The Saint John’s Bible: Home at Last
Last Thursday was a very special day at Saint John’s, because on that day we dedicated the gallery that now houses The Saint John’s Bible. The day was singular for many reasons, and not least because it fulfilled calligrapher Donald Jackson’s promise to “give us exactly what we asked for and more than we ever imagined.” He delivered on both counts, though some of the deliverables were not entirely what we had expected. For one thing, we didn’t have a clue how complicated this project would become. It was also a good thing that we didn’t know how much it would end up costing. And last but not least, it took a lot longer than the seven years we had all anticipated. But the good news is that — twenty-one years and eleven months after Donald Jackson and I first discussed this — the Bible that he promised now sits securely in its own gallery at Saint John’s University.
This produced one of my first lessons from The Saint John’s Bible. Never insist on having the last word when it comes to art. That actually confirmed an experience I’d had some years earlier at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where I’d had the temerity to offer my own thoughts on a painting in the course of a docent-led tour. The chewing out that came my way branded me an art heretic, and I resolved never to do that again, even if I knew I was right. Life is too short for getting into fusses with imperious docents.
My experience with The Saint John’s Bible has also confirmed the sage advice that patience is indeed a virtue. When we announced the project, our press release quoted Donald Jackson to the effect that he intended to create something that people would come a thousand miles to see. The day after the announcement, a lady in Bismarck, ND, called to say that she was on the way to see it. I gently told her that this was going to take more than two or three days to finish, and that I’d get back to her when it was done.
That was twenty years ago. Sadly, I’ve lost the scrap of paper with her name and number; but she knows who she is, and I hope she’s reading this. If not, I hope one of her friends will tell her that we’re ready for her, finally.
So at long last The Saint John’s Bible is finished and at home in its gallery. Will people come a thousand miles to see it? Given that one visitor at the opening had flown in from Serbia, I can safely go out on a limb and offer a very decisive “probably.” Will viewers have ideas about this Bible that differ from mine? I hope so. Otherwise, I’m in for a lot of really dull tours.
+This was a very full week for me. On October 4th I took part in the dedication of the Genesis Gallery in Alcuin Library at Saint John’s. The feature of this space is an 18th-century de-commissioned Torah scroll from Syria. The space serves as the entry into the Bible Gallery.
+On 5-6 October I participated in the meetings of the Board of Trustees at Saint John’s University.
+On 5 October we celebrated the opening and dedication of the Saint John’s Bible Gallery, and that evening I was part of a panel of three speakers that addressed the topic of the day.
+On 6 October I took part in the dedication of the Dietrich Reinhart Learning Commons, a grand addition to Alcuin Library. This completed the rebuilding of the entire library complex, and the numbers so far are quite telling. In the four weeks of September 2015 — before the project — 12,000 people entered the Library. In the comparable four weeks of 2017 over 32,000 entered the library. Apparently the old saw still holds true: build it and they will come.
+On October 7 I participated in homecoming festivities at Saint John’s University and attended the football game which hosted Augsburg College. Saint John’s won that one 48-3. That evening I went to bed at 8 pm, simply because I had not one ounce of energy left.