The Great Book of Ireland Photographs by Amelia Stein

great book1Seamus Heaney writing in The Great Book of Ireland

New works at SO Fine Art Editions. Exclusive limited edition photographs by Amelia Stein of luminaries of the literary and art world, such as Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly and others writing in The Great Book of Ireland to co-incide with the launch of the exhibition “Facing Pages” at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery.

Described as a contemporary Book of Kells, The Great Book of Ireland is an extraordinary single vellum manuscript comprising the original work of 121 artists, 143 writers and nine composers.

Amelia has captured evocative intimate behind the scenes images of artists such as Seamus Heaney, John Montague, Theo Dorgan, Nuala Ni Dhomhaill, and Brendan Kennelly amongst others as they made their inscriptions directly onto the vellum manuscript pages that were then embellished with illustrations by a selection of visual artists.

Amelia Stein has written about her experience documenting the making of The Great Book.

“On being present during the inscription of the Poetry into The Great Book. If my memory serves me correctly, Theo Dorgan the poet and Gene Lambert the visual artist, asked me to be present at the old premises of Poetry Ireland. Located in a basement in Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2, a dark room, book lined shelves, overflowing with volumes of carefully written words, all held for posterity.

I was the girl who had a camera and was asked to come along and record the inscription by the poets. Seamus Heaney and John Montague were present to write directly onto the vellum manuscript pages that would then be embellished with illustrations by a selection of visual artists. I can remember being nervous at the task, nervous of meeting these great men, nervous of not making the required photos, after all this book was made stand the test of time, with the intention to be a contemporary “treasure “.

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Poet John Montague 

I think I was trying not to get in the way and in some way trying to be invisible, yet take the photos. We did manage to get some artificial light to help. I used a second hand Hasselblad and tri X film. Of course I was in total awe of Heaney and Montague. Revisiting the contact sheets, Imogen Stuart is also present, as one of the visual artists who would also contribute to the book’s identity, whom later I would meet and become a friend of, finding her tenacity to continue to make work into her 80’s, an inspiration. Eamonn O’Doherty is also present in some of the images.

Great Book006C PMF v3(Eamonn O'Doherty (artist), Gene Lambert (artist), Imogen Stuart (sculptor) no border

Artists Eamonn O’Doherty, Gene Lambert and sculptor Imogen Stuart

There was a second signing session some short time later, in Trinity College, Dublin  2. It was a room infused with daylight, surrounded by trees, nice dappled light, in a modern part of the University. Here, I had the opportunity to photograph Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Hugh Maxton, Brendan Kennelly. Perhaps this was a more relaxed setting as there was light and we were not in the presence of all those volumes of poetry standing on guard on the shelves, in some way watching over the proceedings.

“Amelia Stein, RHA

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Poet Hugh Maxton

SO Fine Art Editions gallery is proud to have works of such cultural and historic legacy. The Great Book was published in 1991 and acquired by University College Cork in 2013, it captures a significant moment of Ireland’s cultural production. The exhibition “Facing Pages” explores the ideas that went into the creation of the manuscript, the ways in which collections offer insight into specific historical moments and the legacy of such anthologies.See all available photographs of this series on Amelia Stein’s Artist Page.