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Illuminating January 11, 2009

Posted by cbuchanan in Uncategorized.
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Last week I took a trip through time–from the 14th century to the 16th, 19th, and 20th, with stops in between. It was all part of a photo shoot with UAB Historical Collections for a story I’m writing for UAB Magazine.

Along with the usual photos and documents, UAB has preserved some pretty remarkable items, including memorabilia from Hollywood’s golden age; Civil War artifacts; letters from Albert Einstein, Florence Nightingale, and Jacqueline Kennedy; and even a pack of chewing gum that was part of a dental study in the 1960s. But the most thrilling things for me to see were the historic books, especially the illuminated manuscripts from the European Middle Ages, dating back to the late 1300s. They are hand-lettered volumes dotted with bright and colorful illustrations–some are inked and colored by hand (and some of those colors came from insects!); others included colored wood block prints or engravings. In one tome, the first letter of each section truly is illuminated, lit up by intricate swirls of violet and gold. It is a stunning piece of artwork. I couldn’t help but wonder who these artists might have been and what their world was like–and be amazed that their art had survived the turmoil of centuries in such good shape. We got photos of quite a few illuminated manuscripts, and I’ll post a link once my magazine story goes online so you can see them too.

Back in the 21st century, I went to a wonderful solo show by painter Bethanne Hill at Monty Stabler Gallery. I’ve been a fan of Bethanne’s work for a long time, but this show really impressed me–I liked absolutely every piece in it. Her images, which blend Southern (and some sci-fi!) scenes with the visual overload of Australian Aboriginal art, are colorful and energetic–for me they’re much like Van Gogh’s paintings in that I swear I can see them swirl and move. It was interesting to juxtapose Bethanne’s paintings with the medieval illuminated manuscripts I had seen the day before; it struck me that they’re kind of similar, starting with simple images and strong lines, then applying lots of vivid color and detail. Though you can see much of Bethanne’s show online, you should definitely go view it in person to see all the intricacies of the images and how she piles up layers of paint to create depth and texture. The show lasts until Jan. 30, and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it!

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