Keri King: Collaborative Research, Collage, and Creativity

 

In conjunction with our annual Exhibition & Program Series, PPL offers a Creative Fellowship for a Rhode Island artist who creates new work incorporating imagery from or inspired by the library’s Special Collections. Our 2017 Creative Fellow, Keri King, is a fantastic Providence-based artist who creates collage and illustration-based work. Keri has been researching in Special Collections and in our historical magazine collections for several months; below is the first of two guest blog posts showcasing Keri’s creative process!

In my work, I like to blend drawing and collage. I incorporate a lot of source imagery from magazines, newspaper clippings, vintage posters, and such, into each piece. I enjoy how each cut-out element has its own history and adds to an overall narrative with tonal/ textural results.

Research is an essential part of my work flow! For most projects, my process is as follows:

  1. I sketch.
  2. I draft what I like to call my “grocery list” (figuring out what source images I need) & site “shopping centers” (where I can find those images).
  3. I research (I look, I tab, I get a little off track while exploring, I check things out from the library…)
  4. I play with a xerox machine.
  5. I collage.
  6. And I’m back to drawing, synthesizing the varied materials within a collage into one cohesive image.

My process is slightly different for the Creative Fellowship at the library, where I’m creating an 8 foot x 8 foot mural that will be displayed inside the Empire Street entrance to the library. I’ve proposed a collage illustration of a dinner party, with families from a handful of time periods in America coming around a table to eat.

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One distinction from my usual research process is that I can’t just pull things off the shelves in Special Collections. Instead, I use the library’s “human Google”: I tell Angela, the Curatorial Assistant, what I’m looking for, and she pulls books and magazines from the stacks for me, which I then look at in the Reading Room. (I got a tour of Special Collections at the beginning of my fellowship, so I have some idea of the frankly magical wealth of resources that are available to me.)

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The stuff that Angela finds is always much more than what I bargained for. She thinks of sources I wouldn’t ever have on my radar, and these unexpected shares lead to new, playful connections in my work. My process is energized by our collaborative research.

Since the summer, I’ve looked at all kinds of things, including:

-images of food and characters

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-images of locations that could provide a backdrop

Sunken gardens, Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I.

I’m leaning towards an alfresco backdrop, and I’ve been focusing on outdoor locations in Rhode Island.

-furniture

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One day I went picnic table shopping.

-advertising from old home magazines

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I’m fascinated with food advertising from the 1940s into the 1950s, much of which is not very appetizing. I particularly love this savory tomato aspic gelatin. I’m exploring the possibility of a savory aspic hostess.

Because Special Collections materials are often fragile, I can’t Xerox them, so I’ve been working with high-resolution scans and photographs. Right now I’m in my collage and drawing phase.

Keri’s mural will be unveiled on March 1st at the opening event for our 2017 Exhibition and Program Series. Stop by any time between then and June 30th to see the final results of Keri’s work. She’ll also be giving an artist’s talk at the library on April 30th–mark your calendars!

Bad Children of History #31: Audacious Andrew

Today’s tale, the unsubtly-titled “Don’t Blow Out the Gas,” comes from the June 1870 issue of The Nursery: A Monthly Magazine for Youngest Readers (Boston: John L. Shorey).

The first sentence lets the reader know right off the bat that this story is 100% likely to feature a bad child of history:

There was a little boy named Andrew, who thought that he knew better than older folks what ought to be done.

Classic!

Know-it-all Andrew was visiting his uncle in the city, whereupon his uncle’s maid instructed Andrew to extinguish the gas flame “in a way that she explained” upon retiring, rather than blowing out the flame. You get one guess what Andrew did the moment that she left the room.

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The room filled with terrible fumes, and Andrew’s uncle rushed in at the last possible moment to turn down the gas and scold his nephew. You’ll be relieved to learn that Andrew learned his lesson well, in the course of less than a page and a half:

Andrew was much mortified, and felt that he did not know as much as he thought he did. He is now willing to learn from others; and in this way he does not blunder as he once did. He will never blow out the gas again.

Postscript: can we make a collective New Year’s resolution to start using the phrase “much mortified” as often as possible in 2017?

Magician of the Week #47: O’Justinaini

This week we’re happy to feature the first Spanish-speaking magician that we’ve found among the pages of our Percival Collection: O’Justinaini, who performed in the American southwest in the early 1920s.

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This sensational illustrated border graces the cover of numerous 1920-1921 issues of The Magical Bulletin, complete with stretching owl, spooky eyes, snakes whispering into a skull’s ears external acoustic meatus, and doves in a column of art deco smoke.

As for the improbably-named O’Justinaini, his performances were in great demand in Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California. The Magical Bulletin continues: “a polished gentleman, and a gifted performer, his show consists of high class magic, illusions, and the ever popular crystal gazing and mind reading mysteries, in the performance of which he is ably assisted by his brother, who is also a most talented artist.”

Bad Children of History #30: Once More, With Feeling

It’s true: we’ve discovered yet another version of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter, this one in Polish, hiding in our Edith Wetmore Collection of Children’s Books.

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Złota różdżka was published in Warsaw around 1933; it contains a translation of Hoffmann’s original text, with illustrations by Bohdan Bartłomiej Nowakowski, a prolific Polish illustrator and cartoonist.

Nowakowski’s children are quite impressively, gruesomely bad. Look at the determined scowl on this little stomper!

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This book contains all your Struwwelpeter favorites, like the fast-withering Augustus Who Wouldn’t Eat Any Soup (below left) and the tragic Pauline Who Played With Matches and her oddly flame-resistant shoes (below right).

The last page of Złota różdżka features a highly seasonally-appropriate illustration of the respective wintery fates of good and bad children everywhere. May we suggest sharing it with the bad children in your life?

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Magician of the Week #46: He’s Jolly!

Today’s featured magician is a true classic, both entertaining and mystifying. He wears a heavy cape and a hat, never appearing in public without them; he appears without warning, generally in the dark of night; he defies gravity and other earthly limitations; he charms large animals, who heed his command; and in the manner of enigmatic magicians and stylish wizards everywhere, he wears his beard long.

 

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Ah, yes! Ho, ho, ho. I especially like the trick above where he seems to have made five tiny macarons appear inside a gift box. Thanks, magic Santa!

“A Stamped Whale or a Stove Boat: On Whalers’ Stamped Logs and Journals”

(This is a guest post by Mark Kelley, a researcher from the University of California, San Diego, who has been working with our Nicholson Whaling Collection in the past weeks. Follow him on Twitter @MarkBKelley. Thanks, Mark!)

“My stamps are poor and they look more like straddlebugs than porpoises.”

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So notes Henry DeForrest, second mate during an 1852-1853 voyage from Massachusetts to the Atlantic and Pacific whaling grounds. During this fourteen-month journey aboard the William Rotch, DeForrest faithfully recounts his home on the water in daily journal entries. “It is written from the impulse of the moment,” he affirms eight months into his voyage, “just as I feel at the time of writing, so goes down.” Like many whalers and sailors, DeForrest augments this power of description with stamped pictures of the creatures whose lives (and deaths) ordered his daily life. Sailors created these stamps by cutting bone, ivory, or wood into the shape of whales or other marine animals. These stamps aided bookkeeping and also added interest to logbooks or journals that recount thousands of whaling and merchant voyages throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much like scrimshaw (the carved and colored whalebone, ivory or shells that may also be found in the library’s collection) stamps are the product of maritime artistry as well as a deep engagement with marine materials.

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Though DeForrest laments the quality of his porpoise stamps by comparing them to long-legged insects, he apparently had access to more materials than most. His journal’s back page reveals a wealth of figures that included sperm whales, dolphins, porpoises, and even ships. One sees evidence of this variety throughout his journal. DeForrest’s personal stamps may be lost to history (though maybe not!), but the library’s Nicholson Whaling Collection contains dozens of authentic stamps that match his description, in addition to hundreds of authentic logs and journals.

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For example, this ivory stamp is in the form of a whale’s tail, or fluke. DeForrest used a similar stamp when the crew attacked but failed to catch a whale. The grooved and detailed handle shows that whoever crafted this artifact had some skill. The ink-soaked head also shows that the stamp got some good use. Artic bowhead whales may live to be over 200 years old, so some of the lucky escaped animals represented by this stamp could still be alive today!

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In an equally poetic and dark twist, the bones of a captured whale could be refashioned as a stamp used to represent the death of another whale! The whales that DeForrest captured could also have been be noted using a wooden stamp much like the one above. This artifact lacks the detailed handle of the ivory example, but the careful carving of the whale’s features is impressive nonetheless. The portrayal of a smiling whale is certainly the result of artistic liberty, as sailors like DeForrest knew them to be ferocious creatures who could just as easily kill as be killed. As Herman Melville affirms in Moby Dick (1851), “A dead whale or a stove boat!” Or, one could say, “a stamped whale or a stove boat!”

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A whaling ship’s thirty or so sailors relied on one another to stay afloat, but also welcomed the opportunity to see new faces. Ships that met at sea exchanged letters, news, or books. According to DeForrest, “The usual practice among whale ships is when they speak each other, to have a Gamm as it is called__I.E. visit each other.” DeForrest always mentioned the ships he had a “gamm” with, and often marked the event with a stamp much the one above. If whale stamps represented a time of hard labor, a ship’s stamp could mark a time of relative leisure. “Many of these Gamms end in a drunken spree,” DeForrest quips, “_ and many do not.”

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If you have the chance, stop by the Special Collections Department for a “gamm” and hold whaling history in your hands!

Scientific Methods: Appleton and The Young Chemist

We wanted to share some excellent scientific illustrations from a recently-cataloged, 1897 edition of John Howard Appleton’s The young chemist: a book of laboratory work for beginners. 

Appleton, born in Maine in 1844, was a chemistry professor at Brown University, as well as the Rhode Island State Sealer of Weights and Measures. (What a fantastic title, right?) He wrote twelve chemistry texts, including The young chemist, which was first published in 1878.

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The Year-Book of Education for 1879 describes The young chemist thusly:

The Young Chemist is a manual of instruction in chemistry on the experimental or object method, of which the characteristic advantages as regarded by the author are: the apparatus described and the supplies called for are of the simplest character; the experiments are described in clear and simple language, and in direct form; dangerous experiments are excluded; the chemical elements are discussed in a scientific order; formulas and reactions are introduced freely, so that the student learns the new nomenclature and the new notation without suspecting it.

This description fails to mention the detailed illustrations, which really have everything one could want in terms of chemistry-themed visuals:

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Test tubes! Open flames!

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A guy blowing bubbles in a beaker!

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Quartz (SiO2) crystals, which looks to be straight out of the Cueva de los Cristales!

If this blog post is causing you to have an insatiable urge to carry out simple science experiments, you should check out NPR’s article on experiments using leftover Halloween candy. Just make sure to keep Appleton’s hints in mind.

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