BALTIMORE, MD (December 18, 2023)—New on the Bookshelf: The Creative Power of Women, an intimate display showcasing recently acquired works by women, is now on view at the Walters Art Museum. Celebrating the creative power of women in the book arts, the installation features ten new additions to the Walters’ Rare Books and Manuscripts collection, revealing how creating with ink, paint, paper, and parchment can be an empowering and, at times, a rebellious act. This installation is the second in a two-part series introducing the new permanent manuscripts gallery and is on view through May 2024.
“The recent additions to the Walters collections on view in New on the Bookshelf: The Creative Power of Women allow us to celebrate the sweeping impact of women in the book arts at all levels. Each of these works were printed, illuminated, commissioned, designed, or written by women, and have the potential to shift the narrative around women creators,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “Understanding these objects, the artists who created them, and why they were made reveals that these objects are not just artistic creations, but also a means of business and entrepreneurship and a way to preserve family, history, and identity. At the moment, there are several extraordinary exhibitions at local institutions—including at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the National Museum of Women in the Arts—that speak to the power of female creators, and this installment of New on the Bookshelf adds to this exciting and necessary conversation.”
Standout objects on view include three books printed by the Calderón-Benavides family: the Oracion panegyrica (1683), the Exaltacion Magnifica de la Betlemitica (1697), and the Distribucion de las Obras Ordinaria, y extraordinarias del dia (1712). A family tree detailing seven generations of the Calderón-Benavides family printers is included in the installation’s didactics, detailing the many women who ran the press across nearly 200 years.. This tree presents a visual guide to the collected works from the family and sets the stage for the exhibition to tell the story of “widow printers,” a term used for women who took on their husband’s printing presses after they died.
The stories in the exhibition also demonstrate how bookmaking and writing could be deceptively rebellious acts. Clothilde Coulaux, the scribe and artist of the Clothilde Missal, was a young woman living in German-occupied France. On its surface, the Clothide Missal is a beautiful and humorous book, but closer examination shows that Clothilde used her book to privately resist the German occupation, choosing to write in French as opposed to German, and including the figure of Joan of Arc, a symbol of French rebellion. Other stories include Frances Macdonald’s binding design, which features a sensual depiction of the Virgin Mary as a challenge to how 19th-century society viewed women; and a letter written by Sybby Grant, the enslaved cook of Dr. John Hanson Thomas of 1 West Mount Vernon Place, also known as Hackerman House, whose letter was considered rebellious for the mere acts of reading and writing, which were illegal for most enslaved people.
“Over the last decade I have focused on increasing the voices of women creators in our collection of Rare Books and Manuscripts as an effort to amplify their contributions to the book arts—and the arts as a whole,” said Lynley Herbert, Robert and Nancy Hall Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. “New on the Bookshelf has been an extraordinary opportunity to share that work with our visitors and allow them to discover the voices and stories of women creators. With this new installation, visitors will gain an understanding of how these books and manuscripts were commissioned, created, and used, as well as how the works endure today.”
Curated by Herbert, New on the Bookshelf: Expanded Narratives was the first installation in this two-part series and began the work of introducing more than two dozen fascinating rare books and manuscripts that have been added to the Walters permanent collection in recent years, many of which have never been on view. New on the Bookshelf: The Creative Power of Women continues presenting these recent acquisitions, focusing on the increased number of works from women creators in the collection and the historic significance women have in the book arts.
This installation is generously funded by Supporters of the Walters Art Museum. To support future projects and the ongoing rotation of objects on display at the Walters, please consider making a gift.
About the Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5,000 BCE to the 21st-century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.
Admission to the museum is free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles St., north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For general museum information, call 410-547-9000 or visit thewalters.org.
Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible through the combined generosity of individual members and donors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.