My Work: Voynich Dress


I’m honored to have one of my textile pieces included in an exhibit currently running at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections. The exhibit is entitled “Reactions: Medieval/Modern,” and focuses on the varied relationships between manuscripts and their readers, redactors, and reworkers throughout time; including the relationship between artists and writers, and the inspiration they take from medieval manuscripts in the modern era. And what single work have so many of them drawn inspiration from? The infamous Voynich manuscript, of course; Beinecke MS 408. (See also here.)

And who am I to spurn inspiration, especially when it’s right on my doorstep? My contribution began life as a costume for our inaugural staff Halloween party. We were encouraged to draw inspiration for our costumes from the collections; how could I resist the allure of that most mysterious manuscript? So I created what has come to be known as “the Voynich dress;” and I came to the party as the manuscript itself.

I drew each image freehand with fabric marker on muslin, utilizing the fully-digitized images on the Beinecke’s Digital Library website as my models. Each image is properly cited with its relevant folio designation (of course!), and the accompanying text is an accurate reproduction of the text next to the originals. After the UPenn exhibit closes, the dress will become part of the Beinecke’s permanent collections. What better object lesson than that engagement with our past can continue to reinvigorate the present?

“Reactions: Medieval/Modern” runs until December 16, 2016 at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, University of Pennsylvania. The exhibit website features a slideshow and video tour for those who can’t make it in person, along with informative blurbs about each item in the exhibit, including the Voynich Dress. Many thanks to the exhibit’s curator, Dot Porter, for inviting me to participate in such an exciting endeavor.

 Close-up of the dress, paired with the original image.

Close-up of the dress, paired with the original image.

Gallery images courtesy of Dot Porter. Images of the Voynich Manuscript courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.