The Rare Books Department is always looking for new and innovative ways to share our collections with the public, so we were thrilled to be contacted by one of the BPL’s excellent children’s librarians about orchestrating a rare books outreach program for some of the Boston Public Library’s youngest patrons. It was just the sort of opportunity we look for!
While we couldn’t bring children into our department (we’re closed for renovations) or allow our collections out of the department, we still wanted to inspire the children’s enthusiasm with the beauty of the books we hold. One of our strongest and most exciting collections is of medieval manuscripts, and we knew that this was exactly the place to start. If you want to spark the imaginations of children, after all, there’s no faster way to go about it than evoking the time of kings, queens, and knights.
We in the conservation lab put our crafting skills to work and, using new materials, whipped up a bit of calligraphy with a simple illuminated capital on it using the same techniques that a medieval monk would have. This slip of paper wasn’t precious or historical (or particularly well calligraphed, admits the conservator), so we could bring it to the children’s department with no concerns about whether it might get damaged or destroyed. It was the perfect hands-on teaching tool.
Then the children’s librarian found a story book called Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe that was well suited to our goal. The illustrator had illuminated many of the sentences just like a medieval monk would have done, and the titular Brother Hugo even went through the steps of calligraphing, illuminating, and binding a book within the story!
After read aloud time, we handed around the newly crafted gilt page, and even pulled out some fresh gold leaf for our young patrons to touch and play with. Their imaginations primed by the story and shimmering gold, we turned our attention to a pile of coloring pages printed from the 2018 #colorourcollections campaign. With crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, and, of course, gold glitter, we made our very own beautifully illuminated manuscript pages to take home.