An Altered Book
'The smallest creatures cause the greatest concern"
I recently came into possession of a badly damaged and worn book called The History of the Earth and Animated Nature by Oliver Goldsmith MB. First published at the end of the 1700's, this edition was printed in 1834. The cover of the spine was missing, as were several pages and a child's scribbles were scattered throughout the book.
The book was intriguing. It was over 150 years old. Written in the language of the day, it captures a period of time when new discoveries were being made about the natural world. Published prior to Darwins On the Origin of Species, this text illustrates the early days of classification where animals are grouped according to their "kind" or their 'tribe' for example 'Fish of the Ray Kind".
The phrase 'the smallest creatures cause the greatest concern' had stayed with me following my last visit to the Hall. The damage tiny creatures such as moths and beetles can create in old buildings or libraries is of real concern for conservators. I had noticed some of the books in the library were in need of some restoration, and thought about how devastating it would be if an infestation should get hold in a collection like this.
I wanted to alter a book, as though it had been infested by insects. The History of the World and Animated Nature seemed the perfect starting point as it was already in such a poor state. After some deliberation and debate about should I use it or not - (I was brought up to respect books hence the ambivalence), the decision was finally made when it fell open onto a page about the history of the beetle. The reference to Norfolk at the bottom of the page 'sealed the deal'! Was this synchronicity guiding the process! Work is under way.
I really look forward to seeing your exhibition at Blickling Hall, Chris. I can understand your apprehension about altering this book. I too grew up with a reverence for books, and like you I have slowly accepted that giving new life to a book that might otherwise be recycled or left to decay is something I can live with. I love what you have done here, in the photos, and look forward to learning more about your ideas and process.
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