I will start this post off with a question and I really would like to hear from you about your experiences in the comments.
What is the oldest hand made object you have ever held and how did that make you feel?
I’m asking because on Friday night I got to turn the pages of a five hundred year old illuminated manuscript. No glass case. No gloves. Just me tracing the lines of latin text placed on parchment five hundred years ago.
For me, this was a little complicated. Since I have a library background, conserving these materials so they are available to future generations is a cornerstone of my training. It felt wrong handling something like this at all, especially without gloves. Contrasting this was the feel of the parchment, being able to see the text clearly without reflections of the glass case, to be so intimate with something in a way that is normally forbidden and connect with a rare artifact in a different way.
The decision to allow this item to be touched was very brave. To be fair the item had evidence of heavy wear and possible smoke or water damage. There were torn and missing pages and some pages suffered from heavy discolouration and buckling. The quality of the work compared to the rest of the collection was lower and I thought some of the pages were unfinished. The exposure to so much contact will not help preserve it but the cost of restoration would most likely not be recovered, so perhaps this trade off in providing what may be a once in a lifetime experience is the best way for it to be used.
It felt so good, I went back on Saturday…
This opportunity was one I nearly missed out on as I only found out about it on Friday morning. The exhibition at Ian Potter Museum finishes later today and I would like to thank the staff and Kerry Stokes for making his personal collection available to the public.