Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Mexican Inquisition at PBI

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of the classes that I'm taking here at PBI is about the Mexican Inquisition Trial Documents. Gillian Boal was the instructor for this. She has been working to preserve these documents and has examined them quite closely to see how they are made. We started by making a simple paper version, then we made quite a large and thick document and covered it in leather, trying to replicate the book structure as much as possible. The problem being, the original documents are not all done exactly the same way; there are a lot of variations among them and only a couple have leather covers still intact. The leather book we made was modeled after one of the bigger documents she has examined.

The pages within the textblock are all creased into quarters then flattened out again. This was done to create margins on the sheets. During the trials, they would write on part of the page, then later add notes along the side. The primary sewing used a paper "stub" (Gillian was trying to come up with a name for this piece, but I'm not sure if she settled on anything...devil's backbone was one suggestion). Then there was a secondary sewing through another wrapper and onto leather thongs. Here my text block is lying on top of a photograph of the original document.

These trial documents were a compilation of notes from trials, as well as various pieces of evidence used for the convictions. This included letters from witnesses and other objects used to prove someone's guilt. The accused were usually being convicted of acts against the Catholic church, such as practicing Judaism or other non-Catholic worship, witchcraft, as well as women who were suspected of improper behavior on Friday evenings (or any evening, I suppose)! So the trial documents include some little tiny notebooks like spellbooks, that were collected as evidence. Also, leather pouches like talismans, and even a hangman's noose is bound into one of the books when the accused was found dead in his cell after hanging himself. The book I made includes a noose that I tied myself, and I made a leather pouch, as well as a couple little notebooks and letters, etc.

This next photo is one of the original leather pouches that was attached to a trial document. The contents are a small bone, a bit of white powder (unidentified), and a little written letter, each all folded neatly in bits of paper. (I also have these things in the pouch I made - Gillian provided some sort of little bone, and we put in a bit of cornstarch for the power, along with a little letter.) Gillian has taken the original pouches and put them into conservation boxes so that they can't be handled. The contents of this pouch have been photographed, but now it is permanently sealed inside this box and can't be removed. There is a second pouch that has never been opened.

So we also learned how to make this type of conservation box. It is a quick and practical box structure that can be put together without much difficulty. I didn't put my leather pouch into the box that I made. But I did make one of these boxes and put something special in it. The following photo shows all the books made by the people taking this class, along with all the little conservation boxes we made. My book is the one lying in the foreground with my blue conservation box lying just on the corner of it.

Now for the remainder of PBI, I'll be learning printmaking...boldly going where I've never gone before...


Maiko said...

those are neat books! and it's fun seeing everyone's together like that :D did you want to keep your little pouch?

Rhonda said...

thanks maiko :)
i really like the little pouch we made with all the teeny treasures inside! if I had put it into this box, i wouldn't be able to take it back out again so I decided to but something else in the box :)