reports that pay was $25 a month for teaching along with free room and board. BMC attracted the sort of individual who was less concerned about money than the artistic freedom the college afforded.
The Summer Institute continued after the Albers’ departure in 1947. During the 1952 session John Cage performed his Theater Piece No. 1, an unscripted event considered by many as the first Happening. The Dada-like multimedia performance featured simultaneous events; Cage read texts from atop stepladder, Rauschenberg displayed his white paintings, David Tutor performed on the piano, Charles Olson and M.C. Richards recited poetry while Merce Cunningham and a dog danced around an audience seated in four triangular areas.
Money from the summer sessions probably allowed BMC to live a bit longer than it might if solely dependent upon the term students. During the last few years, as the school spiraled toward bankruptcy, the curriculum shifted to literary arts. Work of avant-garde poets and writers at the college (or somehow connected to the school) appeared in The Black Mountain Review.
Ideological differences, a constantly shifting faculty and student body, a reputation of Bohemianism and a serious lack of funds led to the college’s closure in 1956. The campus is now privately owned.
Visiting Black Mountain College Today
A lovely stretch of tree-lined road leads you a spot where the campus is viewable from across Lake Eden. (We can’t stress enough that the campus is now private. We were permitted access as the camp was not yet in session). On close inspection Kocher’s building is showing its age. Large trees and bushes obscure the Modernist lines. A set of murals, painted by Jean Charlot during the first Summer Institute have severely faded. However you can sense how it must have felt like a creative utopia, ringed by hills protecting the artists from the outside world.
The Black Mountain Museum and Arts Center
In 1993 Mary Holden founded the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in Asheville to preserve its legacy. We arrived on a Saturday morning at opening time and entered into the gallery space filled with selections from the permanent collection. Apart from the show there was a nice video about the history of the college and a good selection of books for purchase. Having read a few of them, we can recommend both Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfey and Black Mountain : An Exploration in Community by Martin Duberman. Entrance is free and the location, in downtown Asheville is convenient to the hip sections in town. Well worth the stop.
The Penland School of Crafts
After leaving Black Mountain it was just a short drive to Penland School of Crafts. Once again we were entering a beautiful rural campus much removed from the rest of the world but despite their proximity and originating within five years of each other there was apparently very little connection between the two establishments. While both schools fostered a spirit of cooperation BMC was all about experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration influenced by academic Europeans while Penland was an all-American endeavor born out of a mission for traditional craft revival.
(We dug around and found a few intersections of note: In 1945 Anni Albers is on record as having lectured at Penland on Functional Design in Relation to Weaving. In 1967 former BMC ceramic artist-in-residence, Karen Karnes, taught at Penland where she was first exposed to salt glazing, a turning point in her work.)
Penland’s forerunner, the Appalachian Industrial School, was an Episcopal vocational mission school founded in 1914 by Reverend Rufus Morgan (1885-1983) to provide economic support to mountain families. Rufus’ sister, Lucy Calista Morgan (1889-1981) arrived in 1920 to teach but was also urged by her brother,”to learn to weave, and to possibly interest others enough to revive an art that had lingered longer in the mountains than anywhere else.” 
During the winter of 1923 ‘Miss Lucy’ studied weaving under Swedish-born weaver Anna Ernberg during an extended visit at Berea College in Kentucky. As early as 1893 Berea’s president William G. Frost “recognized the possibilities for employment of mountain craftspeople at a time when industrialization had diminished the production of crafts in the large urban centers of the country, and consumerism had found its way into the Appalachian Mountains, ending what had been a survival skill of the 18th century. Consumerism entered mountain communities through country stores and the arrival of the Sears Roebuck mail order catalog.”  While at Berea Miss Lucy also met Edith Matheny who had established a successful cottage industry of community weavers, the Berea Fireside Industries and was deeply inspired.
In the spring Miss Lucy returned to North Carolina with a mission to both preserve the local art of weaving and to improve the lives of her community (as was the prevailing philosophy of the William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement that was sweeping the county). She initiated the Fireside Industries of the Appalachian School by teaching a local woman to weave and paid her for her wares. As soon as the news circulated that there was a means for women to earn a living from home Miss Lucy was besieged with anxious weaving students. A dedicated weaving cottage was built with donations of logs and labor from the students and community.
With a group of over of 60 weavers in her charge Miss Lucy invited well-known weaving expert and champion of the manual education movement, Edward Francis Worst (1866-1949), to work with the weavers. A published report from that event generated such interest from weavers all over the country that the following year (1929) Mr. Worst returned to a class of locals mixed with out-of-state students. The Fireside Industries was soon renamed The Penland School of Weavers and then again as The Penland School of Weavers and Potters. The school remained under The Appalachian School until 1938 and then became its own entity.
Today Penland is a thriving community of students who arrive for two-week workshops, 8-week intensive studies, two-year core studies or as part of the highly selective 3-year artist-in residence program. There are 14 media offerings including clay, paper, printing, letterpress, metal, iron, wood, glass, photography and of course, weaving. Each area has a dedicated studio building with plenty of studio space for each student.
We spent an inspiring and exhausting two weeks at Penland, one of us enrolled in letterpress and the other in woodworking. The facilities were terrific. Our teachers, leaders in their fields, were inspiring and helpful. The mish-mash of over 140 strangers bonded quickly into a cohesive bunch of artists who supported and admired each other’s work.
Certainly being in the protective environment of the hills helped us block out the world and delve deeply into our work. There are precious few places like this and hopefully Penland will continue into the future, alive and flourishing unlike its past neighbor at Black Mountain.
“Nichi, nichi kore ko kore.” Every day is a good day – a Zen saying adopted by students at Black Mountain College.
Sources and Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Deb Schillo, librarian at Southern Highland Craft Guild, Andrew Glasgow at Penland School of Crafts and Professor Christopher Benfey (Author, Professor and The Albers’ grandnephew) for helping me verify facts on Anni Albers at Penland.
 Duberman,Martin. Black Mountain : An Exploration in Community. 2009, Northwestern University Press, p.38.
 Ibid, p. 41.
 Ibid, p. 47.
 Benfey, Christopher. Correspondence.
 Morgan, Lucy. Gift from the Hills. The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (May 15, 2011). Page 9.
 Stopenhagen Broomfield, Sarah. 2006. Weaving Social Change: Berea College Fireside Industries and Reform in Appalachia. Textile Society of America Symposium. University of Nebraska – Lincoln Digital Commons.
Robert E. Lee Hall from Wikipedia and YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly
Albers, Faculty Meeting, BMC Work Camp, Weaving cabin images from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Western Regional Archives Link
Images: Blue Mountains, inside BMC Museum and 2014 Rockport Camp, Penland today by Eric Allen Link
Anni Albers Guild Workshop documentation, Southern Highlands Craft Guild Library.
Edward Worst and wife Link
January 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
Date of Visit : April 2013
Mila I Fontanalas 14-26 2n 2g
Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain)
Mezquita Great Cathedral and Mosque
calle Cardenal Herrero 1, 14003 Cordoba, Spain
The Unique Arts Heritage in Spain
Each region of Spain has its own unique cultural and political viewpoint, however, almost all share the common influence of 800 years of rule by Muslims from North Africa (800-1492). The Moors, who referred to their holdings on the Iberian peninsula as Al-Andalus, infused their architecture and crafts with decoration as prescribed by Islamic culture: complex patterns derived from geometry or vegetation as well as elaborate interlocking calligraphy.
The distinctive style of Al-Andalusian art and architecture evolved through the confluence of two factors — geography and religion. Massive mountain ranges separated the country from the rest of Europe but it lay distant from the major Islamic centers as well. This position allowed for a community that intermingled diverse cultures along with their respective artistic traditions.
Islamic motifs were retained as part of the vernacular even after the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 15th century. The Islamic-influenced style is known as Mudejar, a derivation of the Arabic world “mudayyan”, translated as “he who is permitted to remain”.
Is there any evidence of Mudajer in Spanish typography? We will address that a bit later on, but first what is “Spanish style” typography? The term appears frequently in typographic literature but it is hard to find a solid explanation. (And there are those who strongly contest the notion of national styles.)
Printing and punchcutting arrived in Spain long after it commenced in the other parts of Europe, almost twenty-five years after Gutenberg’s bible. The first book printed in Spain was executed with imported typefaces. The printer was German, Lambert Palmert who set up his press in Valencia and quickly collaborated with a local goldsmith, Alfonso Fernández de Córdoba (presumably to fabricate type for the press). In the hands of Fernández and other Spanish metalworkers the imported type design soon acquired, as type historian Daniel B. Updike wrote, “something characteristically Spanish.”
Updike seems at a loss to explain clearly how Spanish style crept into the existing designs – only that it must have been “something about the air, the sky and the landscape that bewitched the immigrant German printers.” The Spanish style proved stealthy and pervasive, “Even the Spanish copies of Baskerville and Caslon acquired a Spanish flavor.” Updike’s vague explanations finally concede with “Like the flavor of olives, “Spanish” cannot be described.”
Andreu Balius: The TypeRepublic
Along the northeastern coast of Spain lies the autonomous community of Catalonia and its capital, Barcelona, home of the TypeRepublic. Although the actual territory of the TypeRepublic is confined to a computer on the desk of type designer Andreu Balius (and virtual space of the internet) we were still able to enjoy a very pleasant visit there in April 2013.
We traveled by subway, surfacing near some of the city’s fantastical Art Moderne architecture, however Mr. Balius’s building on Mila i Fontanals felt straight out of New York’s Chelsea district — a clean modern building housing studio spaces for model agencies, photographers and artists. On the third floor we found Balius’s studio, part of a cooperative space shared with other designers and illustrators. After greetings and introductions we left Balius’s studio mates lunching at the communal table in the front of the studio and moved to his section.
Balius: Education and Training
Balius is the kind of person we like to meet – a combination of very accomplished yet casually approachable. An outdoor enthusiast and avid traveler, he is also a serious student. He first studied sociology at the University of Barcelona before developing an interest in visual communication. A degree in Graphic Design at IDEP (Barcelona) was followed by another in Fine Arts (Graphic Design) at Southampton University in the United Kingdom and finally a PhD in Design from the University of Southampton UK in 2013. Balius extensively studies type history both as a personal interest and as part of his design process. To better grasp letter formation he trained with master calligrapher Keith Adams. (And another Adams link) All of these studies contributed to a personal design process, including his sociologist commitment to make all of his type design work within an appropriate social context.
We started our discussion with a quick overview of Spanish type history touching on the work of several major figures from The Golden Era of Spanish punchcutters; Eudald Pradell (1721–1788), Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros (1732-1812), Geronimo Gil. Also acknowledged were the more recent Richard Gans Foundry (active 1888-1975) and printer and typographer Ricard Giralt Miracle (1911-1994). Each is an interesting topic unto itself, but the one Balius knows most intimately is Eudald Paradell (or Edward Pradell) after creating a historical interpretation of Pradell’s work for digital use.
Pradell, an illiterate but a highly skillful engraver of armor, is recognized as Spain’s first punchcutter. Under the royal patronage of Carlos III, Pradell opened a foundry in Madrid to produce fonts for Spain’s Imprenta Royal. Balius’s work on Pradell earned awards from ATypI 2001 and the Type Directors Club in 2002. The descriptive blurb for the digital version on myfonts.com states “Although it is a very contemporary product, Pradell has a very distinctive Spanish flavor.” (There is no elaboration on what Spanish flavor means, not even a reference to olives or the Spanish sky.) Balius later created a customized version of Pradell, (Pradell Chillan) for La discussion, a newspaper in Chile.
Starting out in the 1990’s, when learning digital type design was not an academic option, Balius taught himself the complexities of digital media. His first type face, Temble, (a rather distorted design) was released through ITC in 1996 and is still available today.
In 1993 Balius initiated a co-operative type design community “open to anyone that wanted to take part”. The over 60 fonts offered were created in the spirit of experimentation. (Today the community goes under the name Garcia Fonts.)
From 1996 to 2001 he co-created Typerware with Joan Calres Pérez Casasin based in the village Santa Maria de Martorelles (near Barcelona). Balius and Casasin jointly designed the whimsical Font Soup in 1997, later reworked into a German version for FontFont.
Balius: Type Offerings
Today Balius’s personal selling vehicle is the TypeRepublic, an independent foundry featuring commercially available fonts as well as a showcase for his custom work. We only had time to discuss a few of our favorites.
This face, originally designed by Elizabeth Friedlander for Bauersche Giesserei foundry in 1938, is one of the few type designs by a woman before the digital age. Normally a font is identified by a designer’s last name (think Gill, Caslon, Didot, etc) but this design was created in Germany during the late 1930’s when a Jewish name was considered a liability. Friedlander was rejected for the more Arian friendly Elizabeth.
Commissioned by Fundicion Tipographica Neufville, Balius based his interpretation of Elizabeth upon specimens in an old Bauer type catalog (although the final digital version required extensive optical scaling).
Another of Balius’s fonts carries a female’s first name however the design, entirely by Balius, reflects the passion and intrigue of the infamous Spanish gypsy. A 2008 commission for Prosper Merimée’s Carmen (1845) the design is firmly rooted in Didot, the major type influence of the 19th century.
In 2011, the sexy retailer, Victoria’s Secret, commissioned a promotion display version of Carmen. It was awarded one of the year’s best typefaces in 2008 from Typographica.org and named a Top Type of 2009 by FontShop.
A Latin-Arabic Typeface: Al-Andalus (2009-2013)
A one-week course in non-Latin typography at The University of Reading inspired Balius to create a typeface design that would address communication between the Latin and Arabic languages used in his home country. To better understand the form and function of an unfamiliar language he studied Arabic calligraphy from a Syrian calligrapher based in Barcelona. Balius based his design on the calligraphic style, Naskh, the form most commonly used for printing Arabic.
Balius designed the Arabic font to combine perfectly with his existing roman face Pradell. Al Andalus includes a complete set of characters in Arabic, including all glyphs for Farsi & Urdu, as well as a complete set of ligatures and basic punctuation.
There are so many more of Balius’s original and custom designs that we did not have time to discuss (check out his website). It is also possible to read his thoughts on type application in his book, Type at Work, The Use of Type in Editorial Design, published in English by BIS (Amsterdam, 2003).
Leaving the Type Republic
Outside of type design Balius is an outdoor enthusiast – hiking and mountain biking are his favorite activities. He also travels extensively throughout the world giving workshops and lecturing at prestigious conferences. Whether on the road for fun or work he takes along sketchbooks to record his unending flow of ideas.
We left with a better understanding of his typography and a list of places for hiking and visiting in Southern Spain. He recommended some great hikes in the White Villages of Andalusia.
During the remainder of the trip we kept our eyes open for type designs that we felt displayed some of the decorative influence of Mudejar.
We were also intrigued by lettering that was hand drawn on the walls of a university building in the town of Baeza. Only later did we realize that Balius had created a custom typeface, Universitas, from that same academic lettering tradition.
For more of Spain and Spanish typography see our guest post on Imprenta Municipal-Artes del Libro in Madrid on Printeresting.org.
Carmen image from design boom
Paucker, Pauline: “New Borders: The Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander.”
(Oldham): Incline Press, (1998)
May 31, 2013 § 1 Comment
Date of Visit: April 2013
The German Pavilion for the Barcelona World Exposition, 1929
Web Link: www.miesbcn.com
In sharp contrast to Barcelona’s curvaceous and ornamental buildings of the Modernisma movement (1888-1910) is a minimalist icon of the International Style, Mies Van der Rohe’s German Pavilion. The building is actually a 1986 recreation of the original that was built in 1929 but the famous Barcelona Chair found inside is authentic. The chair, frequently attributed to the well-known Mies, was designed in collaboration with another German designer, Lilly Reich, who teamed with the architect on furniture and interior projects between 1925 and 1938. This time span is the only period in which Mies designed furniture, later noting, “ A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” It was certainly easier with Riech, who was trained in industrial textiles, at his side. The chair, named after the city in which it premiered, was their greatest joint project, made when the duo served as the artistic directors for the German Pavilion in Barcelona’s World Exposition in 1929.
We started our day nearby, taking in the mural paintings in the Museu National d’Art de Catalunya on the little mountain of Montjuic high above the city. The neo-Baroque style which building served as the Spanish pavilion was more in line with what people considered as architecture in that day. We descended many levels of stairs alongside the cascading Magic Fountain to street level and starting searching for the Mies building. It was tucked away, not immediately visible, off to the left. It must have been a shocking site in 1929 because it is still a novel edifice in Barcelona today.
My traveling companion chose not to join in the visit. He has read the TripAdvisor comments including one that advised “just look at it from the outside, There is nothing to the inside … Literally, one of the worst cost/benefit ratios in my entire traveling career. We scooted through in under a minute…” It’s hard to imagine why someone would visit this out-of-the-way building with such a lack of understanding but travel compels some people to blindly trudge through any and all attractions.
The 4 euro charge did seem a bit steep but there were plenty of takers streaming in and out at the entrance steps. The guard, a grouchy young woman, barked at us as I was handed the camera across the stair threshold, “This is the entrance, don’t cross if you haven’t paid!” Indeed it would be fairly easy to click off a few decent pictures and a quick peek if you weren’t up for the entrance fee.
We, like you, have seen this chair (authentic and knock-offs) ad infinitum in fancy corporate lobbies, spas and private homes. We admired it in Johnson’s Glass House a few years before, but this is where it truly belonged, echoing the building’s cantilevered structure and commanding center stage against the marble and onyx background.
The chair was originally designed as a throne for the King of Spain (with matching stools for royal attendants) during the pavilion’s opening ceremonies. Made from white pigskin, they were barely showing their 84 years. (Imagine your own white furniture after only 10!) There are conflicting counts on the number of pieces needed to produce the leather upholstery, but let’s go with the version that claims that 148 individual panels of leather were cut, hand welted and hand tufted. Although only these few were produced for the pavilion, many tens of thousands were mass produced after Mies sold the design rights to Knoll International (several years after Reich died).
The only other free standing object was a sculpture that animated the space with a slow dance. Several water features were calming, flat and quiet, matching the mood of the building.
We had seen the “Chair of the Century” and it was time to join the endless lines at Gaudi’s Familia Sagrada—a building that promised to hold the attention of any traveler, whether they knew what they were looking at or not.
March 7, 2013 § 3 Comments
I. Benjamin Franklin Court
Gentlewomen of the Press
317 Chestnut Street
II. Monotype Factory Building
Women typecasters during war-time
24th and Locust Street
III. Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers
What do we know about the history of women in the graphic arts? According to all of the major academic texts on the subject virtually no women worked in the field before the mid-twentieth century. However, despite the impression left by those authors there have been women printers, typesetters, type casters, punch cutters, type drafters and type designers since the 16th century. Women have worked alongside their fathers, husbands and brothers as valuable partners, regularly taking over while men traveled, left to fight in wars, were incarcerated or inebriated. If the absent man was able to return to his press the women were frequently demoted or dismissed.
Just as their own families have marginalized the roles of these women so have modern design historians. In 1920, the eminent type historian Daniel Berkeley Updike, (himself a grandson and great-grandson of the colonial Goddard women printers) wrote of the female worker matter-of-factly and dismissively, “women in the type foundry, like child labor, is nothing new.” In essence, women were there but of they were of no consequence. Fortunately things are changing and women from the present, as well as the past, are getting their due recognition.
Benjamin Franklin Court
Colonial Ladies of Letterpress
Part of the Independence National Historical Park includes a colonial print shop on the former site of Benjamin Franklin’s home. The press now houses a few type cases, a bindery and a large antique printing press used for live demonstrations. On each Saturday of March a short lecture, Gentlewomen of the Press (Women Printers of the 18th Century), highlights some of the women in colonial print shops. My son discovered the free event and he and his girlfriend gamely accompanied me to the presentation.
Finding the press took a bit of persistence. The Franklin Court complex is located inside of a city block with minimal signage to announce its whereabouts. The entrance begins next to the colonial post office and snakes past the construction site that currently covers most of the Franklin museum complex (slated for completion by Fall 2103).
We entered just in time to hear the ranger’s enthusiastic explanation as to why colonial Philadelphia had a high rate of female literacy. The colonial Quakers encouraged women to read for participation in Bible study, a necessity in a religion that required self-learning rather than instruction by church officials. Literacy was certainly an advantage for women in the press shop (although we’ve read of one illiterate woman printer, Dinah Nuthead, who became the tenth woman licensed to print in the colonies in 1696.)
Our presenter surveyed numerous Franklin women and female associates who were active in the printing field, most of whom fit the pattern of marginalization we noted earlier. Benjamin’s wife, Deborah Read (1708-1774), was the manager of the family press during Franklin’s long absences overseas— holding down the fort and helping to expand the business throughout the colonies. Franklin only credited his wife for her financial prowess, “Frugality is…a virtue I could never acquire in myself, but I was lucky enough to find it in a wife, who thereby became a fortune to me.”
It was the female in-laws of Franklin that actually “got inky” at the press. Ann (Smith) Franklin (1696 -1763) the sister-in-law of Benjamin and widow of his brother, became the first woman printer in Newport, Rhode Island at age 39 when she inherited her husband’s press in 1735. She ran the press while raising five children alone, later joined by son James when he completed his apprenticeship with Uncle Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1748. When James died Anne (then age 65) fed the family by continuing the print shop assisted by her son-in-law and her two daughters, who were “correct and quick compositors.”
Franklin was also in a business partnership with Elizabeth Timothy (?–1757), a widow in South Carolina, whose newspaper printing skills were praised by Franklin over those of her late husband. Mrs. Timothy, as a woman, could not be legally recognized in her position and therefore placed the name of her 13-year-old son, Peter, on the paper’s masthead as the official publisher. Using a male child’s name was a common tactic for printing widows and one of the reasons that many women printers names are unrecorded.
The most historically notable woman of the group was Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816), daughter of another female printer, Sarah Updike Goddard, and ancestor of the aforementioned Daniel Berkeley Updike. Mary Katherine took over her brother William’s newspaper during his frequent incarcerations for “public outbursts and rabble-rousing articles in the paper” and while he fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1777, Congress authorized her to print the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the original signers, but she made her livelihood and reputation at the newspaper. One of her contemporaries, newspaper publisher Isaiah Thomas, considered her,“ an expert and correct compositor, doing good printing besides fine work with copperplates.” Nevertheless, not all was peaceful after the Revolution as brother William returned to the press and summarily dismissed Mary Katherine. She lost her printing business to her brother despite a slew of influential names attached to her letters of petition to the government and five attempted lawsuits. She persevered by selling books, stationery and dry goods.
We saw the press in operation by two different women park guards who competently made their way through the printing as they explained the process. Several woman-centric printed items were on sale. Satisfied in mind but not in stomach, we lunched a few doors away at Fork restaurant.
The Monotype Factory
Women in War Time Prove “We can do it!”
The next stop was 24th and Locust Street, location of the former Monotype Factory. This time Philadelphia-based graphic designer and Hofstra Design professor, Bez Ocko, accompanied us. Although the name Monotype is now associated with digital fonts the term was first used to describe a metal type-casting machine sold in the United States and Great Britain. In 1887 Tolbert Lanston designed the Monotype prototype which required two pieces of equipment, a keyboard and a metal typecaster. The process began with an operator typing the text using a keyboard of 276 keys, the amount required to cover all of a font variants such as italic, bold, etc. Each key strike triggered a number of holes punched along the length of a 4-inch wide paper ribbon. The typecasting machine used the perforated ribbon to dictate the specific order in which individual metal letters were cast from a brass a matrix. (We will include much more about the Monotype in our next posting in late March.)By 1905 the American Lanston Monotype Company moved its manufacturing to Philadelphia, first on Callowhill Street and later to 24th and Locust. The new five-story brick structure housed 200,000 square-feet of matrix making, letter drafting, tooling, assembling, milling, casting, inspection, engineering and training facilities.
Today the only remainders of the Philadelphia Monotype factory are the stone letters over the door and past volumes of the house organ, Monotype: A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency. In those publications one can read how women at Monotype and across the country, normally confined to keyboard input, filled in for men during wartime. The articles praise the women for their important contribution in war time but make it clear that it is only a temporary situation.
From an 1918 edition, “The present shortage of male Monotype operators and runners has opened a new field for the girls and they are making good at it.” From Omaha, Nebraska came the story of how a woman became a Monotype type caster during the man shortage of World War I. “As the weeks rolled by and no suitable candidate for the job appeared it began to look as if our foreman would be compelled to operate the casters himself. About this time a copy of Monotype containing the picture of a young lady operator in New York fell into the hands of a Miss Wells who was working in the bindery. She applied and after considering the matter for some time we decided to give her a chance to show what she could do. She began by watching how the work was done. This she did for several days after which she was taught to take off the galleys, keep the metal pots full, and the temperature of the metal right, to put on the spools of copy and the other incidentals of caster running. She has not attempted to change the molds but hopes to be able to do so in the future. As matters now stand Miss Wells is learning as rapidly as the average young man and is more dependable.”…“In this connection it might be well to consider that all trades are breaking down traditions and find that woman can perform many operations for which they were supposed to be in some way unfitted.”
Despite the women’s suitability for their work the male run trade unions squashed any future prospects. “At the last meeting of the American Publishers Association there rose a request to the International Typographic Union to train women operators for the newspaper, but the proposition did not meet the approval of that body, who considered the newspaper end of the business as too strenuous for the women.” In this case it was the union, not family members or the actual workshop managers that kept women out of the foundry.
4:00 PM The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pearlman Building
Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers
December 2, 2012 – April 14, 2013
Our last stop of the day was a joint showing of the work of graphic designer Paula Scher (b. 1948) and her illustrator husband Seymour Chwast (b. 1931). The exhibition was the perfect demonstration, not only of Ms. Scher’s talent, but also of how far women have come in terms of professional and marital equality. The couple was given equal billing and space in the large gallery. Both spouses showed high quality work, but at a distance Sher’s exudes a more powerful energy, a deliberate approach she cultivated in response to the environment where her work is often seen, New York City.
Scher, educated at Tyler School of Art just outside Philadelphia, began her career designing album covers for CBS and Atlantic Records. In 1984, she co-founded Koppel & Scher with fellow Tyler graduate Terry Koppel and it was during that partnership that she designed her intensely controversial Swatch poster. The poster was a near perfect replication of the travel poster designed by Herbert Matter in 1934. Although she obtained the rights from the Matter estate, and it appears that she was clearly referring to Swiss culture, Matter and the dying era of Swiss design, the subsequent critical uproar included accusations of plagiarism or a least a lack of professional integrity. Perhaps part of the controversy was that Scher was a woman appropriating the work of a male icon, (recently deceased) and the perceived lack of reverence was just too provocative.
The exhibition display was big and bright. The space, divided equally in half, featured walls filled to the rafters with their work plus separate but equal media presentations. The east wall, displaying a single A from Scher’s logo for the Type Director’s Club is directly countered by the west wall sporting the organic A Chwast drew for Artone India Ink. Each spouse was given their proper due, a sweet end to a day tinged with female inequality and anonymity.
One can never know if her predecessors had the luxury (or burden) of reflecting on their professional relationships but perhaps they might have had some of the same thoughts as Scher, “If I had not been with him, would I have lived my life exactly this way, or am I with him because I always wanted to do it this way? I don’t know. I ask myself this question all the time.’’ * To see more of her work and hear Ms. Scher in her own words you can view her interview, Paula Scher : The Geography of Design by Nicholas Heller.
Barlow, Marjorie Dana. Notes on Women Printers in Colonial America and The Untied States, 1639-1975, The Hroswitha Club, University Press of Virginia, 1976.
Photo Mary Katherine Goddard: Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library
Monotype Doing Her Bit, While Her Soldier is Serving His Country. Monotype A Journal of Composing Room Efficiency, Published by the Lanston Monotype Company of Philadelphia.
•Volume 5, No 6, March April 1918, p 133.
• Volume 6, No 1, May June 1918.
Tiger, Caroline. Together – never; except in an exhibit of their graphic designs at the Art Museum. The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 1, 2012.
Paula Scher: The Geography of Design (Part 2) Nicholas Heller, August 2009. Youtube.
Written by Nancy Stock-Allen
February 7, 2013 § 2 Comments
Date of Visit: January 2013
I. The Gandhi Museum
Madurai, Tamil Nadu
II. The Sarasvati Mahal Library
Thanjuvar, Tamil Nadu
Link: Library catalog
III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Near Maduri, Tamil Nadu
The state of Tamil Nadu (Tamil country), once called Madras, is located on the southeastern coast of India. Inhabited by the Tamil people since 500 BC, it still holds fast to its regional language, Tamil, used along with Hindi (the national language) and English on official signs. The state is home to a rich history of architectural and literary works achieved during the powerful dynasties of the Chera, Chola and Pandya. That heritage, threatened with extinction during a period of European colonization, has thankfully been saved by strong social reformists and conservationists for us to enjoy in the 21st century.
I. The Gandhi Museum / Preserving the Legacy
We retreated from the cacophony of Madurai’s streets for a few hours to tour the Mahatma Gandhi Museum. By coincidence it was January 26th, Republic Day, the annual holiday commemorating the adoption of the Indian Constitution and when we arrived the front garden was full of students making speeches and carrying flags. Once inside the building we were quickly swept up into the story of India’s struggle for independence starting in 1598 when the British East India Trading Company commenced their campaign of colonization. The Englishmen pitted regional Indian rulers against each other, bribed others and bludgeoned the rest to gain control over of a major portion of the country. (Similarly the Portuguese, French, Danes and Dutch injected their own spice trading groups.) Once established the British traders sucked the country’s resources dry by denying Indians the right to manufacture their own goods and forcing them to buy imports from England. Native landowners and peasants alike were highly taxed and that revenue bought Indian commodities to ship back to England. As John Sullivan wrote, “The Englishman flourishes like a sponge, drawing up the riches from the banks of the Ganges and squeezing them on the banks of the Thames.”
The British Parliament was advised to obliterate Indian culture and religion in an infamous report by Lord Macaulay, who suggested the following to his superiors back in England, “… I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.” Missionaries were dispatched to introduce Christianity to India as part of that scheme.
When Queen Victoria assumed the role of Empress of India in 1858 westernization accelerated. Railroads and the telegraph reduced travel and communication time across the vast continent and English was instituted as the official language (facilitating more contact between India and the Western world). Indians, however, were not convinced that British ways were “good and greater than their own.” To the contrary, Indian scholars began to rediscover their indigenous history and literature spawning an Indian Renaissance, a resurgence of national pride and an urgency to expel the colonists. Many dedicated Indian patriots and martyrs would perish in the pursuit of independence over the next century.
We now know that it was the transcendent personality of Mahatma Gandhi that successfully inspired India’s masses by his new method of action, “satyagraha” (a word Gandhi combined from the Sanskrit for “ truth” and “holding firm”). The title of Mahatma, or “Great Soul” was bestowed by Gandhi’s contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, the author of India’s national anthem. (If you are a regular reader of this blog you may remember that Aina Cederblom, from our last post, taught weaving at an experimental school run by Tagore near Kolkata.)
About half of the museum space presents the arc of Gandhi’s personal and public life. We learned that it was in Madurai that Gandhi chose to adopt the dhoti, a simple Indian peasant garment, as a symbol of his solidarity with all classes of his countrymen. He spun the thread for his personal clothing on a spinning wheel, setting an example to urge Indians to resume making their own goods. The exhibit concludes with a small room containing a single profoundly moving artifact—the blood stained dhoti that Gandhi wore on the day of his assassination. The whole experience gave us a deep respect for the combined efforts of Gandhi and his predecessors who helped India regain self-rule in 1947 and preserved the rich cultural heritage of India.
II. The Maharaja Serfoji Sarasvati Mahal Library / Preserving Literature
Thanjavur, South India
About 200 kilometers north of Madurai is Thanjavur, a cultural mecca that evolved under the patronage of kings who supported religion and the cultural arts of music, dance, art and literature. The city is most known for its stunningly beautiful Brihadisvara Temple built during the Chola dynasty by Raja Raja the Great (985-1016). We visited the enormous temple complex at dusk while the setting sun best emphasized the sculptural facades.
Thanjavur priests and scholars were active writers of religious and scholarly manuscripts, many composed in Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism. The nearby royal palace stored much of their work in a library named Sarasvati Mahal during the Nayak period of the 16th century. A later ruler, Raja Serfoji II (1798-1832), enlarged the collection by dispatching pandits (experts in Sanskrit) to buy or copy Sanskrit manuscripts from Northern India and other important Sanskrit centers.
Serfoji, an ardent bibliophile, studied English, French, Italian and Latin under Danish missionary, Reverend C. F. Schwartz. In 1805 he set up a printing press in 1805 in the palace and equipped it with “cast Devanagari type imported from Madras”.  (Devanagari is one of several writing systems used for recording Sanskrit.) Other sources describe the type as stone type. “The Types and Blocks were prepared using soft stone and hard wood.”  The press, known as Navavidyakalanichi, was inaugurated with an edition of Maratha Pachanga (The Almanac) produced on European paper. Serfoji also ordered translations of English story books for educating village children.The royal library eventually passed into public hands upon the death of the last Maratha queen in 1983.
The library is still situated within the royal palace complex in the heart of Thanjavur. We arrived on a Tuesday before the 10 am opening (There are a number of conflicting sources on the opening days and times. Tuesday seems the most reliable). We first viewed the palace art gallery next door which was undergoing extensive renovation—a work in progress that will be far superior after completion. The library however was well worth the visit.
The brightly painted exterior book store hints at what will be for the entire palace complex in the future. Once inside a hallway leads you to junction between a museum on the right and the library archives on the left. The museum very strictly prohibits any photography and the four or so grim-faced guards in charge of the small museum loudly slap the showcases with dust rags, glaring at all visitors to show that they mean business. (The library officials suggested that we scan images to illustrate this piece from The Painted Treasures of the Sarasvati Mahal Library .)
All sorts of books are on view: palm leaf books, manuscripts and printed bound books of diverse subject matter: Vedas (Hindu scriptures), epic poems, purana, (histories of the universe from creation to destruction) philosophy, modi (business registers), jyothisa (astrology), medicine, literature and scientific illustrations. Well-known works including the Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata and several versions of the Ramayana (Rama’s Journey) including one known as Valmiki Ramayanam which features all 24,000 verses written in Grantha script so miniature that the letters are impossible to read with naked eye. (A magnifying glass is suspended above for viewing.) Some of the palm books are entirely script while others are illuminated with a single color or elaborate multiple color decorations. Also on display are maps, early Western books and curios such as the smallest and largest palm leaf books.
It is a bit confusing to sort out some of the facts about the collection. According to a library-produced pamphlet for tourists the oldest dated palm leaf manuscript, the Andhrabhagavatam, by Telugu poet Bammera Pothana, is dated 1432 (although Pothana’s lifespan was 1450-1510). Yet a book the library published in 2011 the oldest palm leaf manuscript is the Gadyachintamani written in 1550.
We were most fascinated by the books made from palm leaves, a common book material in ancient India. The process of preparing a palm leaf for writing is labor intensive: the dried leaves are cut to equal lengths, drilled for the string binding, boiled in water, dried again and then buried in sand before a final polish with conch shells. A salaka (metal stylus) was used to inscribe the text into the leaf surface and then washed with a mixture of charcoal and vegetable juice to add contrast to the letters. The finished leaves were smoked over a fire and coated with juices to provide protection from insect damage.
In the 1700’s a plant-based paper was beginning to be manufactured as a substitute for palm leaf material. The paper manuscripts were written using wood, bamboo or quill pens with an ink that was a mixture of lamp soot and extracts of the needle bush (Vachellia farnesiana). The natural preservative for paper was a bath in a turmeric and water solution.
Behind the Scenes Preservation and Transcription
Today the library’s mission includes preservation of the collection, recording it on microfilm as well as transcribing the ancient texts into computers for publication. Anxious to know more we asked to see some of the work behind the scenes. We were grateful for the limited access granted by head librarian, Dr. S. Sudarshan, to see the transcription and preservation processes. We were introduced to one of the Telugu pandits, Mr. D. Ravi, who graciously conducted a short tour of the four manuscript divisions which are divided by language (Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi and Telugu).
One of the pandits was translating and hand transcribing content from an ancient palm leaf book. She was handwriting the entire text in ball point pen on paper, preparing it for electronic entry in the nearby computer center.
Large wooden cabinets hold the manuscripts along one side of the archives. Although there is no air-conditioning or climate control the storage is relatively stable deep within the thick stone-walled building. As a precaution if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees the palm leaf pages are not handled. (The library computers are pampered with air-conditioning inside a separate glass walled section.) Hopefully environmental control will come for the manuscripts in the future, but for now the collection is preserved using traditional natural methods. Each palm-leaf is routinely cleaned with Citronella, an extract of lemon grass which insures flexibility of the leaves and acts as an insecticide. If the cleaning process lightens the lettering it is refreshed by a wash of black ink and oil. Approximately 60 of the 25,000 palm leaf manuscripts are cleaned each day.
Mr. Ravi opened the first storage cabinet and out flowed the lush odor of the Citronella. Each manuscript is individually wrapped in white linen, tied with a string and identified on the outside. Our guide kindly untied one to demonstrate the flexibility of a preserved leaf that was several hundred years old.
In another section of the building paper books were in various stages of repair. Stabilization of holes and tears in delicate pages is achieved by layering a piece translucent “Japan paper” (we suspect it was rice paper) over the entire page and then trimmed.
A small group of men was binding newly printed books containing the text from an ancient palm leaf book manuscript. We saw similar reprints for sale in the library bookstore and in shops inside temples all over Tamil Nadu.
III. Thiruparankundram Temple Priest School
Preserving Sanskrit and the ancient Grantha Script
Although India has one national language, Hindi, it also recognizes 22 regional languages out of it hundreds of local tongues. Without any expertise in this area we are reluctant to wade into the topic of Indian languages but what we surmise is that there are two major branches of language development in Tamil Nadu. One is the Sanskrit family—a historical language related to modern Indian languages in much the same way that Greek and Latin connect with western languages. Separately there is the Dravidian family of languages, 85 in number including the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam systems that we observed in the Sarasvati Mahal library collection. What muddles the water is the fact that some of the Dravidian languages can be used to write Sanskrit while other can reproduce the full range of sounds in Sanskrit.
Although it is an ancient language, Sanskrit is still used in some instances in the modern world. For example when yoga teachers instruct their students, they frequently use the Sanskrit names for positions, ie: Adho-mukha svanasana is Sanskrit for downward dog. Om, ॐ, is also a Sanskrit word.
A more academic use of Sanskrit is in religious practices, including Hinduism. We were able to observe Sanskrit as a living language while visiting a traditional Vedic school dedicated to educating boys of Brahmin birth to become Hindu priests. While one does not expect boys between the ages of 10 and 18 to be interested in conversing with older adults these fellows were a respectful and inquisitive group. They were enthusiastic in sharing their Sanskrit lesson books using Grantha script, a once common form now replaced in the secular world with Devanagari script. They were a lively group but when it was time for their twice daily chanting and prayer ceremony they scrambled into their places, executed some nostril breathing exercises and then flipped open their books to chant in unison as a cohesive whole.
Be not like the frog in the well. The frog in the well knows nothing bigger or grander than its well. So are all (bigots) narrow-minded persons, they do not see anything bigger than their own wells. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886).
Unless otherwise noted, all images 2013 © designhistory.org.
 The Indian Antiquary, page 194 June 7,1872.
 Srinivasanm G, Treasure Trove in Thanjavur, The Daily Hindu, November 7, 2011.
 Wujastyk, Dominik, Thanjavur Library – A Realm of Knowledge, The Sampradaya Sun-Independnet Vaisnava News, Oct 14, 2012.