The Yale University Library’s Conservation and Exhibitions Services staff recently visited the New Paltz campus to present “The Making of a Medieval Book,” featuring a showcase of their “traveling scriptorium,” a portable kit including exhibits of medieval ink and parchment recipes and ingredients, script and calligraphy examples and binding and sewing tools and techniques.
Chief Conservator Christine McCarthy and staff shared expertise gained from years of experience restoring rare books and manuscripts as they guided participants through a first-hand interaction with one of the world’s oldest and most important technologies.
“It is a great privilege to learn from this team of professional conservators,” said Thomas Olsen, associate professor of English. “The team from Yale demonstrated to everyone’s amazement and delight just how complex and remarkable the medieval book was — a real triumph of human ingenuity, technical achievement, and aesthetic sophistication.”
The event marked the conservation team’s first demonstration outside the Yale University campus and drew a cross-section of interdisciplinary students, staff and faculty members. It consisted of a demonstration of medieval methods and recreated materials used to write and bind books during the Middle Ages and the early modern period of European history, as well as a workshop during which College students and faculty simulated the experience of medieval writing and bookmaking.
The “traveling scriptorium” kit makes it possible for contemporary scholars to imagine the time and effort expended in the process of bookmaking during the medieval period, from the laborious process of gathering, grinding and cooking organic and inorganic materials for inks, to the final stages of binding, which could be performed with a sewing frame in a matter of hours for simple paper booklets, or could take weeks or months for commissioned projects bound between leather or wood covers.
More information about the Yale University Library’s traveling scriptorium is available at their website.