Part of the Vanishing Worlds virtual gallery.
Ancient clay tablets give us information about our history. My embroidered tablets focus on communication history – on the ways we tell our story. The images are researched, designed, printed on cloth as line drawings, dyed and stitched. Just as clay tablet can be destroyed, knowledge can be lost, and some of the tablets deal with the loss of information. It seems fitting that this is conveyed in (what is viewed as) the much less durable medium of textiles.
As this series progressed, I changed my presentation. The earlier tablets are stretched over rigid composite materials. Later, I used many layers of wool, sewn tightly together, to create a firm backing for the images. This seems to be a more authentic material usage.
Diane Savona is an artist, teacher and collector of domestic artifacts. She is a graduate of Montclair State University, with a BA in art. After many years of teaching art, she is now well into her second life as a full time studio artist. Her work has been shown in many group shows (including Art Quilt Elements, several NJ Arts Annuals, and the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA), invitational shows (including the Perkins Gallery, Collingswood, NJ, the Pierro Gallery of South Orange, NJ; Rahway Arts Guild, NJ; Edna Carlsten Gallery, University of Wisconsin, and Bloomfield College, NJ), and in one woman shows (including Closet Archaeology, at the Hermitage Museum, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ; Lambert Castle Museum in Paterson, NJ; St Peters Church in NYC; and at ETS, Princeton, NJ). Her art has been featured in Fiber Arts Magazine, Quilting Arts Magazine, Fiber Art Now and in 500 Art Quilts, by Lark Books. She won a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation scholarship and residency at Peters Valley Art Center in Layton, NJ. As a committee member of Fiber Philadelphia 2012, she helped organize city-wide exhibits and curated Mending=Art. She has run workshops, presented digital shows of her work and helped people see the stories contained in ordinary objects.
Ancient writing was preserved on durable clay tablets. These tablets are constructed in relatively fragile textiles to illustrate the precarious state of knowledge in our world. The tablet is designed in Photoshop and printed as outline images on cotton. Thickened dye colors are hand painted onto the cotton. The resulting image is hand embroidered. Imprint MT Shadow typeface is the basis of the lettering. Letters were condensed in the style of the mosaic wording of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo. The resulting illegibility is intentional, giving the viewer a sense of translating the tablet.
Scribes Tablet: Before the age of printing, scribes copied texts by hand. The design of this tablet is based on the scriptorium of the San Salvador de Tábara Monastery. The scriptorium is where the texts were copied, and you can see 2 monks, sitting in their chairs, writing. Another (with arms up) is ringing the bells, and 3 helpers, barely visible, are climbing ladders. On the right side is Hugo Pictor (the red letters above his head translate as: “the image of the painter and illuminator of this work.”) While he was illuminating medieval manuscripts, he decided he didn’t want to be totally anonymous, and drew this wonderful self-portrait along the edges.
The Library of Louvain Tablet : In Library: An Unquiet History, Matthew Battles tells the story of Louvain, in Belgium. There was a university library, built in 1730, with a wonderful collection of ancient manuscripts, some of them 500 years old. For centuries, the library held a wealth of rare and beautiful texts, a treasure of knowledge. It was completely destroyed by the Germans in World War I. After the war, the library was rebuilt, and stocked with manuscripts donated by other libraries, other countries. Again, it held a vast store of the rare and the beautiful, the ancient knowledge and new information. It was completely destroyed by the Germans in World War II. Afterwards, some books were donated to restock Belgian library shelves…..and some were confiscated from the libraries of defeated Germany. Although the planned jingoist inscription (Destroyed by German fury, rebuilt by American generosity) was never chiseled into the stone of the new building, the plan was commonly known and, if you look closely in the rubble under the arches on the left side, you can see the letters FURORE TEUTONICO DIRUTA – Latin for “destroyed by German fury.”
Baghdad, House of Wisdom Tablet: The House of Wisdom was a major intellectual center in Baghdad during the Islamic Golden Age founded by Caliph Harun al-Rashid. From the 9th to 13th centuries, Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars studied there. Astronomical observatories were established, and the House was an unrivalled center for the study of humanities and for science, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy and chemistry, zoology, geography and cartography. The scholars accumulated a great collection of world knowledge and built on it through their own discoveries. By the middle of the 9th century, the House of Wisdom had the largest selection of books in the world. It was destroyed in the sack of the city following the Mongol Siege of Baghdad.
Ethiopian Magic Scrolls Tablet: Ethiopian scrolls are used to heal. The preparation of the scroll is part of the magic, in which an animal substitutes for the sick person and the scroll substitutes for their skin. This symbolic relationship engenders a close connection between the scroll and its owner. The patron is first rubbed with a live animal, and later bathed in its blood and stomach contents. Only then is the skin soaked, dried, and scraped, after which the finished parchment is cut and sewn into a scroll. Portable scrolls made to the length of the customer offer head-to-toe spiritual protection, while longer scrolls protect a household.
Telephone Tablet: The first public phone booth was installed in 1880 in New Haven, Connecticut, just 4 years after it was invented. These first public telephones were supervised by attendants, while those operated by coin came 9 years later. This tablet shows a variety of early phones, and my newest iPhone.
Bibliomania Tablet: In 1809, the Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin published his book Bibliomania; or Book Madness. The black & white central image is from the frontpage of that book. But both the book fool image and the poem (around the edges) are taken from 1509 The Ship of Fools. The man is wearing a nightcap (to hide his ass’s ears) while a fool’s hood with bells hangs behind him, and he holds in his right hand a duster with which he swats at the flies that come to settle on his books. Some of the images in this tablet come from illustrations in the 1809 book.
Timbuktu Tablet: Timbuktu was an African center of learning during the European Dark Ages, a real city of libraries and books. When I was a child, ‘Timbuktu’ was a name used to evoke the farthest, most obscure and unknowable outpost possible. Now I understand that it was once a proud university city, a center of learning attracting scholars and manuscripts while Europe was still enmeshed in the Dark Ages. However, my online research of this tangible literary stronghold shows that mystery still surrounds the place. Different websites list a variety of dates for Timbuktu’s golden age and decline. Even the spelling (Timbu’ktu, Tenbuch, Tombouctou) is unsettled. Timbuktu suffered centuries of decline and many invasions. While many precious manuscripts were destroyed, many others were preserved by hiding and burying the books. I’ve read that librarians would each bury a chest of books. And if a librarian was killed, those books might never be found.
Climate Data Tablet: The Timbuktu Tablet is meant to be paired with this one. Scientists today are doing what the ancient librarians did – securing information so it isn’t destroyed by barbarians. In Timbuktu, I couldn’t just show men digging holes and burying crates. Here, I couldn’t just show people sitting at computers, tearing their hair out. I put together images of scientists gathering climate data, climate/weather symbols and people sitting in front of computer screens into a composition that echoes the ancient T and O maps.