It has been nearly a year since I have posted to my website, but, rest assured, I have continued my engagement with the medieval, early modern, and printmaking worlds. I want to assure you that this website, like print itself, is not dead. You can always find these woodcuts and many others at my Etsy shop. To commemorate the year and to confirm myself in my woodcutting and printmaking hobby, I carved this woodcut of Johannes Gutenberg and titled and captioned it, “Print is Dead.”
In my last update, I introduced the world to the first edition of my Henry Tudor woodcut, “HVIIIERS Gonna HVIII,” which has shocked me in its popularity. As a result, the first Henry block has warped and has become difficult to rely upon to make good prints. Accordingly, I redesigned and recut it, pushing the HVIIIERS Gonna HVIII print into a second edition.
As apparent from my previous posts on early modern erotic woodcuts, I also decided to try my hand at copying one of my personal favorites, a posture from Pietro Arentino’s I Modi. Aretino’s ribald poems were based on a series of paintings by Italian artist Giulio Romano, which were then turned into engravings by Marcantonio Raimondi, and then copied by unnamed woodcut artists throughout Europe in the sixteenth century. Following this long and proud tradition, I decided making copies of Aretino’s postures would be a perfect way to promote my push to #DeDigitizeTheArchive. I developed #DeDigitizeTheArchive to encourage others to rematerialize digital artifacts through copies and manipulations. This process exposes the ways in which copies never fully faithfully reproduce the originals, creating unique objects with every instance of reproduction.
As further instances of my attempt to #DeDigitizeTheArchive, I also carved several other copies of lesser known early modern woodcuts. I typically just chose early modern woodcuts that strike me for one reason of another and that have some relationship with my scholarly interests.
The first is a copy of a demon dog found in John Phillips’ The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde in the countie of Essex from 1566 (STC 19869.5). I have a special interest in early modern witchcraft, and this unusual dog, featuring a key in his mouth, and a whistle around his neck, appears to have been produced specifically for the vision of the devil offered by a child under examination in the course of Phillips’ narrative.
In addition to the devil dog, I also made a woodcut copy of some anti-Catholic propaganda from 1581. Taken from Stephen Batman’s The doome warning all men to the iudgemente (STC 1582), this woodcut depicts two faces, one of a Catholic priest, and one of a fool, surrounded by the motto “Aliquando Sapientes Stulti,” which translates simultaneously as “Sometimes the Wise are Fools” and “Fools are Sometimes Wise.”
My interest in printing and in my project to #DeDigitizeTheArchive also led me to attempt a copy of Wynkyn (Wynken) de Worde’s printer’s device. This copy proved exceedingly challenging for all of its detail, and, while I’m not entirely satisfied with the centaur’s face, it turned out better than expected. this year, I plan to follow this up with several other printer’s devices including Aldus Manutius and William Caxton, even if print is dead.
I have loved Robert Greene since my undergraduate work at the University of Illinois, and the title page woodcut of Robert Greene’s first conny-catching pamphlet, A Notable Discovery of Coosenage (1592). I’ve often thought that if I were to start a motorcycle gang, that I would use this woodcut on the MC patch. This might be the most badass rabbit of all time.
This year also saw my first commissioned professional woodcut. George Washington University’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (MEMSI) asked for a woodcut copy of Thomas Coryate riding an elephant. It bears GW MEMSI’s motto, “The Future of the Past.” As Coryate’s Traveller for the English Wits (1616), from which the original of this woodcut was taken, puts it:
Loe heere the wooden Image of our wits;
Borne, in first travaile, on the backs of Nits;
But now on Elephants, &c:
O, what will he ride, when his yeares expire?
The world must ride him; or he all will tire.
Aside from these more strict copies, I also continue to explore the intersection of meme culture and medieval and early modern woodcuts with my captioned prints, and I have followed up this tradition with several new ones in the past year. Whereas #DeDigitizeTheArchive encourages people to rematerialize digital artifacts that were either born digital or which have been digitized from material books, the intersection between meme culture and woodcuts produces an interesting conjunction. Meme culture promotes a play with image and text that depends upon an almost identical and lossless image copy with endlessly variable text, my woodcuts produce copies of images that, while reproducible, depend upon the material condition of their reproduction. An under- or over- inked block can produce variations, while the carved text fixes the image into a more permanent context. Many have asked why I carve the captions rather than use some method of moveable type to change those captions. I find that the carved text more thoroughly roots the image in a particular context, with a specific meaning. Such is not the case with memes, but, like memes, woodcuts are reproducible with multiple variations, but variations of a different order.
This first woodcut combines meme culture with the early modern, since it is a copy of Moll Cutpurse’s (Mary Firth’s) portrait originally found on the title page of Thomas Middleton’s “The Roaring Girle. Or Moll Cut-Purse” from the 1611 edition (STC 17908). If any figure embodies the ethos of “thug lyfe” in the early modern period, it would be the Roaring Girl herself, Moll Cutpurse.
While the Bard may be over-represented in early modern critical traditions, I caved to pressure and a request to produce a William Shakespeare woodcut. This commissioned print might appear in print later this year.
While most of my woodcuts this year were related to the early modern period, I could not leave the medieval behind altogether, and decided to make one of Francesco Petrarcha (Petrarch). As Petrarch should have written to Laura,
Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But I wrote some sonnets,
And while related to neither the medieval nor early modern periods, no process of #DeDigitizingtheArchive would be complete without something born digital. In service of this, and because I needed something easy to occupy my hands while in the process of quitting smoking, I decided to make a one that everyone can get behind, a smiling poo emoji woodcut. Maybe with this woodcut, print really is dead.