A guid new year

This intriguing piece came with a collection of other small items in a finely decorated box. All were donated by the family of George Bain. It is a small wooden block, onto which has been screwed an engraved metal plate.

The cut corner, jagged lower edge and damaged decorative swirl suggest to me that it was once larger. Perhaps it was originally part of a printing block for one of Bain’s commercially produced Celtic greetings cards.

Re-imaging the Book of Durrow

The work is a reproduction of the opening double page of St John’s Gospel in the Book of Durrow. I have created the work on rag paper using archival watercolours, acrylic ink with added gesso and 24 carat gold leaf embellishment aimed at giving the modern viewer an appreciation of the. wonder and awe with which 7th and 8th century readers of the manuscript must have held the pages.

Erne Lake

Original design composed of a single-unbroken line. Erne Lake was executed by screen printing on watercolor paper. A gold size was screened and gilded with aluminum leaf, a transparent green glaze was printed over the aluminum leaf and the darker green was printed as a knock-out.

Re-imaging the Book of Durrow: the opening double pages of Luke’s Gospel

It is difficult for people in the 21st century, routinely surrounded by colours of every hue, to imagine how the sight of the Book of Durrow would have affected viewers in the late 600s AD. I have attempted to convey some of this wonder by recreating pages in watercolour and ink using modern lightfast organic pigments augmented with raised gesso and 24 carat gold leaf in the manner of later medieval illuminated manuscripts.

While this treatment may seem like heresy to some, I argue that my own experience when I first witnessed the transformation that the addition of polished gold brought to the designs was a valuable addition to my understanding of the experiences of 7th century and later early medieval viewers of these books. The addition of polished gold leaf not only adds the experience of ‘the Light of the World’ reflecting out of each page, but it also helps tie the designs more firmly to the Eastern manuscript traditions of Byzantine and Greek Orthodox religious art.

Re-imagining Luke’s Incipit Pages in the Book of Durrow

This is a further attempt at reproducing a double page illumination from the Book of Durrow in modern organic watercolour pigments similar in tone to how the pages might have looked when first illuminated back around 680 AD.

I have again embellished some areas of the illumination with raised gesso and 24 carat gold leaf in an attempt to give modern eyes the sense of awe and wonder that the original manuscript might have induced in the world of mainly muted tones in the 7th century.

Avonmore Lake

Key pattern. Design is composed of a single, unbroken line. This design is one of three variants I completed of the ”Mother” unit. Celtic/Insular art is time and labor intensive, which is why I work in screen prints. Screen printing is a venerable medium that allows me to print a series, that can be shared. Avonmore Lake is a transparent violet glaze over aluminum leaf.

Cladagh Lake

The entire center design is composed of a single unbroken line. The finished piece was achieved by silk screening, gilding in aluminum leaf and printing a transparent blue glaze over the leaf. The design is composed of a single motif (unit), joined, repeated and drafted to conform it to a circle. I also made 3 variations (not shown) as rectangular designs that highlite the versatility of the original unit.

Two-colour belt

This belt, with its aluminium openwork buckle, has a refined design of two coloured interlace along its length. This is an unusual pattern. Each single strand is painted in two colours side by side. When two colours are normally suggested by Bain the design would be formed as two-strand interlace.

The dark-brown leather pieces, with yellow and green interlace, are stitched together. The buckle is engraved with a simple knotwork design highlighted in green and orange-yellow. These colours draw the eye to the simple figure-of-eight twist of knotwork.

Belted interlace

This belt is made of five sections of dyed leather that are joined with over-stitched thongs. The longest section would lie around the back of the wearer. A silver-white paint line creates the open, single-strand, interlace design. The rounded buckle is cut from aluminium. It is engraved with a pattern copied from one of the stones in Meigle Museum. A green-blue colour is used to emphasise it.

This and another belt were donated to the museum by the Bain family, along with other small objects. All had been kept in a decorated, lidded box.

Knotwork in copper

The embossed knotwork on this very thin sheet of copper is set within two concentric circles. Looking at other items in the collection we think we know what it relates to. George Bain made a leather handbag for his wife, Jessie, in 1937. One side has this knotwork design embossed into it, the other side has a key pattern.

Copper is a soft metal and wouldn’t usually be used as a former for embossing. Nevertheless, this is the right size and has the same design as that on Jessie’s handbag. Perhaps it was used for transferring the pattern? Maybe the four small holes at the side were used to hold the former and leather in position. If so, the leather must have been quite damp for a successful transfer.

Alternatively this copper sheet is a completely separate piece, crafted in its own right. The pattern is created from the back, a technique known as repoussé work. It is based on knotwork designs set in panels, such as those in gospel books like the Book of Durrow.