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For Philadelphia area libraries,
illuminated manuscripts give
new focus to collaboration

Leaves of Gold exhibition:

Philadelphia Museum of Art
March 10 - May 13, 2001

Frist Gallery for the Visual Arts, Nashville
September 27, 2001 - January 6, 2002 homepage

Now archived: the web site of the Leaves of Gold project. (Please note that external links have not been maintained and may no longer work)

Participating Members | Online Exhibition [Archived} | Curators and Contributors | Full Schedule of Exhibitions, Programs, and Events

A chance conversation between the directors of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Bryn Mawr College Library resulted in a new awareness of the thousands of rare and beautiful illuminated manuscripts in the Philadelphia area.

"Hidden in the collections of Philadelphia libraries is an unexpected treasure -- a rich trove of more than 7,000 medieval and Renaissance miniature paintings showing religious scenes, classical tales, historical events, and medieval romances. Many have never been on public display, or even studied by scholars," explains James Tanis, director emeritus of the Bryn Mawr College Library. When Bryn Mawr exhibited some of its holdings a few years ago, Philadelphia Museum of Art Director Anne d'Harnoncourt remarked that a collaborative exhibition at the Museum would bring these manuscripts to a wider audience, and a region-wide project was born.

"Illuminated manuscripts aren't just for scholars," Tanis added. "People of all ages and all walks of life are fascinated by them. But for the most part, viewers look at them as works of art. They are captured by the jewel-like miniatures, but unfamiliar with the language and the handwriting -- and especially with a society in which days were marked by church bells and saints' feasts. We have designed this exhibition to explain the content and production of these manuscripts and to set them in the context of the people and the societies for whom they were made."

The project quickly grew to embrace members of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and now includes eight exhibitions related to the manuscripts theme. The cornerstone exhibition, Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections, was held in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from March 10 through May 13, 2001, and traveled to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts for display September 2001-January 2002. It includes 80 of the choicest manuscripts in the collections of eleven Philadelphia area institutions.

"One of the things that has made this project so exciting is discovering the sheer mass of first-rate material we have in Philadelphia," remarks William Lang, head of the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Free Library has the area's largest collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts in its Rare Book Department, which became the headquarters for a working team of Philadelphia area librarians and guest curators from universities, museums and libraries around the country. "We knew about the Free Library's resources, of course," Lang continues, "but what got our team really excited was the way manuscripts from all the collections could be used together. We could easily have doubled the size of the exhibition and still just scratched the surface." For this reason, seven members of PACSCL mounted complementary exhibitions related to themes in Leaves of Gold.

"This is PACSCL's first collaborative exhibition since our 'Legacies of Genius' exhibition more than a decade ago," comments Eric Pumroy, Head of Special Collections at Bryn Mawr College and president of PACSCL. "We're not just sharing our collections -- we're also sharing our members' knowledge about these manuscripts and our connections to an international community of scholars. The result is a project of far richer content than any of us could have achieved alone."

More Than Exhibitions

"When we planned this project," adds Pumroy "we wanted to make sure that some parts of it went beyond the exhibitions both in terms of time and of location." The content of the main exhibition formed the basis of a full-color exhibition catalog. A companion CD-ROM provided a detailed look at seven of the manuscripts in the exhibition, while a dedicated web site documented the exhibition and offered a look at additional illustrations from the many medieval books on display.

A special outreach program capitalized on children's fascination with handmade books. "When Books Were Rare and Beautiful," a traveling workshop conducted by a book artist and a storyteller, will be presented in twenty neighborhood branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia. "Regardless of their backgrounds, all children share a sense of wonder at the idea that books can be made by hand, and the compulsion to try it themselves can be irresistible when they're given the chance," says book artist Meg Kennedy, who presented the program along with actor/storyteller Ed Stivender. The program introduced workshop participants to the tools and techniques of the medieval bookmaking workshop, and then the children created their own "illuminated initials" using modern materials.

The Leaves of Gold exhibition included manuscripts from several of PACSCL's members, including Bryn Mawr College, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the Free Library of Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, the Swarthmore College Library, Temple University Library, and the University of Pennsylvania Library, as well as Glencairn Museum and The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

This project was supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation and the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, a program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and administered by The University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Additional start-up funding was provided by individual private donors.

Leaves of Gold Web Site [Archived]| Participating Members | Curators and Contributors | Full Schedule of Exhibitions, Programs, and Events




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