Bulging Books, Fancy Letters

            The art of extra-illustration is one of those little side channels of scholarship which the Folger Shakespeare Library pursues without apology. Shakespeare is both a huge subject, as large as the Elizabethan world, which was large indeed, and yet a specialty too. Mounting several exhibitions on  subjects related to Shakespeare or his time can’t be easy. But curiosity of the Folger’s curators and guest curators is inexhaustible, and some of their best exhibits are also some of their most arcane.

            The current exhibition on extra-illustration—the passion for inserting images and other visual material into old books—covers a small but fascinating chapter in the history of bibliophilia and Shakespeare scholarship. That’s why I enjoyed it so much.

            It also fit well with another exhibition, about handcrafted letters sent to Radio Azadi in Afghanistan. This may be even more arcane. But when I visited Afghanistan in 2004, I wrote about a small radio station that also received some of these astonishing homemade works of art. I still have a letter, the back of which is covered in perfectly aligned plastic flowers and the front of which has been carefully decorated along its borders with golden stickers. For the authors of these letters, it’s part of the appeal as they reach out with a tangible written letter to touch the voices that cut through the electronic ether and lessen the isolation of life in a poor and scattered country.

            I wrote about both of these exhibitions in today’s The Washington Post.

Illustration: In 1903, Percy Fitzgerald’s Life of David Garrick was expanded by an extra-illustrator from two volumes to 17 volumes. The expanded 1868 biography is on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Image courtesy the FSL.

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1 Comment

Filed under Art, Culture, Feuilleton, Museums

One response to “Bulging Books, Fancy Letters

  1. Sal Condoluci

    Dear Philip Kennicott,
    I was reading, “Keeping Time”, in the Opera news, actually listening to Parsifal, amazing, to think that, not time, but humans, that want to destroy Western culture, my God, a world without Opera? No, no, before putting Parsifal on, I had just finished listening to the final scene from Salome, my God, talk about leaving time, and going to another place, thank you for that beautiful article, the two Richards, have created music that propels the earth forward, when I worked at The Met, checking coats, I ran up for every Parsifal, stood in the wings, or dress circle, those were the days, different days and time, but enough, basta,
    Yours,
    Sal

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