07 February 2010

The First Book - Final Print

THE FIRST BOOK

Japanese woodblock (moku hanga)
Paper size: 19" x 14.5" (48 x 37 cm)
Image size: 16" x 12" (40.5 x 30.5 cm)
5 shina plywood blocks
5 hand-rubbed impressions and painted English tea
Paper: Nishinouchi
Edition: 11

Almost exactly one year ago, on a trip to Boston for a long weekend, I first encountered John Eliot's Indian Bible at an exhibit at Harvard. Eliot's Bible was the first Bible printed on American soil, printed in 1663 at the Harvard Indian College, and it was entirely written in the Wampanoag Algonquin language.

Eliot's intention for the Bible was to aid in making the Algonquians into Puritans, but since Eliot never really became a fluent speaker, his translations were done with the aid of Massachuset Indian minister John Sassamon, Algonquian journeyman James Printer, and probably others. Although the Eliot Bible did help make Indians into Christians, the multicultural nature of the translation process also helped make Christianity an Algonquian religion, as the translators made the Bible their own.

The Bible was used for nearly 200 years until about 150 years ago when the language died out. In 1993-94, six generations after the last native speaker of Wampanoag had passed, a Mashpee linguist named Jessie Littledoe Baird (read this fabulous article about how she came to the project) co-founded the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project, beginning the daunting project of reviving the language. The John Eliot Bible is playing a major role in this project as one of the primary texts that has preserved Algonquin grammar and vocabulary.

I read once that every 2 weeks one of the world's 7,000 languages vanishes. Most of these dying languages belong to indigenous communities that have been stamped out or homogenized by the forces of colonialism and globalization. Languages are repositories of thousands of years of a people’s science and art, observations and understandings, and each disappearance is a loss not only for the community of speakers, but also for our common knowledge. The irony, or maybe one could even say the grace, of John Eliot's Bible is that it was a powerful force of colonization, yet it is now being used as a powerful means of decolonization and reclamation. This is a truly American story.

17 comments:

mizu designs said...

OMG this print is amazing Annie! Did you seriously carve the word block?

Sally said...

wow - well done

Debra James Percival said...

Amazing! Wonderful print.

Linda Beeman said...

I am always so impressed by your research and thoughtful commentary. This print should also be at Harvard! It is extraordinary.

Kit said...

Beautifully done, and enlightening, Annie. It always gives me hope to hear of efforts to teach native languages to young people, like one I heard about recently on MPR (MN public radio) here -- charter schools to preserve Ojibwe language and traditions.

Oscar said...

Awesome work, Annie! Thanks for taking us along on your journey through this wood block (sic).

Just one small point - this is a "human" story, recurring throughout the planet. You, of course, can apply it to "America" but, alas, it is more universal than that.

Hats off to you, for your inspiration. Thanks.

Oscar

Pistoles Press said...

Oh WOW, Annie! I didn't quite see it when you first started but I really loved the idea of the tea wash with the story behind it. Seeing all the wonderful ghostly colors layered up gives me such a sense of history when viewing this piece. It's also a great work for those of us who have been following you because of the blocks we recognize from other stories in this whole saga.

Chase said...

The layering idea is wonderful. It is so true for how we perceive things, adding our own response to those layers. Just beautiful as a print and work of art.

Melissa West said...

Wow indeed. Beautiful and haunting. Well done!

Anita Thomhave Simonsen said...

oh it is wonderful...it feels like an old book full of memories from the past....all those layers and the transparency i see...like some geological layers in another way....layers of history and memory.....and a feeling of book...so fine....

Sharri said...

I couldn't see where you were going with this, but it has been a wonderful journey and and the print is spectacular. Congratulations on a job more than well done.

Leslie Moore said...

It's fascinating to follow your process and problem solving. The finished print is lovely! It looks fragile and old and venerable. I love the tea-stain color that underlays it all.

Debra said...

Brava, Annie. Exceptional.

Carol B. said...

Tipping my hat to you on this Annie. This print feeds the mind and heart, and pleases the eye as well. Not always easy to hit all three. Carol/Plateinkpaper

Modern Girl Style said...

That is insanely beautiful!!! Wow! Congratulations on the final print!!

betsy best-spadaro said...

Absolutely beautiful!

cat said...

Really wonderful print!