What is now the town of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, England was settled more than two thousand years ago and, in the first century C.E., it became the capital of the Roman province that covered eastern England. Flourishing during the medieval period as an inland port and a center of wool production, the town was visited by pilgrims and became home to several communities of friars. They were drawn to the region by its cathedral, the third largest in England, consecrated in 1092 and reconstructed one hundred years later in the Gothic style. Today, its looming towers still command the view above a medieval town center making Lincoln a valuable destination for an aspiring art historian particularly interested in the later Middle Ages. During the summer of 2005, I spent eight weeks working in the Lincoln Cathedral Library, which gave me the rare opportunity to live in this region of extraordinary history while assisting with a project that would itself expand my knowledge of medieval culture and art.
The libraries of the Lincoln Cathedral contain manuscripts that date as far back as one thousand years. The Medieval Library was built in the 1420's and is now used for regular exhibitions of books and manuscripts. The Wren Library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1675, houses an important collection of early printed books. My project was to create a computer database classifying the woodcuts from the library's holdings of incunabula and early printed books . It is estimated that around five hundred of the books printed before 1535 contain woodcuts. I compared these images with those catalogued in Edward Hodnett's English Woodcuts, 1480 to 1535 . This involved digital photography of the woodcuts and the creation of subject fields to enable cross-referencing.
The librarians arranged a visit to the Cathedral Works Department where we were shown around the stonemason's workshop and were allowed to see pieces of the Dean's Eye rose window on the light box. I attended cathedral concerts, Shakespeare plays, and a study day in the Wren Library. On the weekends, I traveled to London, York, Nottingham, and Haworth (the home of the lovely Brontë sisters). I took a trip to Cambridge with the library staff and visited King's College Chapel and the Wren Library at Trinity College.
My summer work inspired my choice of thesis topic - I am now writing on a subject involving fifteenth and sixteenth century woodcut images. But, what I learned from my internship that was most lasting came from my experience of the cathedral itself. I remember seeing Lincoln's towering West Front for the first time, not over the rooftops of the town but as a image projected in a darkened Bryn Mawr classroom. Until I spent a summer in Lincoln, I had not truly realized that its Gothic monument was in fact still the center of so many lives. In the morning, choir men walked their dogs around the circling drive and stonemasons walked the roof. Organ music often drifted into the cloister where students from the Minster School took their lunches. Many of my co-workers, as children, had played rowdy games dangerously close to the chapter house windows. In the short time I'd spent working in the cathedral library, I grew to love this town in eastern England and was fortunate to be among those people whose faith and care had sustained this place for more than a thousand years.
This summer I was an intern at Printed Matter, Inc., a space dedicated to housing artists' books located in Chelsea in New York City. An artists' book is any artist publication presented in a book like format. A book is a medium that many artists use to create a narrative using images. It is a chance to combine any number of art mediums, to use unusual materials (such as sandpaper or wire), and to integrate artwork with text. Some artists' books are limited edition, or one-of-a-kind, but Printed Matter specializes in carrying inexpensive books produced in editions of 100 or more. The books there come in all shapes and sizes, materials and styles. Printed Matter has a large collection of small books, and one of my tasks during my internship was to carefully organize these books, during which I was able to examine many of them. Many small books are handmade, inviting to the form artists who like to experiment with three dimensions. The limited space of the small book inspires artists to pack them with powerful messages, many of which are humorous.
I had the opportunity to work with one of the artists who makes small books, Louise Neaderland, personally. For over 20 years, Neaderland, has been issuing a periodical of Xerox art around the world to members of the International Society of Copier Artists (I.S.C.A.). Printed Matter decided to re-edition the first three issues of I.S.C.A. quarterly. Neaderland had the only originals, and I helped her to copy these originals for the new editions. Working with Neaderland I learned about the unique effects that one can achieve manipulating a Xerox machine to make art.
In addition to artists' books, Printed Matter carries periodicals, CDs, video art, postcards, and t-shirts. Many obscure or older artists' publications that you would not be able to find anywhere else are available at Printed Matter, or if they don't have it they often know where you can find it. During my time there, one of my major tasks was assisting in the ongoing resource on their website (www.printedmatter.org). Printed Matter has over 12,000 publications for sale, and their goal is to have a complete bibliographic record for every item, including an image. On their website, patrons are able to search for books by category, as they would in a library. When I was working on the website, I was able to enjoy reading books and looking at art all day. There were only a few books in Printed Matter's collection that I had seen before in other art bookstores, and if I hadn't had the chance to work there, I don't think that I would have ever seen any of the artists' publications there.
Printed Matter also houses a gallery space. While I was interning there I witnessed an exhibition of work by the artist group General Idea, and I assisted in putting on the exhibition of the artist Reverend Jen. Printed Matter recently published her book Reverend Jen's Really Cool Neighborhood/Les Misrahi as part of their Emerging Artist Series. For several years now Rev. Jen has kept her collection of troll dolls and other troll paraphernalia in her apartment, and the main attraction of her exhibition was her troll museum, which she transported to Printed Matter. I was glad to take part in setting up an art show, and I was highly entertained by Rev. Jen's collection of trolls and the playful drawings and paintings that hung above the museum. Rev. Jen is a self-named Patron Saint of the Uncool, and her work reflects her desire to accept everyone and is actually, well, somewhat heartwarming. I enjoyed working her show because her work is fun and unpretentious.
As an English major, I regret that I have not had a chance to take many classes relating to art, but I am interested in the way that art and literature can be combined. Therefore, it was a great pleasure to work at Printed Matter. I learned about many obscure artists, running a bookstore, and curating a show. The experience has been inspiring, and I hope I will have a chance to attend art school after Bryn Mawr, and to pursue a job in an art related field.