Contemporary Illuminated Manuscripts: the work of Nancy Ruth Leavitt

I am pleased to announce that a small retrospective of my work is on display at the University of Southern Maine until 30 April 2019. Over the course of 40 years as a calligrapher I have created 120 unique hand-lettered manuscript books. This show contains some of my favorite work – In Hibernation, Outside the Realm of Time, The Sacred Cut, Dry Stone Walls, and Revolution. I hope you have an opportunity to see it. A color catalog of the show will be available the end of March.


In Hibernation

Exhibition: Contemporary Illuminated Manuscripts: the work of Nancy Ruth Leavitt January 28 through April 30, 2019

University of Southern Maine; Glickman Family Library, Great Reading Room, 7th floor, 314 Forest Avenue, Portland ME 04103, For library hours:

Lecture and Exhibition Reception: An Interview with the Artist: Nancy Leavitt Speaks with Priscilla Juvelis (bookseller, fan, and friend) 

Wednesday, April 3, 4:00 PM, University Events Room, 7th floor, Glickman Family Library

Exhibition and Reception Free and Open to the Public

Sponsored by: Kate Cheney Chappell ‘83 Center for Book Arts

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It is quiet here in summer. Most of my neighbors are away and the university students don’t return until September. Everyday I work in the studio and the garden. In the afternoons I enjoy listening to BBC PROMS online from July through September. Every year there is such a remarkable range of music and performers and the episodes are archived for easy access.


In July, writers Mark and Robin (pictured above), from the UK, were back in the US for a summer on the Maine coast. They visited the studio in July for a binding day and a separate paste paper day. Here they are showing their bound books. It is always a pleasure seeing them each summer and we pick up our conversations where we left off and share our writing over tea and lunch.


My current work involves getting ready for a retrospective show, which will be held at the Glickman Family Library at the University of Maine, Great Reading Room, from January 28 through April 30, 2019. The exhibition will show over 40 of my books plus wall pieces. The lecture and exhibition reception is Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at 4pm. Here is a photo of the working plan notebook and my wall schematic. My friend, Kathy, a behaviorist, is kindly helping me keep on track.


Thanks for reading this post. Enjoy the rest of your summer.


IMG_4836 Miss Tilly in the treehouse.


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A word about the snowflakes. . .


Hope, 2018, MS #114, 14.5 h x 10.75 w x 2.5 d inches.

Description: This box houses a hand lettered copy of Emily Dickinson’s poem 254, c. 1861, “Hope is the things with feathers. . .” and a flower illustration composed of fabric and paper snowflakes.

Materials: The artist’s gouache lettering on Katie MacGregor handmade paper and hand-cut paper snowflake illustration on batik fabric attached to the bottom of a dark blue fabric covered box designed by Joelle Webber.


Recently I was asked why I have been making and using snowflakes in my bookwork and installations. Here is the long answer.

First: In January of 2013 a call was put out to send 20 snowflakes to the elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, to welcome the children back to school and honor the 20, six and seven year children, who were murdered on December 4, 2012. That year I decided to cut a snowflake for each person killed by gun violence in this country. Although I have cut thousands of snowflakes over the past 5 years, I cannot keep up with the nearly 13,000 gun homicides that occur each year in the United States. Whatever your opinion, it bears thinking about.

Second: I am interested in math and geometry in art, especially in the Gospel books created between 600 and 1000 CE. Early scribes used their knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem and simple geometrical tools to develop a characteristic style of decoration that integrated complex interlacing geometric designs. This style of illumination succinctly illustrated the early Christian principle of God’s existence everywhere, from the smallest microcosm to the largest macrocosm.

A hand-cut snowflake exhibits similar traits. A square of paper of any size, when folded into triangles and having shapes cut out of it will create a lacey 6-sided design. The resulting repetition of geometrical designs and variations are endless.

IMG_4091On the Formation of Snow, 2018, MS #115, 20 pages, book measures 12 h x 9 w inches, box measures 13.75 h x 10 w x 2.25 d inches.IMG_4087

Materials: Watercolor and gouache on Katie MacGregor handmade papers. The artist’s hand-cut snowflakes were embedded into the white papers during the papermaking process. The artist’s binding is composed of handmade papers covered in transparent fabric and embroidered snowflakes. Joelle Webber created the dark blue fabric covered box. The book rests on a compartment with a sliding piece of plexiglass under which is a collection of hand-cut snowflakes.


Description: I pledge allegiance to the land of snow! Here in the north during the winter months I create hand-cut snowflakes from paper and scissors and use them in artwork such as the handmade paper in this book. The binding is a three colored ‘snow’ flag. The book text explains how snow is formed and its importance in redistributing water around the globe to sustain all life on earth.


Thank you for reading this blog.


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Snow Flurry

IMG_3695The snowflake installation at the Church of Universal Fellowship has become an annual display during the months of January and February. This year’s offering, ‘Snow Flurry’, consists of hand cut snowflakes rolled into and hanging from three clouds of snow white tulle all suspended from 40 lb. fishing line. The clouds, together with 200 snowflakes distributed in the hymnals, weighs less than a pound.

IMG_3682 Ken hangs each line individually.

IMG_3684 Thanks for looking at this post.

Nancy Leavitt




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New work


My 2,000 plant specimens have been sorted, labeled, boxed and passed on to a New England university herbarium where they will be cared for properly. Over the last 3 years I have enjoyed sifting through the plants collected as early as 1817, pondering the many environments around the globe they came from and researching the hundreds of botanists represented in the collection. I am grateful to the herbarium for taking them, thank you.

A GREEN THOUGHT: height 14 ½ inches by width 9 3/8 inches, 43 pages, manuscript #113

IMG_3387Green is the love of nature and plants are life. The title is taken from stanza 6 of The Garden by Andrew Marvel (1621-1678).

‘Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,

Withdraws into its happiness;

The mind, that ocean where each kind

Does straight its own resemblance find;

Yet it creates, transcending these,

Far other worlds, and other seas;

Annihilating all that’s made

To a green thought in a green shade.’

IMG_3403The text for A GREEN THOUGHT contains poetry/prose by Andrew Marvell, Li Po, and Brian Capon, along with a discussion of the color ‘green’ told by the artist. Topics include: the origin of the word ‘green’, the function of the pigment chlorophyll found in green plants, and the importance of green in our surroundings.

IMG_3388The lettering is completed in watercolor and gouache. The illustrations and book cover are created with watercolor, gouache, pastel, paste, fabric and decorative thread on Arches text wove and Katie MacGregor papers. Joelle Webber of Mermaid Bindery bound the book and box.

IMG_3391IMG_3396Completed late summer and posted at Christmas 2017.

Nancy Ruth Leavitt






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An Immigrant Garden


The garden is lush and green from the cold and wet spring – a condition that plants love so the garden is in good shape. In spring one is engulfed by the garden. Cleaning up leaves and twigs, pruning, weeding, edging, carrying away refuse, mulching, deadheading blossoms – it is endless.


This year my goal is to identify all of my perennials with genus species names and the native range of the plants. The garden is a collection of over 275 perennials from around the world. This has inspired my garden name, “An Immigrant Garden”. Plants have been traveling/migrating around the earth since the beginning of photosynthesis.

It takes 100 hours of labor for the garden to look good enough before I can sit back and enjoy the verdant splendor. In this brief moment during the longest days of the year I want to be a stone in my garden – just sitting still in solitude and peace surrounded by my immigrant friends.

Photos in order: Entrance to garden, Rockii tree peony native to Japan, Harrison’s yellow rose bred in Scotland, Shimanishiki tree peony native to Japan, orange Geum a native to Asia, Africa, and New Zealand, and purple Salvia from Europe.

Happy summer everyone, Nancy


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Sorting it out


Several years ago I came into possession of a small plant collection of herbarium specimen mounts. While sorting through the collection many ideas surfaced for bookwork. My plan for organization seemed to change daily. It was easy to say, “I’ll do this”, but I have taken it slowly and made numerous schematic drawings listing what I already knew about the topic with suggestions of what I wanted to research. With further research and discovery the project grew. One of the most helpful working displays still in use is a large triptych painting on which post-it notes of information and ideas are tacked. It helps me physically see the relationship between information and keeps the project real and open. It is a large puzzle, an enigma really, and I continue to process data by moving tags around as my ideas change and develop.


Thanks for reading this post.



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