Luminous Manuscript

Title: Luminous Manuscript
Size: 22' x 20'
Materials: Jerusalem Stone, Glass
Date Completed: 2004
Funded by: Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Charitable Trust
Project Curator: Dara Meyers-Kingsley
Photographed by: Dennis Cowley, Joshua Kessler
Architect: Beyer Blinder Belle
Location: Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Great Hall, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY

Title: Making Luminous Manuscript
Center for Jewish History and Diane Samuels
5 minutes

Luminous Manuscript

Center for Jewish History, New York, New York

Luminous Manuscript was commissioned by the Center for Jewish History, New York, New York which has been called the “Jewish Library of Congress” and is the home to five partner institutions: American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Luminous Manuscript serves as the metaphorical preface to the vast archival collections of the institutions and explores the role of language and books in Jewish history and memory.

Luminous Manuscript is first viewed from a distance, as you enter the CJH, and it gives the impression of being a monumental page of Talmud (the book of Jewish oral law and commentary). Upon closer approach, the artwork reveals itself to be a multi-layered mosaic of ever-proliferating detail. This extends to its very texture, which visitors are invited to touch.

Gathering, assembling, ordering, and providing public access to the 200,000 component pieces of Luminous Manuscript required a care and precision analogous to the Center for Jewish History’s own archival mission.

Luminous Manuscript also functions as archaeology of the CJH, conceptually and literally. Its base stratum is composed of 440 Jerusalem stone tiles. Sandblasted into these are 112,640 hand-written alphabetic characters, spanning 57 writing systems, all collected by the artist from CJH users. Overlaid onto the stone tiles are 80,500 glass tesserae. Most have been sandblasted on the outer face with a hand-written alphabetic character or numeral or a miniaturized tracing of the hand of a child with a connection to the CJH. On the undersides of some sections of glass are engraved reproductions of 170 documents from the CJH’s archives, and the whole is bordered by sandblasted glass strips that resemble laid lines in handmade paper.