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Joan Sullivan: The shadow of Job inspires

Submitted image — 
An example from "The Legend of Job from the King James version of the Hebrew Bible"
Submitted image — Sample image from “The Legend of Job from the King James version of the Hebrew Bible”


The Legend of Job
from the King James version of the Hebrew Bible
Illuminated by Gerald Squires
Lettered and Designed by Boyd Chubbs
Afterwords by Dr. Sean McGrath
46 handbound pages
exclusive to the Gerald Squires Art Gallery
Open Wednesday through Sunday 12-5 pm until Dec. 20th
(other times by chance or call ahead)

 “The Book of Job” is considered the most poetic of the Old Testament. It concerns a rich, pious man who, in response to some conniving prods from the Devil, is tested by God by being stripped of wealth, health, kinship and friendship (an ecclesiastical poker game which gave us the phrase “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”). Job’s faith endures these afflictions.

Gerald Squires (1937-2015) was a visual artist profoundly engaged with religious and mystical themes and iconography (his “Stations of the Cross” and “Last Supper” at Mary Queen of the World Church among numerous examples), but even for him The Book, and the figure of, Job held an alluring mystery.

 

 

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

 

 

His last big project was the illuminated manuscript “The Legend of Job” (text from the Hebrew Bible), in collaboration with visual artist Boyd Chubbs.

The attributes of the 45-page manuscript, according to Patrick Warner, special collections librarian at Memorial University, include lettering in black, brown, blue, red, and claret; 32 large decorated capitals and 24 smaller; a vine and leaf motif, pen flourishes, and 31 artworks from Squires, such as a sketch of a crow’s head, and watercolours like “For there is hope of a tree,” most placed with the text, and two of them full page. Warner called the book “extraordinary” and “a thoroughly contemporary manuscript.”

“The shadow of Job has followed me all my life,” Squires writes in the Introduction, and Chubbs agreed. “It all came from Squires. The whole genesis of the project was Squires.”

Chubbs, (whose next exhibition, “Visits and Visitation,” composed of large ink drawings, opens at Christina Parker Gallery in November 2018), had collaborated with Squires on four or five other projects. They shared not just artistic interests and skill but background. Squires was born to a Salvation Army family on Change Island and grew up on Exploits Island, while Chubbs was one of 12 children born in L’Anse Au Clair to Una Cribb, who played the church organ, and Gordon Victor, who helped prepare the dead for burial.

Conversations with Squires, Chubb said, frequently came down to “the weight of existence. What affects us truly the most? What truly remains that we carry with us all the time? With Squires it was ‘The Book of Job.’”

For Squires, Job’s trials embody an essential question of life. “How can a figure accept such suffering and derision, including from those who should be his comforters, and still say ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’?” said Chubbs. The answer to that question lay in a profound acceptance of one’s struggles, and situation. “Squires carried this sense of not cursing this natural law.”

 

 

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

 

The rich and elaborate work actually evolved quite easily, Chubbs said. “The process, or this method, was very simple. I would design two pages and leave space for Squires to respond with his illumination.” Over a year and a half, Squires would come to Chubbs’ studio, collect the pages, and then add his illuminations. “He completed his last illumination on August 15, 2015. (Squires died on October 3.) It was a beautiful to and fro.” The text and imagery “were separate beings” but still came together in definite configuration, into a work that is much more than the sum of its incredible parts.

 “I knew immediately that I wanted to add this manuscript to the Library Collections,” said Warner. “And as it turned out, so did everyone else I spoke to. Few major acquisitions have come to the library with a little hassle as this one did. First and foremost, what convinced everyone was the quality of the work—the beauty of it speaks for itself; then there was the fact that Gerry Squires wanted this work to remain in Newfoundland and Labrador and, if at all possible, in a public institution that would preserve it and make it accessible to the general public into the future. Also, research libraries have, in recent years, been rediscovering the value of their unique collections and looking for ways to strengthen them. In that sense, ‘The Legend of Job’ was an opportunity for us.”

A limited number of original works are still available for sale, testament to a labour of love and of belief.

 

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.

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