So yeah, it's a little complicated.

As a (very?) young man, artist William J. Girard, Junior (aka Bill) developed a penchant for encoding his thoughts in hieroglyphics. Maybe due to the influence of the then famous novel, The Egyptian. At least in part. 

Anyway, at one point, Girard's patron. Allen Abramson, requested a key to his hieroglyphics and the young artist obliged. See the key below. But the reason your help is needed is because his cipher kept evolving. The key didn't.

Now, with the help of a world-renowned German chemist, Dr. Robert Fuchs, major progress was made in deciphering a complex text by the artist. So that's your Rosetta Stone.

But even when you know the language, small changes in handwriting style can encrypt what might otherwise be obvious. Throw in a few new characters as yet unidentified. 

Plus some symbols that represent certain sounds, like the CH in cheese. Or the TH in the. Or SH as in shoot.

Oh yeah, Girard tended to approach spelling phonetically. So his spelling could be idiocentric. Note his encryption for house at the bottom of the key.

Well, you get the picture. (You will, almost immediately. See below.)

Girard's hieroglyphics - at least those discovered to date - are typically found on sketches and paintings. Anecdotally, Girard told me that he also used hieroglyphics to prevent students from reading his gradebook. 

So, with luck, more examples will show up - examples that might tell us something more about the fascinating artist that developed and used hieroglyphics derived from Egyptian sources... even though he abhorred travel.

Meanwhile, to help you help "us" (aka the Friends of Bill Girard, aka a small group of collectors who cherish his work and life) accomplish this, I've provided some warm-up exercises. See below.

The actual texts to be deciphered will appear in individual blog posts: Decipher Me #1, Decipher Me #2, etc.

Start when you're ready. Stop when you're done. Let us know, PLEASE, what you come up with. Use the comments box.

Warm-up #1

Warm up Exercise #1

 I enhanced the hieroglyphics Girard wrote, lightly, in pencil above the figure on Warm up Exercise #1, to make them more legible. See the original in Dry Media, here.

So, here you go. 

What's does Gift America mean?  What did it mean to Girard?

I've no idea. An (adolescent) child takes a bow. Is the performance the gift?  Does the bow herald the presentation of a gift? I don't know. 

Warm-up #2

Warm up Exercise #2

So this one has several sets of hieroglyphic characters. Two sets, side by side, on top. And two more, with phone numbers, underneath the image.

In English, Girard scribbled "Casa del Luna" just above the sketch. 

What else? 

Turns out, this little sketch is based on a painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts. The painter was Orazio Gentileschi. The name of the piece is Young Woman with a Violin (Sant Cecellia). It dates to 1612. It's a good copy for a quick sketch.

Pentimenti is the plural of pentimento. And pentimento describes what happens when an image that was painted over in a painting eventually becomes visible again. Usually, this happens because the paint that covered the original image has aged and become transparent.

That much I knew. What I didn't know, is that pentimento is actually an Italian word. It means "to repent," according to Wikipedia.

I wonder. Did Girard notice pentimenti in the Gentileschi painting?  Dunno. Anyone in Detroit know anything about this?

For the first hieroglyphic, below the image and above the 624-6176 phone number, I get Lloyd.

The second set of hieroglyphics, above the 465-4623 phone number, translates as Dik + David.

Have fun! And if you have questions - or want to share your answer - reach out! Leave a comment in the Comment box. 

Just don't expect an instant response. 



  1. That's an unique take on that painting. Went through the DIA a number of times with Bill, but I don't recall him ever saying anything about Gentileschi's "Saint Cecilia". And she being a saint I don't thing she would have much, if anything, to repent. Also I don't see much worry of retribution or guilt in Gentileschi's work or in Bill's sketch either. And finally, there's no background image in the painting that shows up, so I don't know how "pentimenti" or "repentance" relate to the work, even though it looks as if it is the title of the notebook sketch.

    Maybe there was a personal story we don't know about with David or Lloyd? I have no idea who they could be. My take is that the two words are unrelated to anything else on the page. Bill could have just jotted down both words one day and then added the sketch and names on another day - possibly.

  2. In the lower-left corner of the painting, a brown shape appears nestled between the red gown and gold drape that might be folded fabric. A quasi-transparent, gold-trimmed ribbon wraps around it. (I'm looking at an enlargement of the image from Wikipedia.) In his sketch, Girard circles the area in question in a way that brings more attention to the area than it accrues in the painting. In my opinion. So perhaps he was identifying what he considered to be an example of pentimento, for personal reasons. The fact that here, and elsewhere, Girard creates a hieroglyphic comment for which he subsequently provides a translation in English nearby or, as in this case, translates an Italian word into English via hieroglyphics, suggests to me that he was both enjoying the practice of writing in hieroglyphs and using a kinesthetic technique to enhance his own retention of the information thus recorded.


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