August 2011 issue of The Saint John's Bible eNewsletter. Are images missing? View the online version.
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All who admire The Saint John’s Bible are well aware of the renowned Donald Jackson’s role as the project’s Artistic Director. His vision, artistry, and expertise have guided the work from the start. But his skilled hand has not been the only one at work on the vellum. Jackson gathered around him a team of expert calligraphers to collaborate in the historic work. Each one trained for the job through a detailed study and mastery of the distinctive letterforms designed by Jackson specifically for The Saint John’s Bible. His scribal team works in symphony, to produce a work that is consistent in style, method, and beauty. In this essay, one of the scribes, Angela Swan, offers a brief memoir of her experience. We get a delightful glimpse into the human side behind this monumental work.

Angela Swan, Calligrapher

After enjoying calligraphy as a hobby for a couple of years, I was encouraged by my kind and inspiring tutors to apply to study full-time at Digby Stuart College, Roehampton Institute. This meant leaving my mundane desk job of twelve years and moving from my home in Gloucestershire to London. Having no background in the arts— beyond my grandfather having been an artist, calligrapher, and sign-writer!—I felt fortunate to be accepted and so joined the course, headed by Ann Camp, in October 1985. The next 3 years were life-changing, not only in my increased understanding and skill with calligraphy and lettering, but because of the many lovely and talented people I came to know while at college, including Sally-Mae Joseph, Sue Hufton, Hazel Dolby, and Christopher Calderhead. And of course it was through college that I was introduced to the legendary Donald Jackson.

Image courtesy of Angela Swan, Wales.



I will never forget the day when, returning to my lodgings in London, I found an envelope beautifully addressed. Inside was a card from Donald, telling me that his assistant was moving on and that he had asked one of my tutors, Gaynor Goffe, if anyone was leaving Digby Stuart that summer who may like to live and work in the country. Bless Gaynor for putting my name forward! I went to The Hendre for an interview with Donald. His technique was unusual and direct: "What are your fears?" he asked me. "That you will think I'm not good enough," I replied. I got the job, and after finishing my final year of the course, moved to the Hendre in July 1988. My partner and I fell in love with the area and bought a cottage ten miles from The Hendre, where I still live with my daughter. I spent three very happy years as Donald's assistant and learned such a lot in that time.

In July 2002 I was invited, along with three other calligraphers, to train as a Saint John's Bible scribe. I was thrilled to be considered "good enough" even to be asked. It was very challenging, not only trying to absorb the qualities of the Bible script, to integrate it so that it became a natural part of my hand, but also trying to master the dark art of quill cutting, which challenged me right to the end of my time on the Bible. Of the four who trained, it was Susie Leiper and I who accepted the challenge and began writing Bible pages in the autumn of that year. The physical feeling of fear that accompanied setting quill to vellum on that very first page is something I shall always remember! The next three years were a joy and a constant challenge. To keep to the Bible script. To keep the weight in line with that of the other scribes — as we were all working from home, it was all too easy to find, when we gathered at the Scriptorium and compared pages, that there were differences.

My personal demon of not being quite "good enough" (which Donald had dug out on that first interview, so many years ealier) never quite left me. I was always sharply aware of being in the company of such creative and talented people on the Bible project, some of the finest scribes and lettering artists in the world, masters of their art and craft. It was such a privilege to be a part of this team, working on a project so vast, unique, and wonderful. I had some severely wobbly moments, but Donald was always encouraging and kind. At times it seemed that he had much more faith in me than I did myself!

It was with a sense of real sadness that I wrote my last Bible page, in September 2005. In my notebook I wrote, "I finally do feel some degree of mastery— given a good quill I can produce well, and the writing is mostly quite good and constant. I also see some maturity and grace in my letterforms— at last."

Recently Donald asked me to write some footnotes and running head capitals, so it was interesting to return to the challenges of the quill and set scripts. It was a great pleasure to feel part of The Saint John's Bible team once more, and so close to the end of this amazing project.

In This Issue

• Angela Swan, Calligrapher

• Upcoming Exhibitions & Events


See the Bible

Print Exhibitions

Museum of Biblical History
Collierville, TN
May 31 - August 30, 2011

Benet Hill Monastery &
Colorado College

Colorado Springs, CO
Sept. 26 - November 7, 2011


Find a gallery near you >



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