Bookmarking Book Art – Jules Allen and “Designing English”

Above: “The Alfred Jewel”, enamel and gold; late 800s; found at Petherton, Somerset, in 1693. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, presented by the Estate of Colonel Nathaniel Palmer.
Below: MS. Hatton 20, fols 2v-3r. St Gregory the Great, Cura pastoralis, translated by King Alfred and copied 890-897.
This copy of St Gregory’s manual for clergymen “speaks” (bottom left) of how Alfred “sent me to his scribes north and south”.

The exhibition “Designing English” at the Bodleian’s Weston Library (1 December 2017 — 22 April 2018) showcases almost 100 of Oxford’s medieval manuscripts, objects and books illustrating graphic design and the book arts.

Alongside that exhibition are the results of a workshop and competition among book artists: “Redesigning the medieval book“. A surprise and pleasure to find the medievally inspired work of Turn the Page‘s own Jules Allen:

Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen, with Ernst Allen and Eileen Gomme

Jules Allen was kind enough to provide additional photographs and some background on the making of Pilgrim Shoe.

Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen
Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen

Guided by the anthology of possible texts, I made Pilgrim Shoe in response to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The following points in the brief inspired me:

Where and on what should you write if you seek ‘to do things with words’?

Does form always fit function? Does a function only have one form?

Is looking more sensuous than reading?

I approached the project from the perspective of a Medieval Cordwainer seeking to attract wealthy customers and found that although it was common practice to decorate shoes by engraving or cutting patterns into the leather, other forms of decoration were rare during Medieval times. An inventive Cordwainer might have thought of personalising shoes for specific purposes or events using text, images, or even a charm for luck.

With this in mind I made a Poulaine style shoe with wooden patten specifically for Chaucers’ ‘The Lady of Bath’, who may have been attracted by the decorated shoe both as a unique, sensuous status symbol and a map with which to find her way from London to Canterbury. Such a shoe might have been admired or found useful by fellow pilgrims en-route, and with a recipe for love (from the Anthology of texts) concealed within the rein-forced heal, perhaps she might attract a new husband during her pilgrimage.

Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen
Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen
Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen

I hand painted images and added calligraphic text on the shoe. The place references from London to Canterbury were researched using various historical sources including the Gough Map

Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen
Pilgrim Shoe (2017)
Jules Allen

Materials: Leather, artificial sinew, watercolour and acrylic paint, calligraphers ink, wood. paper, metal studs, starch paste and wax

Dimensions: L30cm W10cm H16cm

Paper charm: Selected from a section on Medical Remedies and Charms from the 1400’s for the concealed charm written by hand on paper, housed in the heal of the shoe.

Middle English Version:
Charm for love 
Take thi swetyng yn a fayr bason and clene and afterwarde put hyt yn a wytrial of glas, and put therto the shavyng of the nedder party of thy fete and a lytyl of thy oune dong ydryet at the sune, and put therto a more of valurion. And take to drynke, whane that ever ye will, and he schall love the apon the lyght of thyn yene. And thys ys best experiment to gete love of what creature that thou wolt. And Y, Gelberte, have yproved that ofte tymys, for trewthe.
Modern Translation:
Charm for love (translation) 
Catch your sweat in a nice clean basin and afterwards mix it with sulphuric salt, and add to it some shavings from the back of your feet and little of your own dung dried in the sun, and add a root of the herb valerian. And take a swig whenever you want, and he’ll love you as soon as he catches your eye. And this is the best proven method to win love from whoever you want. And I, Gilbert, have proved this many times, truly.


Credits also to Ernst Allen for the wooden patten and Eileen Gomme for the passage of calligraphy on the paper charm. 






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