16 May 2015
My mind is still reeling from the month of study I just spent at American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester, Massachusetts. If you're familiar with my work, you know that I often incorporate historic references into my projects, so I was thrilled to receive the 2015 Jay and Deborah Last Fellowship for Creative and Performing Artists and Writers, granting me four uninterrupted weeks of research with the assistance of AAS staff.
Founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the AAS is a national research library whose mission is to “collect, preserve and make available the printed record of what is now the United States from 1640 through 1876.” According to this article, the AAS has twenty five miles of shelves, which hold over four million items including books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, sheet music and graphic arts materials.
My stated fellowship project was to conduct research about the spirituality/religiosity of American national identity, particularly looking at early American woodcuts and engravings. I wanted to find visual materials which demonstrated the presence of religion in the development of our national identity, a presence which I thought would be subtle and understated. What I discovered is that there are very few colonial printed images that do NOT contain religious references. I looked at children’s primers, almanacs (including several almanac diaries), juvenile literature, type specimen books, and a few hymnals and broadsides. It was not necessary to dig for religious references -- there was a sort of generic Protestantism present in almost every genre.
All that material (I took almost 1,500 photographs and downloaded scores of PDFs) is still sifting through my mind, but I'm very sure it will emerge in my work. I just ordered some washi (Japanese paper), and soon the process will begin.