3 obscure disciplines to delight artists who love history

These three disciplines prove that preserving what centuries of history have produced can be as fascinating as developing the future.

by Julia Migné

Artists nowadays are often pressured to produce content that is completely new and innovative but some people prefer reflecting and preserving the past instead. Often unheard of, these artistic souls are working towards restoring or protecting historical art forms, and maintaining cultural practices alive. Here are three obscure disciplines working towards that goal.

1. Illumination Art – Ellen Frank Illumination Arts Foundation (United States of America)

Ancient art form shared by societies across the globe far apart in culture and religion, illuminations were used to supplement the texts of the most sacred documents with pictures, paints, and illustrations often using gold or silver.

The Ellen Frank Illumination Arts Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation, was created by Ellen Frank in June 2004 to increase public awareness on this fine art and to revitalise illumination itself through education and training. First of its kind in the United States, the atelier is modelled after the Renaissance atelier.

Bringing together artists, curators, universities and cultural organisation, the Illumination Atelier bridges a gap between different cultures allowing the rise of a positive intercultural dialogue.

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Illuminations often involve the use of bright colours and gold. © Susan Sermoneta at Flickr

The atelier, an on-going project, is always seeking individuals with a passion for the fine art of illumination and accepts two live-in interns per year. This very unique apprenticeship provide its interns with a history of manuscript illuminations and trains them how to use gold, silver and copper leaf; how to prepare linen, paper and papyrus; and how to use the egg tempera.

The apprentices then gain the opportunity to work on and complete the actual illuminated paintings. Interns, since the creation of the project in 2005, have already included students from 13 different countries. An art or design background is preferred but “individuals with fine manual dexterity need not have had art experience,” so if you have a passion for art and details, why not give it a try?

2.  Medieval Music – International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Spain)

With each historical epoch and culture having its own particular music style and preferred instruments, the possibilities for musicians interested in revisiting the past are almost endless.

Besalú, a small town in Catalonia, definitely has a soft spot for one historical era in particular: the Middle Age. Tightly linked to its past, Besalú’s passion for medieval music is not surprising considering that the town is described as “a magnificent example of a medieval town.

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Streets of Besalú © Jorge Franganillo at Flickr

For the past 6 years, the Spanish town has been hosting The International Course on Medieval Music Performance, offering musicians, musicologists, and medievalists from across the globe a fantastic opportunity to study repertoires from the 11th to the 13th centuries.

Opening on July 8th this year, the event combines musicological and historical research and will end with “a vibrant reconstruction of performance practice,” as presented on the official website.

Mixing courses and workshops, the programs include a range of theoretical events such as Pythagorean tuning workshop alternated with more hands on activities such as a musical pilgrimage hike and an instrument making workshop.

3. Stained Glass Conservation – University of York (United Kingdom)

Beautiful, elegant, and colourful, stained glass has been used as architectural decoration since as early as ancient Rome. Reaching its peak between 1150 and 1500, the pieces of coloured glass were then assembled into magnificent cathedral windows.

Used both aesthetically and informatively, stain glasses are important pieces of history but are also extremely vulnerable. Ensuring their long-term survival requires a specific set of skills, including knowledge in history, conservation, art, archaeology, and architectural history.

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This course is the only one of its kind in the English speaking world. © Steve Snodgrass at Flickr

Finding a place to learn all those skills turns out to be difficult. In the English speaking world, only one degree exists: the MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management.

Available at the University of York, this innovative degree is a joint program between the Department of History of Art and the Department of Archaeology. Spread on two years, it includes a sixteen-week placement at a stained glass studio and a five-month dissertation.

Academic requirements to join this program are broad and include undergraduates degrees in architectural stained glass, conservation, art history, history, architecture, archaeology, fine arts, and literary studies. However, candidates with no college degree but with demonstrable skills may also be accepted.

Willing to protect the past in an artistic way? Stained glass conservation might just be what you were looking for.

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