Museum of the Bible is First in U.S. to Display Mile-Long Illustrated Bible

Martin Wiedmann holds part of a printed copy of his father’s work, which is open to the Genesis creation narrative, at the Museum of the Bible in Washington. Behind him are paintings from a different series by his father, Willy Wiedmann, on the Twelve Apostles. RNS photo by Menachem Wecker

Going through his late father’s attic painting studio in 2013, a German banker named Martin Wiedmann was surprised to find a Bible that his father, Willy, had spent years creating. The 3,333 illustrated pages were bound as a leporello, a book that is pleated like an accordion. Fully laid out, Willy Wiedmann’s Bible stretches about a mile in length, or about 50 times the length of an unrolled Torah scroll.

Wiedmann had made the book at his combined home and art gallery in Stuttgart over 16 years, beginning in 1984, working in almost complete obscurity. “He lived away from the family. I hardly ever saw him,” said the younger Wiedmann, who lives in Zurich, of his reclusive father.

Martin Wiedmann has since devoted himself to promoting his father’s work.

On May 7, 2017, 500 volunteers held up a copy of the leporello, also called a concertina book, along the Elbe River in Magdeburg, Germany, to set a Guinness World Record for the largest such book, according to the Museum of the Bible in Washington. The museum will open a Wiedmann exhibit on Saturday (Oct. 27).

Elizabeth Montoya, a Guinness World Records spokesperson, confirmed that Wiedmann’s leporello, at 6,944 square feet and 121 square inches, held its record until Aug. 16, 2018, for the largest concertina book. (The record was broken in August in China with a concertina book measuring 7,592 square feet and 110 square inches.)

Guinness has no category for longest — as opposed to largest — illustrated Bible or longest concertina book, and it recommended that Wiedmann apply in the largest concertina category, said Diana Lammerts, a spokesperson for the Wiedmann Bible. Lammerts and Wiedmann can’t prove the book is the longest illustrated Bible, but their research has yet to reveal a longer one.

In addition to his Bible, the museum exhibit includes Wiedmann’s handwritten notes, two abstract series devoted to the cross and to the Twelve Apostles, and a re-creation of Wiedmann’s attic studio. A multimedia presentation of Wiedmann’s Bible art scrolls on three screens set to jazz music.

The music is apropos, as Wiedmann trained as both an artist and a musician and played music professionally. Amy Van Dyke, lead curator of exhibitions at the museum, said there is a geometry and a rhythm to his work, which he called “polycon,” combining the Greek words poly (many) and ikon (picture or panel).

Viewers will notice references to everything from surrealism to abstract expressionism, which Van Dyke credits to Wiedmann’s experience operating his art gallery.

“This is a wish come true,” said Martin Wiedmann on a walk-through of the exhibit. “One of my jobs is to tell the Wiedmann Bible story to the public. … I make the story known.”

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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Menachem Wecker