Despite some monstrous downpours, Week 1 Day 1 was a wild success! This morning, we were visited by Joanna Higgins, author of the powerful historical fiction novel Waiting for the Queen, which tells the story of fifteen-year-old French nobel Eugenie de La Roque, who escapes the French Revolution with her family to settle in the rugged Pennsylvania wilderness. Joanna told us about her visits to French Azilum, the historical site in northeastern Pennsylvania where loyalists of French King Louis XVI fled to during the Revolution, in 1793. The group was incredibly interested in Joanna’s carefully researched novel, and engaged in a lively discussion about her writing process.
Around noon today, we headed down for a picnic lunch at Bryant Park. Narrowly avoiding the thunderstorm, we walked to the Morgan Library after we finished eating for our afternoon field trip. At the Morgan Library, we were led by two fantastic teaching artists. We began with an expert tour of the two rooms of the J.P. Morgan’s treasured library (including a super-secret peak into the super-secret stairs behind to the top shelves), and the Italian Renaissance influence on the architecture and artwork. Our guides told us about the development and production of illuminated manuscripts, viewing the stunning examples in the permanent collection there. We even got to touch some real animal skin stretched and dried, which is what these beautiful midieval books were made from. We also learned about all the materials that were used, such as gold leaf, safron, lapis lazuli, and other dyes made from beetle shells and insect excrement. We learned that tiny vials of safron and indigo traveled all the way from Asia on the Silk Road just to make the reds and purples in the initials.
We then visited the temporary exhibit of the Master of Claude de France, one of the last great French illuminators. We saw his tiny, colorful Prayer Book and some of the library’s other magnificent Book of Hours collections — small, illuminated prayer books from throughout the 15th and 16th centuries.
To conclude this focus on the Books of Hours and illuminated texts, we then saw and discussed Spencer Finch’s installation which current occupies the atrium in the Morgan. Spencer Finch (b. 1962)’s A Certain Slant of Light, is a large-scale installation inspired by the personal prayer books for different times of the day and year. Finch applied colored film gels to different spots in the glass panes in the atrium to create a calendar based on the movement of the sun. Though it wasn’t quite as “illuminated” due to the downpour taking place outside, it’s a fascinating and beautiful project that we highly recommend!