GENERAL ARTICLES

B&ook of Remembrance

GRANT DEXTER November 1 1933
GENERAL ARTICLES

B&ook of Remembrance

GRANT DEXTER November 1 1933

B&ook of Remembrance

GRANT DEXTER

TALL WINDOWS open on the Ottawa River. To either side are rooms equipped with the paraphernalia of science.

In the new National Research Building at Ottawa, devoted to the most modern of State activities. James Purves sits at his drawing board, practising one of the most ancient of arts—that of illuminating.

His studio is kept at a fixed degree of humidity by a humidifier specially constructed for the purpose. Special desks and filing cabinets hold his materials, worth thousands of dollars, safe from accidental injury. His drawing boards are so built as to be adjustable in every direction. Cleverly designed metal covers exjxise only the small surface upon which he is actually at work. Oriental rugs give a note of brightness and w-armth to the fireproof floor, and on the walls hang a dozen or more illuminated Books of Hours, choral scores and other products of a long dead art.

Centuries ago, monks in their monasteries felt the urge to do more than merely print these Books of Hours, choral scores, prayer sheets. They satisfied this urge by developing the art of illuminating. With water colors derived from mineralized rock or from vegetables, they surrounded their texts with beautiful borders flowers, scroll work, intricate designs. But illuminating was considered of second imix>rtance to printing, and when the printing press became common they w'ere left without a vocation. Illuminating died a natural death, only to be revived in modem times.

From medieval monks in their cloistered courts to James Purves in his twentieth-century studio is a far cry. But the centuries have been arched for a definite purpose —to bring into being the Book of Remembrance.

The Book of Remembrance is Canada’s token of gratitude to those who gave their lives in the Allied cause. Within its covers w ill be inscribed the name of every one of the 68,000 Canadian soldier dead. A book of sorrow

and of grief, it will also be one of the most beautiful txxiks ever fashioned by the hand of man.

For nine years the lkxik of Remembrance has been taking form in the minds of Government officials charged with the task of planning it. For two years the work of general preparation has been pushed forward aggressively. For more than one year minute details have been disposed of, one by one. thereby leaving nothing to chance, nothing to mar the perfection of the book that is to be. Today the actual labor of production is under way; Canada’s of Remembrance gradually is taking concrete form.

Many considerations have entered into the devising of the book; many important decisions have been made. One of the first questions to be resolved was the fixing of the jxriod to be covered. Should all who have died of war injury find a place in the volume? The committee decided to make the record as complete as practicable and, as a result, the name of every soldier who died after the declaration of war and prior to the final demobilization of the Canadian army in 1922 will be there. These names are being listed, checked and counterchecked by the Records Branch of the National Defense Department. No one will be overlooked; the record will lx* complete.

The names will be written by hand in Roman letters, with upwards of 100 names to a page. But preceding the names will lx1 a dozen or more social pages. 'The lust will lxa dedication of the book to the |xople of Canada and to those it will hold in remembrance. Succeeding pages will tell in heraldic way of our provinces, our great cities, our universities. our various races, even of our Indians with their tejx-es and totem poles. Into the illuminator)' art will be woven the badges of Canadian war units, and coats of arms of towns and cities whence our soldiers came. Canadian birds, animals, trees and flowers will form the inspiration of the art work. W hile the ojxming pages will be completely illuminated, each and every page of the Ixxik will be beautified. Thus will the volume lx‘ made distinctively Canadian.

So far as the writing of names goes, this work must l>e done by hand, and to write one full page will lxi a hard day s work. The illuminating, being art in the truest sense, cannot lxreckoned in hours or days.

Of unique interest is the character of the book, the materials which will go into its making. The purpose, of course, is not only to achieve beauty, but also a Ixxik that will be imperishable.

'There are the leaves. Here the choice lay between parchment and vellum. Parchment is sheejwkin; vellum is calfskin. Parchment was discarded because it is thin and less durable, and also lx*cause it warps. Having decided utxin vellum, the committee’s next problem was to obtain the finest product available in the world. Vellum is not made in Canada, but Mr. Purves obtained samples from every known manufacturer. Each sample was turned over to the scientists in the National Research Laboratories and subjected to the severest of tests.

IV) make vellum, one must have a perfect calfskin. The skin is dried and cured. It is denatured by removing most of the natural oil, and is carefully rublxxl by hand with a fine pumice powder until it has a finish like ivory. The contract for some 460 sheets went to a British firm — probably the largest single order ever placed. One calfskin will produce two sheets of vellum. I herefore, 230 calves

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died to provide the pages of the Book of Remembrance. But perfect skins come only once in a thousand. In fact, the British company required six months to lind skins to (ill the order.

Having obtained the vellum. Mr. Purves was well launched on the task of producing an indestructible book. Vellum has all the strength of leather, with all the excellence of the finest pai>er.

Next came ink. What was needed was a carbon ink, veritable or absolute black, waterproof; an ink that would never fade, discolor, wear away or crack. Scores of samples of the finest inks produced in the world were assembled in the laboratories. They were tested for cracking by a machine which turned a page, written ujxrn in the various inks, tens of thousands of times. They were tested for fading by the use of various rays, including powerful ultra-violet rays. They were tested for abrasion. Not one of the samples stood up under the tests and, at last, the president of a leading British company was appealed to. He put his chemists to work and a special ink was invented to meet the requirements of Canada’s Book of Remembrance. Once this ink has dried upon the vellum, the whole could be immersed in water, flung into the sea, yet the writing would remain as clear as the day it was done.

The Memorial Chamber

"THE ILLUMINATING presented the I next problem. It was decided that none but natural, unfadable colors would be used. In some cases the work of long dead monks was chemically analyzed to discover the ingredients. In others, manufacturers had inherited from generations past the secret of making permanent water colors. In any event, after much research, much testing, colors were obtained that will never fade or smudge or crack. Being water colors, they could not withstand immersion, but otherwise they are imperishable.

Having selected the pages, ink and colors, there remained only the covers and the binding of the book. Many kinds of leather were tested and Levant morocco was finally chosen because it is one of the most beautiful and also one of the strongest, heaviest grained leathers known. It is made from the hide of a Moroccan goat. These hides will not be too denatured. Some of the natural grease will be left in the skin even at the expense of the final coloring.,

The leather cover will encase two boards which will form the back and the front of the book. The boards will be made of laminated wood—that is, thin strips of w(X)d glued together crosswise. The boards, when finished, will be three-quarters of an inch thick. The leather will be richly tooled. In the centre of the cover \\ ill be the Canadian coat of arms, done in hand-chased gold. The covers at the front will lx> held together by strong clasps of solid gold.

As for the binding, it was decided to use the finest linen, natural color and manufactured without the use of chemicals. Each vellum sheet must be “fused” or joined to a strip of linen, without adding one whit to the thickness at the junction point. The linen strips will then be sewed securely into the back of the cover.

With these materials will be made Canada’s Book of Remembrance, a volume nineteen inches square, twelve inches thick, weighing 150 pounds. The precise number

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of pages is. as yet. uncertain, but there will be at least 460. possibly more. According to the estimates submitted to Parliament, the cost of the work will be $35.000.

The ultimate resting place of the book is i the Altar Stone in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower. Enfolded by the ageresisting strength of steel, stone and concrete, this Chamber is Canada’s most sacred shrine. High up in the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings, it was completed in 1931. The floor is made of rougli stone picked up on the battlefields of France. The walls are of tenderest white, and in them are set mullioned windows uix>n which are traced figures epitomizing the ideals which inspired Canada in the war.

In the centre is a stone altar raised upon a pedestal of sable black marble. Canada has no unknown warrior whose tomb would be a national shrine. The Memorial Chamber stands as the tomb of all who died.

Upon this altar stone some five years hence will be laid the Book of Remembrance.

Direct resixmsibility for the book rests upon the Hon. D. M. Sutherland, Minister of National Defense. Acting upon his instructions, a committee of live have been engaged since 1931 on the task of planning. They are: Dr. A. G. Doughty, C.M.G.,

M.A., LL.D., F.R.S.C., Dominion Archivist; T. W. Fuller, Chief Architect, Dejiartment of Public Works; Col. H. C. Osborne, C.M.G., V.D., Secretary Imperial War Graves Commission (Canada); Col. A. Fortescue Duguid, D.S.O., Director, Historical Section, Department of National Defense; and E. J. Lemaire, Clerk of the Privy Council. Col. Clyde Scott, Military Secretary, Department of National Defense, is secretary to the committee.

The Artist

BUT WHILE the Hon. Mr. Sutherland and the committee are ultimately resjxmsible, the actual maker of the book is James Purves. He will do the illuminating, writing and binding.

Mr. Purves. while born in England, is truly Canadian in his approach to this, the greatest task of his life. Born at Newcastleon-Tyne in 1882, he learned something of the art of illuminating from his father, who owned an art and picture business. Later he worked at Liverpool and London, becoming an expert in the precious-metal division of the jewellery trade. While illuminating ceased to be of commercial value to him after he left home, Purves pursued it as a hobby and established his reputation as one of the most skilled in the craft. During the war he served in the R.A.F., coming to Canada in 1923. At London. Ont., in December, 1931, he saw an item in the newspaper telling of the of Remem-1 brance. Believing that his past experience j singularly fitted him for the task, he came j to Ottawa and applied. In July, 1932, the Government commissioned him and the great work was begun. Upwards of one year was needed to assemble the materials, and only in recent weeks has actual production been under way.

Mr. Purves, however, is much more than an artist who has obtained a valuable contract: much more than an expert in precious metals, a super-bookmaker. His approach to his task is not commercial. Far from it. His ambition is not to finish the job as quickly as possible, cash his cheques and get on with other work. On the contrary, his ambition is to achieve a book which, in every way, will be a fitting memorial to those whose names it commemorates. He realizes that, apart from the good wishes of the Government, of the committee in charge, the Canadian people are relying upon him to build them a noble memorial to men whose dust lies in far and alien places, some of whose graves are unmarked and unknown. To this task he has consecrated himself

j with fervor and with reverence. He seeks to j live in the spirit of his work, to transmit I through the pages the messages that this,

; indeed, is a register of death, a book of I sorrow, of grief, of high courage, honor and i triumph. There is no thought: “Here is

! another page done, another name inscribed.” He has, of course, the artist’s exaltation in ! working with materials of superlative i quality. He tells you, not boastfully, that the Book of Remembrance will be the finest, most beautiful book ever made.

But more, he brings to his drawing board something of the spirit, the reverence of the great masters of bygone centuries whose canvases immortalize the walls of great cathedrals and whose genius illumined the story of Christ.

Indeed, the first thing you notice in the I studio is this prayer, beautifully illuminated:

“Lord, we beseech Thee to endow this | chamber with peace so that the task entrusted to our care and labor may proceed from day to day in a spirit of joy. Let cheerfulness abound with industry. Give us health and happiness and contentment each day and the gift of sleep, so that we may rest without fear and arise with renewed exaltation.”