Sunday, March 25, 2018

Milton's Hell, the Prequel to Genesis @ Karpeles

Blake-inspired ceiling detail: home of Aethelred Eldridge
In April Karpeles Manuscript Museum Library is hosting an interesting set of events with historical roots in John Milton and William Blake, along with a series of paintings by local artist Kathryn Lenz, Milton's Hell: A Prequel to Genesis. The opening reception will be Tuesday April 3 at 7:00 p.m. which will include a video presentation of Milton's Hell in voice and imagery. Preceding this opening reception there will be a lecture at 4:00 p.m. featuring Susan Sink, Oblate of St. John's Abbey, at UMD. The following Sunday Sam Black and friends will perform the Music of Rebellion and Divine Creation at 3:00 p.m. with a video preceding at 2:30.

Paradise Lost, was composed by the blind and impoverished Milton from 1658 to 1664. A portion of this epic has been translated into images by Kathryn Lenz. In addiition to Lenz's paintings there will also be reproductions of William Blake's artwork inspired by Milton's epic poem by the 17th century English poet.

The first version, published in 1667, consisted of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, arranged into twelve books (in the manner of Virgil's Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. Considered Milton's major work, it solidified his reputation as one of the great English poets of his time. The poem concerns the Biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's purpose, stated in Book I, is to "justify the ways of God to men."

The visionary poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827), author of Songs of Innocence and Experience, later illustrated Milton's work. A portion of Blake's work on Milton's theme has been reproduced and will also be on display at Karpeles in April.

Illustration by William Blake
What interested me in part were some of the recollections it generated from my four years at Ohio University. One of the associate professors in the art department from the late 1950's till 2014 was a Blake enthusiast, Æthelred Eldridge. If I remember correctly, his home was featured in the magazine Home and Garden. He welcomed people to visit and swim in his rural pond/small lake. According to Wikipedia he is best known "for his black and white art accompanied by esoteric writings inspired by William Blake, and the founding of a "Church of William Blake" not far from his home in Athens, Ohio."

What I best remember is that Seigfried Hall, home to the art school, had a wide arch  upon which Eldridge a few years earlier had painted a massive mural that sprawled overhead and down to the top of the entrance. There were evidently complaints about the mural so that by the time I attended school in 1970 he had whitewashed it and covered that with a lengthy script which probably no one read in its entirety without a neck injury, but that evidently satisfied the authorities.

I asked Kathryn Lenz, whom I met through one of Kathy McTavish's events, what prompted her to do this series of paintings on Milton's Hell. She replied that "several years ago, my sister Karmen Lenz, a professor of English at Middle Georgia State University, employed an image of one of my cartoon paintings in a class-activity to get reluctant students to write. I found this very appealing and wanted to collaborate with her on a project that would have an educational application for her as well as serve as a catalyst for my development as an artist. She often includes parts of John Milton's "Paradise Lost" in her courses, but it is heavy reading and can be difficult to follow. Images could potentially help students understand Milton's origin story for Sin, Death and Hell. I have found the epic to be full of passages that spark my imagination and challenge me artistically."

Lenz began working on her first sketches for these paintings three years ago. "I started working on the first of these paintings two years ago," she noted.

Additional events have also been slated as well. Wednesday April 18 at 7 pm. Peter Spooner will give a presentation on William Blake's art, especially his "Paradise Lost" illustrations, and his influence on visual art. After his presentation we will again show the Milton's Hell video.

Friday April 20 at 7 pm. Professor Kevin Quarmby, Saint Scholastica English Department, will give a presentation on Milton, Shakespeare and the Origin of the Specious in Paradise Lost. After his presentation we will show the Milton's Hell video.

All of the above are free and open to the public.

Related Links
Milton's Hell in Paradise Lost.
Aesthetic Rapture Between Heaven and Hell: William Blake Illustrates John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

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