“The Art of the Manuscript” exhibit shows Tolkien’s creative process at Haggerty Museum

Published in 1954, “Lord of The Rings” captivated the minds of people all around the world. With over 150 million copies sold, the book drew a huge fan base and has grown from a 1,216-page book to a series of films considered to be one of the greatest and most influential film series ever made. But what was once hidden from the public, now on display, shows the true genius that allowed the series to grow so large.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript” opened at the Haggerty Museum of Art on Marquette’s campus Aug. 19, and will stay available to the public until Dec. 23. The exhibit takes viewers through a journey of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing process as he set out to create the world known as Middle-earth.

The exhibit features manuscripts, both in terms of those studied by Tolkien as a medieval philologist and the ones that are now pages of the “Lord of The Rings” series. Out of the 147 manuscripts, 37 of them are on display for the first time.

Susan Longhenry, director of the Haggerty Museum of Art, was anxious to bring this exhibit on campus, not only for Marquette students and staff but the general public as well. She said that a lot of work went into creating a captivating and enlightening display.

“We got to thinking on how we could make this exhibit visually make sense in terms of our mission.  Our two curators came up with the idea of getting more visual material because a lot of the stuff here is just written manuscripts. We also borrowed about 35 items from the libraries at the University of Oxford in order to make this happen,” Longhenry said.

A central theme of the exhibit is finding sources of inspiration and pursuing the creative process through the example of Tolkien.

“For Tolkien, it was all about source material. The exhibition is really about documenting the process that he went through to create the world he did. I think that’s why people are responding to it so well because it’s like he’s here,” Longhenry said.

As the exhibit continues to show at the museum, Christine Flemming, manager of community engagement for the Haggerty Museum of Art, said there are lots of plans to create more engagement through events to expose the exhibit to more people.

“The team of interns and student workers I supervise have been hard at work creating a new chapter of our “Art Across Curriculum” program, a family gallery guide, exhibition highlight tours and a scavenger hunt for the exhibition,” Flemming said. “I recommend that folks visit the exhibition more than once. The material on view deserves to be viewed slowly with purpose.”

Longhenry also said there are more plans to implement the creative process addressed in the exhibit into classes at Marquette.

“Today we are piloting programs with the biology department and the honors program that are about the creative process. A professor came to us and said her students were struggling with being creative in the STEM fields. We hope that this can inspire some creativity in them,” Longhenry said.

Longhenry said the exhibit has reached out way further than Milwaukee.

“There were people here for the opening from the German Tolkien society. We have sold about 300 of the catalogs already, and many internationally,” Longhenry said. “It’s amazing to see the impact that Tolkien made on so many people’s lives, and I am glad we can bring them this exhibit.”

This story was written by Phoebe Goebel. She can be reached at phoebe.goebel@marquette.edu