Funded! This project was successfully funded on August 29, 2011.

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An exhibition of carved Vermont maple boards depicting many of the world's endangered forms of writing.

The world has between 6,000 and 7,000 languages, but as many as half of them will be extinct by the end of this century. Another and even more dramatic way in which this cultural diversity is shrinking concerns the alphabets in which those languages are written.

Writing has become so dominated by a small number of global cultures that those 6,000-7,000 languages are written in fewer than 100 alphabets. Moreover, at least a third of the world’s remaining alphabets are endangered–-no longer taught in schools, no longer used for commerce or government, understood only by a few elders, restricted to a few monasteries or used only in ceremonial documents, magic spells, or secret love letters.

The Endangered Alphabets Project is the first-ever attempt to bring attention to this issue--by creating an exhibition of 18"x12" carved and painted boards in stunning Vermont tiger maple that depict a variety of these vanishing scripts.

In each case, the text is the same–namely, Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1948 at the foundation of the United Nations: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The irony, of course, is that many of these forms of writing are endangered precisely because human beings do not always act towards one another in that spirit.

I've already created 14 of these boards. My goal is to double that number (a process that involves searching the world for the few people who can still read and write these vanishing scripts) and then take the exhibition on tour, to provoke thought and discussion on the importance of preserving traditional cultures. 

Ideally, I'd raise enough money to take this exhibition to the countries where the scripts are still used: Indonesia, the West Bank, the Philippines, Vietnam, Canada, Liberia, Cameroon, Bangladesh, and the Cherokee Nation headquarters in Oklahoma. In many cases this will give attention and encouragement to small, dedicated groups of people trying to rescue or revive these vanishing art/text forms. 

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  • Pledge $1 or more
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    93 backers

    Backers receive a pdf booklet about the Endangered Alphabets Project, including photos of the work in progress.

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    38 backers

    A coffee mug featuring the Endangered Alphabets logo, which in itself features Inuktitut, the Inuit script.

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    350 backers All gone!

    A copy of Endangered Alphabets, the coffee-table-style book I've written to accompany the exhibition. It has stunning photos and a short essay on each script I've carved, raising fascinating questions about the history and nature of writing. Overseas backers add $5 for packing and postage.

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    24 backers Limited (1 left of 25)

    I'll carve the backer a custom-made nameplate in one of four beautiful woods, suitable for hanging on a door or standing on a desk. The letters can be in English or, when possible, one of the Endangered Alphabets. Overseas backers add $5 for packing and postage.

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    5 backers Limited (5 left of 10)

    The backer will receive a beautiful plaque, roughly 16"x16", with the word "Words" in Balinese, arguably the most beautiful script in the world. Overseas backers add $25 for packing and postage.

  • Pledge $1,000 or more
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    0 backers

    A custom-carved and painted sign or other wood product--such as a musical instrument case or desktop, for example--depicting one of the Endangered Alphabets. (Note: some texts are easier to get than others. I may or may not be able to create exactly what the backer wishes, and the final product will have to be the result of discussions between the backer and myself.) Send me the item and I'll do the carving/monogramming. Extra shipping charges will apply to overseas backers, depending on the specific item commissioned.

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Funding period

- (30 days)