In celebrating the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican Order, the General Chapter of Trogir (2013) recommended offering events which promote knowledge of the artistic heritage of the Order. Many Provinces throughout the world have prepared art exhibits reflecting this heritage. Santa Sabina recently opened its own exhibition, Auguri! Expressing the Dominican Tradition in Contemporary Art for the Jubilee. In his prefatory comments to this exhibit, Fr. Bruno Cadore, Master of the Dominican Order noted, “The tradition and rule of the Friars preachers calls on them to learn ‘to recognize the Spirit working in the midst of God’s people, and to discern the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture, by which human nature is more fully manifested and new paths to truth are opened.’ (LCO 99 § II). This Jubilee exhibition stems from such a desire to search, with others and especially in dialogue with artistic creation, these new paths ad veritatem.”
It is with the hope of inspiring such “new paths towards truth” that DSPT and the The Santa Fe Institute are delighted to offer this exhibition of illustrations and print materials from St. Dominic's Press of Ditchling (Sussex), England. In addition to highlighting the long involvement of Dominicans in the fine arts, the exhibition is also intended to highlight our own academic offerings through the combined efforts of DSPT and the Institute, specifically to our sacred arts program.
The Press was founded in 1916 by Hilary Douglas Clark Pepler (1878-1951) as a means to advance his ideas for social reform. Influenced by the Distributist movement of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, Pepler joined with Eric Gill (1882-1940) and Edward Johnston (1872-1944) in a move to Ditchling Commons to establish a group of working craftsmen.
Joined soon afterwards by Desmond Chute (1895-1962) and Joseph Cribb (1892-1967), who was Gill’s earliest apprentice, they established the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic, “In order to put the affairs of the above upon a permanent basis.” Though Gill resigned in 1924 and withdrew to Capel-y-ffin to focus on his work as a stone carver, the Guild lasted until 1989.
Items in the exhibition include examples from all of the categories of print materials Pepler published, such as the occasional magazine, The Game, which served as a vehicle for the group’s Distributist ideals; and Pertinent and Impertinent and Libelus Lapidium which express Pepler’s more satirical and playful side. The Press also published serious scholarly works such as Philosophy of Art (one of the first English translations of Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain); the pamphlet, “Does the Catholic Church Protect Work People,” containing extracts from Rerum Novarum; and the Welfare Handbook series, including Woes and Commerce.There are also his books on plays for puppets and mime. The oldes pieces include one of the first published by the Press, A Book on Vegetable Dyes, written by his weaver-neighbor, Ethel Mairet.
One of its last members of the Guild, Ewan Clayton (the grandson of the Guild weaver John Valentine KilBride (1897-1982), participated in this exhibition, offering his reflections in an essay included in the exhibition catalog. He also created the exhibition cover design and logo. As he notes, today the life lived at the Guild is displayed at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, located in Sussex, England.
This exhibit is one of the last efforts of Fr. Michael Morris, OP, who had worked with Fr. Chris Renz, OP for the past two years in preparing this jubiliee year exhibition. The opening reception, held on September 25, 2016, featured refreshments and delightful music from students of the San Franciso Conservatory. We were honored to have Fr. Michael's sister and brother-in-law join us for this event.
A limited edition (500) full catalog is available for purchse that includes a tipped-in facsimile of a commemorative broadside printed by Peter and Donna Thomas, “O Lumen Ecclesiae.” In addition to a full listing of all the items on display (according to the format of Taylor and Sewell), the catalog features an essay by Ewan Clayton, “Impressions from Ditchling.” A second article, “A Priveleged Pathway,” by C. Renz, OP explores the background to the Press and the Guild and its ties to another important press, the Albertus Magnus Press, founded by Br. Antoninus (William Everson), a member of the Western Dominican Province. The hand-numbered catalog is available for purchase ($35 for the tipped-in version, nos. 1-100; $25 for the plain version, nos. 101-500). The commemorative broadside is also available for purchase for $100 (unframes/unmounted). Please contact Fr. Chris Renz, OP for more details.
Chris Renz, OP, Academic Dean, and Professor of Religion & the Arts and Science & Theology