Welcome to MissouriBendStudio!

This is an online journal of my artistic investigations and a way to communicate about my work, ideas, quandries and queries! I welcome comments and conversation and do hope you enjoy these musings. My artwork is available in my shop MissouriBendStudio on Etsy.com or on my website.


Monday, October 4, 2010

A Walk Through The Universe: The Book of Hours

Welcome to another weekly feature of A Walk Through The Universe.  The topic this week was The Book of Hours, based on a connection from last week's topic of palimpsest.  As many palimpsests were prayer books on ancient vellum that had been scraped and written over, the Book of Hours, a prayer book very prevalent during the middle ages, provided the path for this week's amble.  The trouble is, I kind of got lost in the woods, and couldn't find my compass for much of the week.  I did a good number of searches on Book of Hours and turned up more sites and images than I knew what to do with!  The easiest place to start a quick investigation is with a stop at Wikipedia, which you can get to here. As I began to understand it, these prayers books were quite widely collected in the middle ages by all classes of people. While the beautifully illuminated volumes commissioned by the wealthy have been handed down to us and are more well known, many of the prayer books were quite spare and may have had only decorated capital letters.  Containing a wide variety of texts, including among other things, psalms, prayers, saints days, church teachings and calendar of important days, these books were used throughout the day for meditation and devotion, in order to give the laity a more direct access to God. 

As I contemplated how I might handle the post for this week, I began looking for contemporary versions of the Book of Hours and found quite a few, not only in the form of handmade books and visual art, but in music and literature as well.  I didn't quite think that any of these pointed me in quite the right direction, and while I tried to find a link to the world view of an "everyman" of the time period, I couldn't make a real connection that made sense to me. The same questions kept arising...what was it like to live in the Middle Ages with the Church such a dominant force in daily life and what were the joys and fears of people five hundred years ago as they lived from day to day?  While no doubt beautiful and intimate as a book, just how was daily life structured by a Book of Hours? Life was vastly different then, to be sure, but at our core, are we so very different as human beings now? I am aware that a few hundred years from now, people may look back at the early 21st century and wonder how we could not have known all the things that they will have taken for granted. I am careful then, to remember these were people living in a particular time and place, just as we are. Five hundred years, in the scheme of things, is really no time at all and I think human beings are still human beings...and as such, are we not all searching for meaning, for answers and for a connection to a larger context so that we can find our place in the universe?  Are we not looking for a peaceful way, for solace and safe passage? Do we not, in various ways, try to make sense of the vastness, the mystery, and the wonder of existence?  Do we not feel the need to leave behind even the faintest trace of our journey, no matter what our religious views? 

Trusting my instinct that I would find my own truly connecting thread to this week's topic, I contacted Fiona Dempster, a calligraphic and book artist whose work I had recently discovered through her wonderful blog, Paper Ponderings.  I knew right away I had found the path through Fiona -- we have had a wonderful correspondence over the last several days.  Spare, elegant and meditative, her work is a beautiful tribute to her ongoing investigations into all these ideas of connection, place, the journey.

With Fiona's permission, I quote a bit of her end of the conversation:

"...My love of books and text is what drives my art.  I love the intimate nature of artists books - the ability for you to have a one on one experience with somebody's creativity. To hold books and feel them; move them and go back and forth to rediscover messages and beauty.  I think its the personal and intimate nature of artists books that appeal so much.  

My work is also quiet. It doesn't shout or grab attention; I think it invites people to quietly spend time with it, reflect and ponder.  I hope that people get a sense of stillness and peacefulness when they engage with my work..."

"Finding My Place" is a lovely dos-a-dos book that reflects the journey and finding a sense of place. She describes it beautifully in her own writing on a recent blog post found here.

Another book, "In the Silence", seen below, is described by Fiona: 

"...also a meditative book - each page has a letter of the alphabet 'pulled' out of copper leaf; leaving the coloured pastel underneath the copper leaf revealed.  Each letter suggest a word for reflection - perhaps for just opening up and seeing what you may be encouraged to focus on for that day.  I felt it was precious enough to make a box for it - interestingly with an "x" within a circle, within a square. All symbols I have been re-using in my journey and home works. I like the notion of having a daily focus - in amongst our busy lives, pausing to find a word that encourages us to reflect, ponder, think, or focus on that element and how it plays in our lives. Even if only for a brief moment before the chaos returns."

And so, I've found another kindred spirit whose work touches a deep chord.  More than once in our conversation we had "aha" moments where we encountered our very own sentiments expressed almost verbatim by the other...about the content of our artistic investigations and about books, hand held and allowing for an intimate one-on-one experience with the work.  I still have a lot of reading to do at Fiona's blog and if you're not familiar with Paper Ponderings, I encourage you to visit her blog here.
That brings me to the subject of the coming week's meandering walk and I think the topic is "place"...guess it'll be another busy week!

Thanks for stopping by MissouriBendStudio.  I'd love to hear from you with comments, ideas and even corrections, if they are in order!

Have a great week...see you soon with mid-week posts!


  1. Too much here to comment on! Thanks for a wonderful post.

    I keep wondering how I can leave behind a faint trace of my existence. Why do I feel the need to do so?

    I'm looking forward to seeing what comes up with the topic "place." I'm still searching for my place.

  2. Hi Kim...I think these questions are part of our humanity, as we come to terms with our limited time here. I'm excited about "place"...so many possibilities await! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Insightful and informative and inspiring as always, Patti! So many postings are dead and done and forgotten at the last word - or even before! - but this one continues to ripple and ramify...so many links to follow - online and in my head!

    I guess the first things that come to mind regarding "place" (you do like the BIG topics, don't you!) have to do with whether we find or make one to fit us, or it finds/makes us, or a bit of both. Also, the dynamic between inner and outer worlds, and how much harmony and unity there can be...really, almost anything can be considered in terms of place, even a set of ideas that surrounds, orients, protects, pleases or comforts us...perhaps we feel so lost most of the time, we will always have this urge to define not only who we are but where we are, physically and otherwise! Art is one of our strongest ways to do this. AH! Go to your research! Can't wait to see what you find for us.

  4. Thanks Gabriella...your comments are always insightful, as well! Yes, place...as you say, anything can be considered in terms of place. I tossed and turned most of the night with ideas for the coming week...there's just so much to consider! Nothing like keeping it simple...ha!


I'm happy to hear from you...comments and questions are welcome!