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Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins

Sarah S Pipkin27 October 2021

A brown square with a banner at the top that reads ‘Library Services, UCL.’ The text in the square reads ‘Word As Art: Beauty in the Margins. October 2021-July 2022. An online exhibition featuring items from UCL Special Collections and the work of students at the Slade School of Fine Art. ucl.ac.uk/library/word-art-beauty-margins. #UCLWordAsArt.’ The square is decorated with a black and off-white floral pattern and a small drawing of a kingfisher.

Our new online exhibition, Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins, is now open!

Writing is an essential part of everyday communication. It permeates every element of our society so that it is easy to forget its prevalence. Yet every time we put words down on a page or type them on a screen, we are creating a piece of art unique to us.

Our new online exhibition, Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins, explores the permeable borders between art and writing. We examine manuscripts, printing, textiles and objects that celebrate the way in which we have embellished the word, making it far more than just a means of communication.

In addition to items from the Library collections, the exhibition includes three pieces of art by students from the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL. Their interpretations of writing and communication demonstrate that the books, manuscripts, and letters of the past continue to inform and inspire creative practices of the present.

The inspiration for the exhibition is the Slade 150 anniversary year, celebrating fine art teaching and research since 1871.

The exhibition runs from October 2021-July 2022, with plans for a physical presence in the UCL Main Library from December 2021.

To view ‘Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins’ visit our exhibitions webpage.

A two page spread decorated with gold leaf and floral patterns. At the centre of each page is two column or writing in Farsi script.

The Flaxman Manuscripts – a volunteer’s experience

utnvweb20 July 2018

Posted on behalf of Euan Guckian, a UCL student volunteer with Special Collections.

During the final term of this year I have had the opportunity to work with a couple of John Flaxman’s journals and notebooks for the UCL Special Collections team. Flaxman (who most reading this will recognise from his works in UCL’s main library) was a famous sculptor, and leading figure of the neoclassical movement, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The collection was split into two books. The first comprised Flaxman’s journal from his time spent in Naples in 1788 and was filled with sketches and watercolours, as well as brief descriptions, of the various sculptures he saw and ruins he explored while there. The second contained notes on lectures he gave on the role, features, principles and history of sculpture, and was also interspersed with quick yet still interesting pencil sketches. My main role centred on summarising each page so that a visitor to the collection could quickly find whatever topic most interested them, either paraphrasing Flaxman’s notes or lifting them straight from the page.

Never having studied sculpture, or even art more generally, it was fascinating to see the thoughts and considerations of a master of the craft. Of particular interest to me were his lecture notes on how art underpinned the entire “circle of Human Knowledge” which to Flaxman included everything from astronomy to philosophy and religion. Beyond this there is loads that would be appeal to those with an interest in art both classical and neoclassical, but also in the life and thought of an artist so central to UCL’s identity and history.

You can find out more about the collection on our online catalogue – search for MS FLAXMAN. For more information about using our collections, please see our webpages.