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Ancient art goes high-tech: Illuminated manuscripts available now on iPad Mary Jacobs, Dec 13, 2010
UMR PHOTOS BY MARY JACOBS
James Pepper’s work is all done by hand, working with pen, paper and ink.
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
DALLAS—The art that James Pepper practices is ancient, but the latest high-tech gadgets will now allow more people to see it. Mr. Pepper, a member of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, has been creating handwritten, illuminated manuscripts of the Bible since 1987, using techniques that are hundreds of years old. Now he’s making portions of his “Pepper Bible” available for wider readership by way of the iPad and Nook e-reader.
The iPad, a tablet-sized computer released earlier this year by Apple, along with newer e-readers like Nook Color, offer an upgrade over previous technologies: the combination of portability and the ability to view images in high quality full-color.
“The iPad is great because it has the resolution necessary to show the work,” he said. “Previous technologies were not sharp enough.” And yes, Mr. Pepper sees the irony in that.
“It takes the latest technology to publish the oldest technology, because the book is so full of illustrations that it would have been too expensive to print,” he said. “So now with the new technology I can publish my Bible.”
Mr. Pepper is “going digital” with the help of a childhood friend, Kathy Bowden, who is owner of a fledgling New Jersey-based publishing company.
“I was touched by . . . the idea that someone in this busy-busy world of fast tech and fast living actually took the time to sit at peace and write this text,” she said. Reading the hand-lettered Scripture, she added, “forces one to slow down, to pay attention in a different way. One cannot skim the surface, but rather must dive in and become absorbed.”
Currently, Mr. Pepper’s Gospel of Luke is available on the iPad, and both the Gospels of Mark and Luke are available as e-books including the Nook. (To see his work, visit www.PepperBible.com.)
His work has engendered a following among United Methodists. Highland Park UMC set aside a room as a scriptorium for him to work. In 2008, at the invitation of the Rev. J.D. Landis, pastor of Swartz Creek (Mich.) United Methodist Church, Mr. Pepper taught his art to campers at the Detroit Conference’s Bay Shore Camp in Sebewaing, Mich.
By sharing with others the ancient art of illumination, “James Pepper is recapturing the wonderful story of the intense endeavors of believers to preserve our biblical texts,” said Dr. Landis. “Here’s a United Methodist who’s getting us back to understanding our roots and the great story of how we got our Bible.”
“I told the class, you’re doing what a lot of people have done through history—copying the Bible,” said Mr. Pepper.
His illuminated manuscripts feature text in elaborate calligraphy, accompanied by drawings of flora and fauna as well as modern images. In his Gospel of Luke, for example, the Passion of Christ forms the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Four of his friends perished in the Towers, including Ms. Bowden’s brother, Thomas Bowden.
“I was inspired by the labor of love and the intensity of focus that went into creating this Bible,” said Ms. Bowden. “I believe that others will be equally inspired.”
Using these high-tech formats is a first for Mr. Pepper. In practicing his art, he does not rely on computers. It’s all done by hand, with paper, pen and bottles of ink. He did, however, turn to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum in New York for advice on scanning the papers of the Bible for print.
“They were very helpful,” he said. “The experts are really enthusiastic when you tell them what you are doing.”
Similarly, back in 1997, Mr. Pepper contacted the Archbishop of Canterbury to get a definitive edition of the Bible to correct his text. (The American version of the King James Bible, he says, was missing one word.)
Members of the archbishop’s staff “got a kick out of it because I was asking them to do something that was in their job description from 800 years ago—to hand out the proper edition for a Bible manuscript,” he said. “These people are civil servants, they never get to do stuff like this.”
Eventually, however, he said he ended up obtaining the most reliable text from the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, handily located next door to Highland Park UMC.
Mr. Pepper says he’s felt a call to this work since childhood. Long sessions of copying passages from the Bible are also a kind of spiritual practice.
“You learn much more when you’re writing,” he says. “I think it shows people that I have faith and that they can also do this to explore their faith. When people see what I’m doing, the pretense falls away and they go, ‘Oh, Wow!’”
Since 1987, when he took up this work, Mr. Pepper says he’s seen many “miracles” in his life. But the biggest miracle may be the work itself.
Admits Mr. Pepper: “My regular handwriting is terrible.”