Delivering Letters: Lyle Goorvich's From the Beginning: Illuminations of the Alefbet
Sonia Halpern is an Art Historian at Western University in the Department of Women's Studies and Feminist Research and Writing.
Rarely can on book be described as an historical, literary, and artistic achievement, but Lyle’ Goorvich’s new work is exactly that. Entitled From the Beginning: Illuminations of the Alefbet, the book offers a unique approach, through words and images, to understanding the Hebrew alphabet. But don’t let the subject fool you—this is no Hebrew-school primer. Goorvich’s collection is a sophisticated cultural journey through the origins of the Hebrew alphabet that is a veritable feast for the mind and eyes. Throughout the book, Goorvich presents each Hebrew letter chronologically and reveals his meticulous research about its history, in the form of original poetic compositions. The brief passages are sensitively written in the first-person voice of the letters themselves and reveal their literal meanings and larger multifaceted significance. An excerpt from the letter Peh, for example, reads “I am Peh—the mouth/I animate your thoughts/Give expression to your emotions/Bring sustenance to your body/I draw your first breath in the light/Your last breath in the dark.” Below each poem, Goorvich offers versions of the given letter from other ancient languages, enabling readers to appreciate the visual similarities and distinctions between these early alphabets. These written pages are beautifully conceived and designed, offering thought-provoking text within an elegant layout that befits its content.
Juxtaposed to each page of poems is a corresponding illustration, an effective device that allows readers to explore Goorvich’s aesthetic translation of the alefbet, Goorvich’s skills in graphic design are immediately apparent, as he succeeds in incorporating Hebrew calligraphy, representational imagery, traditional symbolic iconography, decorative patterning and modern abstraction. These images range from black and white tones, as in the graphic mezuzah for “Shin,” to subtle shades, as in the soft yellow tent for “Vav,” to vibrant hues, as in the bold orange sunset for “Kuf.” The illustrations perceptively capture the essence of their literary counterparts, and, with each the size of the entire page, convey subtle and intricate details that highlight Goorvich’s artistic talent and vision. From the Beginning: Illuminations of the Alefbet is the culmination of Lyle Goorvich’s educational training, career, and passions. Goorvich earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at York University and a Bachelor of Education at the University of Toronto. As a teacher, he instructed various arts programs, and, for ten years, taught design and technology. Now retired, he is a practicing poet and artist and spends much of his time volunteering in the London Jewish community. All these facets of his life are intrinsic to this book, and speak to his love of education, the arts, and Jewish culture. Goorvich’s collection is reminiscent of religious medieval manuscripts on vellum.
Their spiritual text was accompanied by equally mystical illuminations, which, together, was intended to inspire readers to believe in a power greater than themselves. What made these manuscripts particularly profound, then, was the intimate relationship that existed between text and images. From the Beginning: Illuminations of the Alefbet offers a similar dynamic within its covers. Indeed, Goorvich underscores this notion when he states that each of the letters “needed” both a narrative and a pictorial element. Goorvich’s respect for historical precedent is palpable, yet his book’s contemporary poetic style, modern imagery, and sleek designs keep these allusions fresh and relevant. As such, Lyle Goorvich’s collection is a perfect gift for anyone who appreciates the duality of tradition and modernity, and, of course, for all who value the simultaneous splendor of words and art.