Impeccable Science: Habits of Expression, Arm Joints and Atheists

Today’s long-overdue impeccable science is drawn from a pleasantly-sized 1832 volume entitled The Youth’s Book on Natural Theology; Illustrated in Familiar Dialogues, With Numerous Engravings. 

For those who don’t know, natural theology argues for God’s existence based on observations of nature, so, while not a purely “scientific” tome by contemporary definitions, this book does contain highly-detailed descriptions of entomology, human anatomy, animal behavior, electricity, and air pressure, all of which the author relates to intelligent design.

The chapter descriptions are truly brilliant litanies. My favorites are “Radius. Ulna. Button-head. Joint-oil. Gristle. Ligament. Wisdom and goodness of God.” and (not pictured here) “Mouth of animals; particular design in forming them. Wood-pecker. Cross-bill. Bills of ducks and geese. Oyster-catcher. Choetodon. Chance. Atheism.”

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I will give an extremely special prize as well as certain micro-celebrity to any blog reader who can provide documentation of herself reciting these enumerations at a poetry reading.

As for the impeccable science that I’ve promised you: after a lengthy description of the nerves of the face and the ways that nerves control muscles, author Rev. T. H. Gallaudet proceeds to explain facial expressions, which “seem to be the very coming out of the soul.”

You, like me, may be thinking, “but I want my soul to stay in, where it belongs,” but that’s not what Rev. T. H. Gallaudet wants to talk about! No, he wants us to understand how uniquely human are facial expressions:

Many animals, you know, have no such expressions of face at all; and none of them have any thing like the different kinds,–the beauty, the strength, and the meaning, which the expressions of the human face have… a dog expresses a very few things by his face. A man can express,–oh! how many different kinds of thoughts, and feelings, in his countenance.

To which I say:

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Gallaudet has proof, though! Just look at these lifelike engravings of a woman with soulful eyes and a disenchanted pup with Farrah Fawcett hair:

Why, you may ask, does that dog look so vacuous? In part, explains Gallaudet, it’s because animals don’t have souls, which I’m not prepared to debate here. In other part, it’s because:

Some [beasts] have some muscles and nerves, in their faces, like ours; but none of them as many; and most of them have very few, indeed… They do not think and feel, as we do… even, if they had a soul like ours, it could not show itself, its thoughts and its feelings, on their faces, as our souls do; because they have not the muscles and nerves, that are necessary to give all kinds of expressions to the face.

Hmmm. We may have to agree to disagree here, sir.

What about human facial expressions, though? What do those do, besides proving that we have souls?

Well, they can show our habits of expression, which I think is an old-fashioned way of saying that if you make a funny face for too long, you’ll get stuck that way. For instance, look at this disheveled man who apparently strikes strange children in the street. He’s been angry for so long that “he can hardly look pleasant, if he tries”:

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And here’s the same man after brushing his hair and putting on a less-floppy collar:

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Just kidding! That’s a different man. That’s Uncle John, who’s full of kind and benevolent feelings. That’s why his eyebrows look so neat.

On a completely different note, I would be loathe to sign off without showing you this engraving–demonstrating the difference between instinct and behavior–of a woman frightening off a tiger with her parasol. It’s science! Impeccably!

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Magician of the Week #48: Rabbits!

This week’s featured magician isn’t technically a magician, but rather a magician’s most classic, well-loved, time-honored sidekick: the rabbit.

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There’s a bit of debate about the first magician to pull a rabbit from a hat–some say it was Louis Comte, in 1814, while others claim it was John Henry Anderson, “The Great Wizard of the North”. Either way, rabbits in hats have become synonymous with stage magic, as evidenced by the expressively-eyebrowed fellow above.

Today’s featured rabbits span decades, but all are taken from various covers of Ireland’s Magic Company Yearbook. We made a rabbit-y collage to showcase some of these soft sidekicks!

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You can find issues of Ireland’s Magic Company Yearbook, along with innumerable other rabbit illustrations, in our John H. Percival Collection on Magic.

The Best 1869 Fashion Trends to Try This Spring

As the weather’s warming up, you may be considering a refresh to your spring and summer wardrobe. Luckily, we have an 1869 issue of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine to help you find the season’s most stunning looks.

First and foremost, of course, one must consider the proper bonnets: billowy, floral, and decidedly dainty.

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Once one’s coiffure is properly obscured, it’s time to shop for the essentials–layered silhouettes, miles of ruffles, and all the best trends to try this spring!

Embrace the season in this breezy day-to-night look, which includes ample tassels and a wee parasol to help you keep your cool street-side.

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If you’re ready to trade in your sarong and get creative with this season’s swimwear, our magazine has some beach-ready looks for you:

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For those who prefer strolling to swimming, we have an airy ensemble that also sounds like a spooky plumbing malfunction:

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If you’re searching for hot summer looks for the whole family, may we suggest these voluminous ensembles for your young lady’s puppet-watching needs?

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This smart and wearable ensemble is perfect for feeling giddy near swans:

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We hope these bold styles and versatile classics will help inspire your new look!

Spring in Special Collections

It’s finally been feeling like spring in Rhode Island this week, which has everyone feverishly thinking about crocuses and tulips, budding trees, mud puddles, and every other seasonal motif one can list.

For instance, we’ve been dreaming about soft, fuzzy chicks…

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Novellus Libellus institutionum pro tyronibus. Cologne: Thomas Odendall, 1742.

And loveable, huggable bunnies.

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Conference program, New England Convention of Magicians. Boston: NECM, 1947.

Phew! Yikes! Happy spring!

Keri King Studio Visit

Amidst sequential snow storms, unseasonably warm weather, and a wild scramble to install the library’s big annual exhibit, we ventured into the wilds of Providence for a studio visit with our 2017 Creative Fellow Keri King.

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Here you can see Keri seated at her wooden drafting table (it’s a family heirloom!).

You can read our previous blog post about Keri’s research process here. During this visit, she described her collage process, and the new methods she’s trying during her fellowship:

This Creative Fellowship is driving me to explore color and new collage techniques. I’m experimenting with a combination of analogue and digital processes to create my illustrative collage. I’m adjusting imagery [from high-resolution scans of library materials] in Photoshop so that each collage element prints at the desired size, before I physically cut it out… Typically, I work in black and white; I generate collage materials by photocopying source documents – I can get the size I need through repeated photocopying using semi-rational fraction-based math. Afterwards, I edit with whiteout, sharpie, and black ink … This go round I’m manipulating my color palette in Photoshop and I’m popping details in the hard copy with paint. It’s yielding a lot of juicy surprises!

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Once images are cut out, Keri arranges them on a surface using white artist’s tape, which is repositionable, so she can try various layouts. An awesome collage tip from this pro: “I use Sharpie on the cut edge of the paper to avoid flares of white in the finished product. After doing this for a while, I found out that Terry Gilliam used to do this in his cut-out animations for Monty Python!”

Keri’s finished product–an 8 foot x 8 foot, full-color mural, enlarged from the collage she’s working on in these photos–will be on view at the March 1st On the Table launch party. Join us that evening for live music, a food art installation, and the unveiling of our 2017 exhibition!

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?