‘Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost’: Ginsberg and Kerouac

by Amanda Gray, MLS Candidate, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, and Special Collections Intern, University of Notre Dame

The Spotlight exhibit for June and July, “Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost: The Friendship of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac,” focuses on three items from the Robert Creeley Collection: Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost: Allen Ginsberg & Jack Kerouac; Declaration of Independence For Dr. Timothy Leary: July 4, 1971; and San Francisco Blues.

The Beats formed in the wake of World War II, a literary counter-culture set on exploring in all senses of the word; physical exploration through travel, mental exploration through psychedelic drug usage and sexual awakening, spiritual exploration through Eastern religions. Kerouac coined the name “Beat Generation.” In his spoken word album Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation, he reads the poem “San Francisco Scene,” where he describes a jazz club and all that he sees, “and everything is going to the beat. It’s the beat generation, it’s be-at, it’s the beat to keep, it’s the beat of the heart, it’s being beat and down in the world and like old time lowdown and like in ancient civilizations the slave boatmen rowing galleys to a beat and servants spinning pottery to a beat.”[i] (Listen to it here, the first track of the album.) To drill down on one word in particular, Kerouac calls it “be-at,” as in “beatific,” or blissfully happy or holy. Kerouac was Catholic, and maintained his Catholic faith while also supplementing it with Buddhism. Benedict Giamo, a University of Notre Dame American Studies professor who retired this year, once told me that Kerouac used Buddhism as a lens through which to view his Catholicism, and it shows in his writings. Kerouac saw what he and the other Beats were doing as holy, enlightened work that expanded human consciousness.

Kerouac and Ginsberg were in the epicenter of this movement, meeting at Columbia University in New York City when Kerouac was 22 and Ginsberg was 17. Around them gathered a host of people, and in subsequent travels across the U.S. (see On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and other works for journal-esque descriptions of their trips), they connected with the San Francisco Renaissance, a group of poets stationed in California with similar ideals. Robert Creeley from the Black Mountain Poets connected here, too, and became lifelong friends with Ginsberg. It’s his amazing collection from which these three works come, as well as the works in the pop-up exhibit, scheduled for June 10.

Turning to the objects in the exhibit, the goal was to highlight Kerouac and Ginsberg’s friendship while also showing their abilities outside of their “known” styles of writing. Kerouac, known mostly for his prose work, wrote poetry like a jazz musician, and San Francisco Blues is a great example of his abilities. Scraps of San Francisco Blues appear like breadcrumbs throughout other works and publications; bits of it in Heaven & Other Poems, another selection in Palantir, some lines in New Directions. Though he died in 1969, Kerouac’s full collection of the 79 choruses in San Francisco Blues were not published together until 1983. The cover shows a composite image of Kerouac, leaning against a brick wall while smoking, the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Kerouac called the completed work a “beautiful unity,” written while pondering the city of San Francisco from his room at the Cameo Hotel in 1954. He wrote about the dilapidated buildings, the people walking on the street, the feelings in his body as he pondered what he was doing with his life. The only limit to his poetry was the size of the page in the notebook in which he scrawled them — “like the form of a set number of bars in a jazz blues chorus,” he writes in the introduction  — creating poems that hit the consciousness like the music he listened to.

Kerouac had been writing for several years at the time he wrote these poems, with his first book The Town & the City published in 1950 He wasn’t published again until 1957 with On the Road, despite completing several novels and books of poetry. His journals from these years in between, including a few excerpts in Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost, show just how much the rejection he received impacted him as a writer and as a person. Rejection hurt him, but he also found elation once he was published.

Ginsberg, known for Howl and other fantastical, forceful works of poetry, is an electric prose writer with power and precision in every line. His defense of Dr. Timothy Leary is a masterful work of evocative but exact language. Ginsberg rallied the poetic troops with this piece, independently published in response to the arrest, charge, and conviction of Dr. Timothy Leary, who had a small amount of marijuana on his person when arrested in 1970, and who experienced a whole host of legal trouble in the years that followed. Leary had also published on drug usage, something which the federal prosecutors and judges “regarded as a menace,” according to Ginsberg.

Ginsberg made this piece a larger argument for freedom of speech, for a writer to write about whatever he or she wants to. It’s an engaging piece of prose from a man who’s most known for his manic approach and imagery in poetry. It’s rational, well-argued and had little to no impact on Leary’s legal troubles. Though his name is not listed on the piece as author, Ginsberg’s fingerprints are all over it. The evocative language, the subtle shift to near-poetry in the final lines, the intelligence carried in every line — it’s as apparently Ginsberg as Howl is. A flair for the dramatic, the group sent a contingent of poets to deliver it to the Swiss government on Bastille Day.

The two writers were constant influences on each other (for example, Ginsberg credits Kerouac for the title of Howl in the dedication page of the poem), but they were so much more than that. Take Care of my Ghost, Ghost shows scraps of communication from Ginsberg to Kerouac, as well as some excerpts from Kerouac’s journals. A humble item at first glance, the collection of correspondence between the two writers is printed simply; 34 sheets of 8.5×11 paper, three simple staples down the side. Within its pages, though, it shows a friendship fostered both in person and at a distance; while bumbling around Greenwich Village or from San Francisco; with friends, lovers, or within a mental institution.

Within their friendship they found a place to confide; their letters to each other reveal a rawness that only comes with the comfort of time. Scraps of poetry made their way into the letters, too; Ginsberg wrote to Kerouac on Oct. 6, 1959:

Leave the bones behind
They’re only bones
Leave the mind behind
It’s only thoughts
Leave the man behind
He cannot live
Save the soul!

According to one rare books seller, this was a “piracy edition” and was suppressed by Kerouac’s estate.[ii] In the back of the book, a page states that it was “published for friends in an edition of 200 copies.” A more extensive collection of their letters is part of our General Collection and able to be loaned.

Kerouac and Ginsberg were friends — sometimes with benefits, if Ginsberg’s Gay Sunshine Interview is any indication.[iii] They were companions. They were partners-in-crime. After Kerouac’s death in 1969 at the age of 47, Ginsberg mourned him, along with Neal Cassady, another Beat who died early in life.  In The Visions of the Great Rememberer, Ginsberg writes, “So I survived Neal and Jack — what for, all my temerity? This empty paradise? Nostalgia world?”[iv]

 

 

[i] Kerouac, J. 1960. “The San Francisco Scene.” Readings from Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Jack-kerouac-the-san-francisco-scene-annotated.

[ii] PBA Galleries. (2018). Lot 334 of 450: Kerouac Ginsberg Take Care of My Ghost, Ghost. Retrieved from https://www.pbagalleries.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/189/lot/54835/Take-Care-of-My-Ghost-Ghost-From-the-letters-of-Allen-Ginsberg-to-Jack-Kerouac-1945-1959.

[iii] Young, A. (1974). Gay Sunshine Interview. Bolinas: Grey Fox Press. Pp. 3-4. Ginsberg talks about specific sexual encounters he had with Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

[iv] Ginsberg, A. (1974). The Visions of the Great Rememberer. Amherst: Mulch Press. Pg. 1. The title itself is a nod to Kerouac’s autobiographical work Visions of Gerard, as well as the posthumously published Visions of Cody, which focuses on Neal Cassady (called Cody in the book). The Visions of the Great Rememberer now publishes as an introduction for Visions of Cody.

Myths and Memorials

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian

Memorializing the Confederate States of America has been part of a national debate recently, as communities argue over public monuments that valorize a government and its soldiers who fought for slavery. This print, The Charge of the First Maryland Regiment at the Death of Ashby, was published in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War. It was an opening salvo in this debate.

Designed to be hung in the homes of Marylanders who identified with the Confederacy, it was commissioned to raise funds to erect a monument to the Maryland Line, a regiment of Marylanders who fought for the Confederacy. The monument was never built.

Although a slave state, Maryland remained in the Union during the war. After President Lincoln ensured that the legislature voted against secession in the spring of 1861, as many as 30,000 Maryland men fled to Virginia to enlist in the Confederate army. They made up about a third of all Marylanders (black and white) who fought in the Civil War. So many Marylanders joined the Army of Northern Virginia that they formed their own regiment, the Maryland Line. The print commemorated a victory of some of those Maryland Confederates near Harrisonburg, Virginia on June 6, 1862. Confederate troops, commanded by Stonewall Jackson, had engaged with Fremont’s Union forces north of Harrisonburg and were in retreat. Confederate Brigadier General Turner Ashby, in an effort to protect the rear of the retreating army, ambushed a detachment of Union soldiers with Maryland and Virginia troops. When the Union line was reinforced, Ashby was killed as he attempted to charge the Union position. The Marylanders then successfully repelled the Union attack and captured its commanding officer.[1]

The print’s image foregrounded Maryland soldiers poised to charge, including a dying Confederate soldier passing the regimental colors to another, a stock scene of nineteenth-century sacrifice and heroism. Ashby’s death is barely discernable in the background. The former Confederates who purchased this print would have already been familiar with Ashby, who had been widely hailed in the South as a hero both before and after his death. As one historian put it, “Ashby represents an early prototype of the Lost Cause hero.”[2] Even small and marginalized, Ashby’s image evoked a set of myths that many whites used to rewrite Southern history into a racialized story of plantation prosperity, contented slaves, and white manly honor.

Maryland raised many monuments honoring the Confederate cause in the century and a half following the war. Two years ago Baltimore removed four Confederate statues from public spaces because they valorized slavery and a government that defended it. The Maryland Historical Trust’s Governor’s Commission on Maryland Military Monuments updated its inventory to reflect these changes in public memory and memorialization. At the same time, however, the Daughters of the Confederacy and other groups rededicated a monument to Ashby outside of Harrisonburg. The debates over history and memorialization continue.

 

 

[1] Donald C. Pfanz, Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1998), 204-06.

[2] Peter S. Carmichael, “Turner Ashby’s Appeal,” Gary W. Gallagher, ed., Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003), p. 117, accessed May 22, 2019, ProQuest Ebook Central.

Recent Acquisition: Making a Pact with the Devil – Goethe’s Faust

by Julie Tanaka, Curator, Rare Books and Joe Ross, Original Cataloger for Special Collections

Enhancing the German literature holdings is the recent acquisition of Faust: Eine Tragödie, the first edition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s work published in 1808 by J. G. Cotta’schen Buchhandlung in Tübingen.

Faust, the two-part epic poem written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a masterpiece of German literature, reflects the transforming world in which Goethe lived. Begun in the waning years of the Holy Roman Empire (the final dissolution marked by the abdication of Francis II on August 6, 1806) and almost a century before the unification of Germany in 1871 into a nation-state, Goethe’s work exhibits his understanding of the world in upheaval—the revolutions in America and France and the Napoleonic Wars, the rise of Romanticism in literature and art, the Kantian Revolution in philosophy, the Industrial Revolution in science, technology, and economics.

Goethe, drawing upon Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s call for German dramatists to establish their independence from the French and to treat the Faust tragedy as a specifically German theme began composing his version around 1773. Goethe’s work went through numerous stages. The earliest version, known as the Urfaust, was probably finished by 1775 and the next revision, known as Faust: Ein Fragment, appeared in 1790. After almost a decade, Goethe returned to Faust, adding the prologues, the second part of “Night”, and “Walpurgis Night.” This version now referred to as Part I was finished in 1806 and published two years later. Goethe continued to work on Faust sporadically in the 1820s and completed Part II in 1831 but sealed the completed manuscript—though he made a few final corrections in early 1832—to be published only after his death.

In composing Faust, Goethe drew upon the so-called Faust tradition of texts dating to the early Christian period, but this source base forms only a small part of what he used in his composition. Goethe anchors his Faust firmly in the European tradition, alluding to and parodying ancient Greek and Roman authors including Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Apollonius, and Ovid as well as the more contemporary figures of Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and Calderón de la Barca.

This copy was bound by René Kieffer (1875-1964), one of the foremost Parisian binders of the early twentieth century. Kieffer was trained in classical techniques and worked as a gilder for a decade at the Chambolle-Duru bindery in Paris. After opening his own shop in 1903, he found new inspiration from the father-son binders Jean Michel (1821-90) and Henri François (1846-1925) in Paris. The influence of the latter’s use of curved stamps to work floral and leaf forms is evident in Kieffer’s work.

A fine example of Kieffer’s adoption of the Art Nouveau style, this copy of the first edition of Faust is bound in gilt-tooled green morocco over stiff paper boards. Four rectangular panels on the upper and lower boards display four central lily ornaments. Each rectangle has a floral ornament in the center with four lily corner-pieces. The covers bear a single gilt fillet border, and the spine is gilt-tooled morocco with five raised bands with panels that have a central rose with foliate ornaments on either side. “Goethe / Faust” in gilt lettering appears in the title panel at the top and the bottom panel bears 1808 below the floral ornament. Inside the book are brown morocco doublures (decorative linings, shown above) with a gilt broken circle. Lily ornaments break the line between the four large lily ornaments at top and bottom and either side. A single fillet border surrounds the five floral ornaments that form the upper and lower border. The free end-leaves are silken with diagonal beaded line grain, a full-page floral water-color on verso of free end-leaves. This fine volume is housed in a slip case also designed by Kieffer.

 

Works Consulted
  • Brown, Jane K. “Faust.” In The Cambridge Companion to Goethe. Edited by Leslie Sharpe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. 84-100.
  • Sharpe, Leslie. “Introduction.” In The Cambridge Companion to Goethe. Edited by Leslie Sharpe Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. 1-5.
  • Sanjuan, Agathe. Les éditions René Kieffer, 1909-1950. Paris: A. Sanjuan, 2002. <http://www.chartes.psl.eu/fr/positions-these/editions-rene-kieffer-1909-1950/>.
  • Arwas, Victor. Art Nouveau: The French Aesthetic. London: Andreas Papadakis Publisher, 2002.
  • Roberts, Matt, Don Etherington, and Walter Henry. “Michel, Marius.” In Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2003. <http://cool.conservation-us.org/don/dt/dt2225.html/>.

Rolling the Dice: Guided by the Stars, Math, and God (in that order)

by Eve Wolynes, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of Notre Dame

Special Collections’ spotlight exhibit for May, “Blasphemous Fun: Late Medieval and Early Modern Game of Chance and Fortune,” features a pair of medieval and Early Modern books on fortune-telling dice games: a modern facsimile of the Libro delle Sorti (The Book of Fates) and the Dodechedron de Fortvne.

The original Libro delle Sorti, held at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, was written in 1482 by Lorenzo Spirito Gualtieri in Perugia and was illustrated by Umbrian painters in the circle of Pietro Perugino and the young Raphael. Its pages contain a guide to using three six-sided dice to divine the answers to any of twelve questions about the future, in a somewhat comically roundabout method.

First, the reader chooses a question, which then points them to a “king” — an image of one of twelve historical and biblical figures, including Priam, last king of Troy, and King Solomon. These kings then instruct the reader to a “sign” — a table associated with celestial bodies, animals and mythical figures, such as a unicorn, a scorpion, or the moon. These tables provide combinations of dice rolls — whatever the reader rolls, they find that combination on the table, which then directs to a “sphere” of different celestial signs and their Roman Gods — such as the sphere of the Sun (shown in the exhibit) or Taurus (shown here), but also the sphere of Cancer, Capricorn, Mercury, Apollo and Mars. These spheres finally direct to a “list” of decided fates, organized according to the prophets of Christianity. The rather convoluted links of the game intertwine Roman mythology, biblical figures and astrology in its pages to tell a story of Italian medieval culture that dipped into multifaceted heritages — Roman and Catholic pasts interlinked, with astrological stars and theological heavens brought to bear on earthly concerns.

The Dodechedron, meanwhile, is attributed to medieval poet French Jean de Meun, famous for his scandalous and obscene Roman de la Rose, and earliest manuscripts date to roughly the first quarter of the 14th century. The work regained popularity as a printed text in the late 16th and early 17th century – as demonstrated in our 1615 printed edition, and found itself translated into English around the same time. It describes a game of dice played using a 12-sided die connected to the twelve signs of the zodiac in order to predict the future.

Twelve repeats itself frequently throughout the game, which requires that the player choose one of twelve questions from twelve different “houses” (144 questions total) about a wide breadth of topics from a child’s future health to whether a judge in a court case would honestly uphold to justice. Readers then pick a house and a question, correlate those numbers to a 12-by-12 grid and roll a 12-sided die to count out the final tally of their numbered fortune from a list of answers. The repetition of 12 places the Dodechedron into a tradition of spell books that relied upon mathematical calculations founded on astrological divination to calculate the future.

Dice games were nominally frowned upon in the Middle Ages — and gambling with dice barred to members of the church, though that didn’t stop them — and the connections between chance determining the future and pagan practices of divination through dice meant that these games bordered on blasphemous and played on the boundaries of “everyday magic.” Indeed, dice games were often paired with blasphemy as players prayed to God, Mary and saints in the lead up to their rolls — and cursed them when things didn’t go their way. In the 13th century the King of Castile, Alfonso X, attempted to regulate dice games in his Ordinances of Gaming Parlours, and began with punishments for various levels of blasphemy during such games, up to having part of one’s tongue cut off. In discussions of dice games and gambling, the worship of Decius (dice) was often put in contrast with worshipping Deus (God) to characterize such games as a form of pagan or satanic ritual, as referenced in the 14th century Manuale Sacerdotum by John Mirk, preaching that, “He [who gambles with dice] makes of the gaming table an altar for himself, upon which he offers up the goods of the Church to the Devil.” [1]

Fortune-telling games, rather than gambling with dice, however, escaped complete censure by the medieval church and remained closer to the practice of divining “Lots”, also called Sortes Sanctorum (Fates of the Saints), through bible verses and the practical application of astrology, which were both frequently interlocked as such games referenced astrology and the stars throughout their manuals, and games often instructed their players to offer prayers or recite psalms before casting their dice.

The advent of Protestantism after the first half of the 17th century in Europe coincided with a heightened lockdown on fortune-telling as a form of magic that contradicted the omnipotence of God wherein any event was not chance but a direct reflection of personal virtue in God’s eyes. Still, the temptations of chance, future and fortune were hardly daunted by whispers of blasphemy — dice games and fortune telling continued in popularity well into the early modern era and beyond, and live on in our gambling dens and friendly tabletop games today.

 

 

 

[1] Rhiannon Purdie, “Dice-games and the blasphemy of prediction,” in Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages, 2000. P. 178.

Upcoming Events: May and through the summer

Currently there are no events scheduled to be hosted this summer in Rare Books and Special Collections.

The exhibit As Printers Printed Long Ago: The Saint Dominic’s Press, 1916-1936 will run through the summer and close in late July.

The current spotlight exhibits are The Work of Our Hands: A Multi-Venue Exhibition of Liturgical Vestments (March – May 2019) and Blasphemous Fun: Late Medieval and Early Modern Games of Chance and Fortune (May 2019).

Rare Books and Special Collections is open
regular hours during the summer —
9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday through Friday.

RBSC will be closed Monday, May 27th, for Memorial Day and Thursday, July 4th, for Independence Day.

Easter hymns from the Saint Dominic’s Press

Special Collections • Rare Books Medium • M 2150.2 .C66 1926

In honor of Easter, we are sharing images of the Easter hymns from The Common Carol Book: A Collection of Christmas and Easter Hymns (1926), a book printed by the Saint Dominic’s Press (SDP).

An exhibition which sets the story of the SDP within the larger history of the private press movement in England and examines its artistic as well as literary achievements is currently on display in Special Collections. The exhibition features different types of publications and posters produced by the SDP (though not this volume), is curated by Dennis Doordan (Professor Emeritus School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame), and runs through the summer.

Happy Easter to you and yours from Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Notre Dame.


After being closed April 19 in observance of Good Friday,
Rare Books and Special Collections reopens at 9am
on Monday, April 22, 2019.

Recent Acquisition: Defending Papal Primacy

by Alan Krieger, Theology and Philosophy Librarian

The Hesburgh Libraries’ Rare Books Collection has recently been enriched by an interesting title, Michel Lequien’s Panoplia contra schisma Graecorum (Paris, 1718).

Lequien (1661-1733), a French Dominican theologian writing under the pseudonym “Stephano De Altimura”, wrote this defense of papal primacy in order to refute the claims of Nektarios, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1661-1669, in a work first published in Greek in 1682. Nektarios’s book was later translated into Latin and printed in London in 1702, then reissued in 1717—we hold these editions in electronic format under the title: Tou pany kyr Nectarii…

We have discovered only two other North American library holdings of this response by Lequien.

Recent Acquisition: Spina’s 16th-century tracts on witchcraft

by Alan Krieger, Theology and Philosophy Librarian

The Hesburgh Libraries has recently acquired an interesting addition to our already extensive holdings on the 16th-century Inquisition period in church history, Bartolommeo Spina’s Quaestio de strigibus (Romae, 1576). This title is actually comprised of three tracts on witchcraft written by the author around 1523, taking as his model Sprenger and Institoris’s Malleus Maleficarum (“Hammer of Witches”) from the late fifteenth century and emphasizing witches’ characteristic behavior in particular. A renewed interest in Spina’s works followed the establishment of the Roman Inquisition in 1542 and these tracts were collected for the first time in this edition. We count only four other North American libraries holding this initial publication of the title.

Upcoming Events: April and early May

Please join us for the following event being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Thursday, April 4, 5:00pm | Medieval Institute Byzantine Series Lecture: “The Gospel of John in the Byzantine Tradition” by Fr. John Behr (St. Vladimir’s Seminary)

Thursday, April 11, 4:00pm | The Work of Our Hands Exhibition Guided Walking Tour and Discussion

The tour will commence at 4:00 p.m. in the Hesburgh Library Lobby and will continue to three sites across campus where liturgical vestments are exhibited. Guests will be guided through the Sacristy Museum at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Rare Books and Special Collections at the Hesburgh Library, and the Scholz Family Gallery at the Snite Museum of Art.

A panel discussion will be held in the Annenberg Auditorium of the Snite Museum of Art (lower level) following the tour, and then a reception in the Atrium of the Snite.

Thursday, April 18 at 5:00pmThe Italian Research Seminar: “De Sica’s Genre Trouble: Rom-Coms against Fascism?” by Prof. Lorenzo Fabbri (Minnesota, Twin Cities).

Sponsored by the Center for Italian Studies.


The spring exhibitAs Printers Printed Long Ago. The Saint Dominic’s Press 1916-1936, curated by Dennis Doordan (Emeritus Professor, Notre Dame School of Architecture), opened in January and runs through the summer. The exhibition features different types of publications and posters produced by Saint Dominic’s Press, setting the story of the press within the larger history of the private press movement in England and examining its artistic as well as literary achievements.

The current spotlight exhibits are: Purchas his Pilgrimes and John Smith (March 2019), and The Work of Our Hands: A multi-venue exhibition of liturgical vestments organized in conjunction with the Notre Dame Forum 2018-19: “The Catholic Artistic Heritage: Bringing Forth Treasures New and Old” (March – early June 2019).

If you would like to bring a group to Special Collections or schedule a tour of any of our exhibits, please email rarebook @ nd.edu or call 574-631-0290.


Rare Books and Special Collections will be closed April 19
in observance of Good Friday.

We will reopen at 9am on Monday, April 22, 2019.

Distinctive Xinxiang Series of Biblical Illustrations

by Hye-jin Juhn, East Asian Studies Librarian

In 2017, RBSC received thirty poster-sized prints (53 x 77 cm) from Grailville, a non-profit Catholic organization in Loveland, Ohio. Little was known about the prints. They were not dated. They contained a copyright statement by the Catholic University of Peking (1925-1952). They were apparently reproductions of Chinese-style paintings and calligraphic messages that illustrated the Bible. They appeared to have been intended for the Chinese audience.

Based on the following two sources, we now assume that these prints are copies of paintings done in Xinxiang, Henan in 1939 by Wang Suda.

Frontispiece portrait of the Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas M. Megan, S.V.D. from Atomic Apostle.

According to Atomic Apostle, Thomas M. Megan, S. V. D., Edward J. Wojniak’s biography of the Bishop Megan, who was the Prefect Apostolic of Xinxiang, Henan, Megan, in keeping with contemporary Vatican policy, used native art for Catholic teaching. He visited the Catholic University of Peking, chose Wang Suda among art students, and brought him back to his Xinxiang mission: “Megan himself chose the themes and directed their portrayal. Many a time, Wang Su-Ta was forced to throw away a half-completed picture because it did not measure up to Megan’s ideas and requirements.” (Wojniak, p. 139)

The Bishop gave the original paintings to the Catholic University of Peking. According to an article that appeared in the January 1941 issue of the Christian Family and Our Missions, the University reproduced the paintings in a “six-tone edition.”

“The series comprises thirty-five separate pictures illustrating the Old and New Testaments, the Sacraments and the Ten Commandments. The large size (55×61 cm, or, including the descriptive texts 60×80 cm) will make this series particularly useful for classroom and catechumenate use.” (p. 38)

The Xinxiang series at RBSC, though fewer and smaller in size, are possibly a reprint of the above-mentioned series.

The Xinxiang series is distinctive, and perhaps unique, in comparison to other paintings by Wang, and to paintings by his contemporary Chinese Christian artists.

In one painting, Jesus points at Peter and says, “You are the rock, Peter on which I will build my Church.” Peter, like the Bishop Megan, has a goatee and wears a “simple blue Chinese gown.” The church in the background resembles the “Chinese-style” church that the Bishop had built.