Woven Words Opens at the Walters Art Museum

Exhibition Opening: Woven Words: Decoding the Silk Book

(BALTIMORE – February 4, 2019) — A new exhibition at the Walters Art Museum highlights a little-known but magnificent book from the Walters’ collection of rare books and manuscripts. Woven Words: Decoding the Silk Bookfocuses on a 19th-century prayer book woven entirely from silk on a Jacquard loom. Visitors will discover a surprising and fascinating connection between the creation of the Silk Book and the computers that shape our modern world.

“The Silk Book pushed the limits of technology,” says Lynley Anne Herbert, Robert and Nancy Hall Associate Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. “It survives today as the only successful example of an entirely woven book, every line of text and saintly figure intricately created out of silk.”

Joseph Marie Jacquard of Lyon, France, patented a weaving technique that revolutionized the textile industry and laid the groundwork for the modern computer. His invention involved the use of paper cards punched with a pattern of holes, the precursor of the punch cards used in early computer technology. This early version of programming allowed complex patterns—including those depicted in the pages of the Silk Book—to be woven on what became known as the Jacquard loom.

Tablets in the gallery will display the fully digitized Silk Book as well as a video that demonstrates how the Jacquard loom works. Visitors will also be able to touch and interact with samples of the fabric and punch cards used by the Jacquard loom. Along with the Silk Book itself, the exhibition includes a group of handwritten books that contain the Jacquard loom’s trade secrets.

“What’s remarkable about the Silk Book is that, though it’s an object that is more than a century old, it has real connections to our modern-day life,” says Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “We hope that it will continue to inspire our visitors to think about other ways in which art and science converge in their lives.”

Woven Words: Decoding the Silk Book draws upon the Walters’ world-renowned manuscript and rare book collection that spans more than 1000 years and contains over 900 manuscripts, 1300 of the earliest printed books, and 2000 rare later editions from across the globe.

Woven Words: Decoding the Silk Book will be on view from February 6 through April 28 on the museum’s fourth floor.

The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5000 BCE to the 21st century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.


Admission to the museum is free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles Street, north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For general museum information, call 410-547-9000 or visit https://thewalters.org.

Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible through the combined generosity of individual members and donors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.