[Elliott Puckette's sawhorse table and studio via the exhibition catalog Elliott Puckette: New Work, Paul Kasmin Gallery.]
For me it began with an interest in Elliott Puckette's work.
The meandering lines of the Kentucky-born fine artist's paintings are often influenced by sources ranging from Middle Eastern calligraphy and decorative arts to the theories of historian Oleg Grabar, so as I've learned more about her approach I've also become fascinated by old script.
[Calligrapher’s table with a drawer for storage. Turkey, late 1600s–1700s. Wood inlaid with bone, ebony, stained woods, and metal. Private collection.]
[Calligraphers’ tools, storage box, and pen cases from Turkey, Iran, and India.]
Last night during a visit to Emory University's Carlos Museum, I had a wonderful opportunity to see not only a variety of centuries-old calligraphy (aka beautiful writing) from Spain, North Africa, and Iran, but also the antique tools used to create these masterful works on paper. Once again, the intimately scaled galleries of the Carlos serve as a very effective setting for a jewel-box-like display of diminutive objects.
[Calligraphers’ penknives, Turkey, 18th and 19th centuries. Steel blades, brass mounts, handle materials include ivory and agate.]
For two concurrent Islamic calligraphy exhibitions opening Saturday, August 28, the walls of the third floor galleries have been transformed; the lively citrus-hued paint we saw with summer's When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection is gone and the backdrop is now rich, dark and inky -- a great foil for the precious agate, ivory, jade, silver, and gold pieces on view.
[Pen box, Turkey, 18th century. Wood with tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl inlay; interior lined with leather. Private collection.]
In this post I wanted to focus on one of the companion exhibitions, Traces of the Calligrapher -- the show that highlights folios and tools of the trade from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Many of us haunt shops like Green & Stone of Chelsea, drawn to the old paintboxes and supplies, and I think anyone passionate about decorative arts or anyone who works with his or her hands will appreciate the spectacular instruments in Calligrapher: inkwells, scissors, burnishers, storage boxes, writing tables, reed pens, and penknives (used to cut the nib of the pen) originating from Turkey, India, and Iran. In addition to the gorgeous inlay work I'd been waiting to see, there were surprises like crimson-colored lacquer and indigo paper.
[Pen Box, Turkey, circa 1850. Steel overlaid with silver and gold. Private Collection.]
Emory's Dr. Gordon Newby, Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, explained to me that Eastern calligraphers were revered for their work. Accordingly, the refined instruments they used were handcrafted with great artistry. Really, the exhibition pays homage to all of the artisans involved in the calligraphic process: paper makers, gold beaters, illuminators, bookbinders, and metalworkers. But calligraphers enjoyed a status on par with the acclaim only a few fine artists receive in the 21st century. And just as I hope to one day own a piece by Elliott Puckette, collectors sought out works by specific calligraphers.
[Image courtesy of the Carlos .]
Whether you live in Atlanta or plan to be in town sometime this fall, the Carlos is a serene place to explore. The only long winding lines you are likely to encounter will be the ink-made scrolls in the calligraphic manuscripts. While the contemporary Michael Graves-designed building offers a more intimate experience than that of other public museums, housed inside is one of the Southeast's premier institutions known for its major collections of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Nubian, African, and Asian art. Also, classical architecture enthusiasts may enjoy spotting a few Philip Trammell Shutze structures on Emory's campus. Architecture Tourist offers the 411 here.
[Late-19th-century sadeli inlaid Anglo Indian lap desk, or writing box, from F.S. Henemader Antiques Inc.]
Related past posts: Contain Yourself and Dreams Contained.
More to explore: Art of the Middle East at LACMA.