Art//Archives: An Avian Extravaganza

Today’s visual research open hours (Tuesdays, 10:00 – 1:00) offer you an avian extravaganza, an ornithological assemblage, a great number of illustrated birds!

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This lovely, bespectacled fellow hails from E. Donovan’s 1794 The Natural History of British Birds; Or, a Selection of the Most Rare, Beautiful, and Interesting Birds Which Inhabit This Country: The Descriptions from the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus; With General Observations, Either Original, or Collected From the Latest and Most Esteemed English Ornithologists; and Embellished with Figures, Drawn, Engraved, and Coloured from the Original Specimens. (Say that five times fast!)

Today’s visitors also can page through this book on “cage and chamber-birds”. It includes information on “their natural history, habits, food, diseases, management, and modes of capture”. (A researcher yesterday deemed this book “kind of awesome and kind of a bummer,” which I find to be entirely accurate.)

Studer’s Popular Ornithology, published in 1881, has beautiful, large-scale, color illustrations of birds, as well as a spectacular title page. (Does the “A” in the word “America” look vaguely masonic to anyone else?)

Stop by to spend some time with these books today, or contact us to make an appointment with these feathered friends.

Bad Children of History #22: Holiday Hellions

Today’s terrible young folks are taken from Randolph Caldecott’s Gleanings from the “Graphic” (London: Routledge, 1889). (Yes, this is the Caldecott of the annual Caldecott Medal; he was an influential 19th century children’s book illustrator, and also illustrated novels and magazines and made “humorous drawings”.)

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The illustration above comes from a series called Christmas Visitors. The “old folks” are playing cards in a previous drawing, while these “young folks” are taking part in a jumble of juvenile antics: aggressively kissing a lass’s cheek beneath the mistletoe, crying and/or somersaulting backwards, pushing a blindfolded old man in knee socks, crab-walking away from the blindfolded old man in knee socks, and tickling the back of the knee of the old man in knee socks.

Nothing–and I mean nothing–says Christmas like a blindfolded old man in knee socks.

 

Bad Children of History #21: Squirrely Charlie

Today’s Bad Child of History comes from Maria H. Bulfinch’s 1867 volume Frank Stirling’s Choice. His name is Charlie, and while it’s not 100% clear what he’s doing in this illustration, it obviously isn’t something a responsible adult would condone.

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Is Charlie climbing the furniture while wielding a Vienna sausage on a chopstick? Is his upright posture defying the laws of physics? Why is he gesturing at that rustic, twiggy cross? What does Frank think of this whole endeavor?

Frank Stirling’s Choice also contains one of the best footnotes I’ve seen in 2016:

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Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, folks.

Art//Archives Sneak Peek: As Days Go By

We’ve recently pulled a selection of calendars and almanacs as source material for a top-secret* creative collaboration.

*It’s not actually that secret, but “as-yet unpublicized” doesn’t sound quite as thrilling.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) from 10-1, during our weekly Art//Archives visual research open hours, we’ll have these books on display for your reference and enjoyment.

The most visually stimulating of the bunch is undoubtedly the 1866 The Life of Man, Symbolised by the Months of the Year in a Series of Illustrations by John Leighton, F.S.A. and Pourtrayed in Their Seasons and Phases, with Passages Selected from Ancient and Modern Authors by Richard Pigot.

The oversized book has an illustration for each month of the year:

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I’m a real sucker for the wings of time-themed frame. Also, look at that emaciated wolf-like animal and the “tender offspring” who is completely lacking seasonally-appropriate attire, presumably as he was just “rescued from the snow”.

Each month’s facing page shows the corresponding age of man:

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These are followed by a selection of seasonally-appropriate quotes and poems set in a variety of type faces:

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Here’s a particularly good wintry poem:

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The January chapter ends with this impressive seasonal crest of sorts:

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Stop by tomorrow if you’d like to see what typographic and artistic delights the other 11 months hold!

Bad Children of History #19: Troublesome Tom

The protagonist of today’s featured book was practically made to be a bad child of history. Yes, I’m talking about Troublesome Tom, the resident scamp in The Mischievous Boy; a Tale of Tricks and Troubles (New Haven: S. Babcock, 1844).

The book opens with a fantastic letter to the reader from author Thomas Teller (a pseudonym for George Tuttle), who wrote an entire series of “amusing instructive and entertaining tales” called Teller’s Tales:

My dear little friends: This tale of a “Mischievous Boy” was written to show you the trouble which you may occasion yourselves and friends by indulging in acts of disobedience and mischief. You all know that what is often called FUN, sometimes turns out to be a bad scrape; perhaps some of you have learned this by experience. Now, whenever any of you are tempted to seek amusement in any thing which you are not sure is wholly innocent, turn from it at once, however great the temptation may be, and my word for it, you will enjoy more real pleasure than if you suffer yourselves to be enticed into any wrong doing.

The book then proceeds to relate a very, very extensive series of “bad scrapes” on the part of Troublesome Tom, including but not limited to: busting into a neighbor’s garden and accidentally letting in a sow and piglets who trample the flowers, bringing the genteel Miss Betsy near a beehive and then shaking the hive and running away, giving bad directions to a woman driving a cow, throwing a “large wooden peg” at a barking dog, and fishing in a forbidden location “nearby a resort for a gang of smugglers”.

Below is an engraving showing Tom with the rogue swine, right before he starts hitting them with a stick in an attempt to drive them out of the neighbor’s garden:

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Here’s a truly classic bad-kid move (and one that I vividly remember my older neighbors pulling on me many decades ago):

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Tom determined to have what he called a little fun, by putting the boy in the saddle, and then rocking the horse furiously, while he laughed at the fears of poor John, and cried out, “whoop! whoop! gallop! gallop! gee! whoa!” The little boy in vain cried, “Oh stop! Oh stop! pray stop!”– but Tom did not choose to hear him, nor to stop his fun; he kept on rocking still more furiously, and the wooden horse was at length thrown forward with such violence, that  little John pitched over its head, and striking his face upon the hard ground, was most cruelly bruised.

You may wonder why Tom himself is nowhere to be seen in the above engraving– it’s because he proceeds to pull the most classic bad kid move, by running away from the scene of the crime, only to return at dinner time to report that “he had left the hall just before John had fallen”.

Mmhmm.

So far these escapades have been highly entertaining, but not entirely instructive. Is Tom going to learn his lesson? (Hint: of course!)

Yes, Tom is, in quick succession, scolded by Short Sam’s father, chased by a pack of boys whose sport he had spoiled, and whisked downstream on a stolen escape boat that quickly approaches the sea. After a daring landing on a far-away river bank, Tom attempts to walk home through the rapidly darkening forest, where he has his bad child moment of reckoning.

“Weeping piteously”, he hears a rumbling and rustling sound that he fears is a bear. He runs about madly, slipping on loose stones, “stumbling over sand-heaps”, and losing the trail entirely. Caught in a terrible storm as midnight approaches,

then came the wish that he was a better boy, that God would give him a new heart, and make him his own child; and the poor boy wept and sobbed bitterly, for he was now fully conscious of what a bad boy he had been… he knelt down on the wet ground and prayed for safety and relief.

His prayers answered in due time, Tom falls asleep on a pile of hay in a tool shed, where he is discovered by his fretful father the next morning. Relieved, Tom’s father carries the reformed scamp home to his family’s loving embrace.

Acting Black: Exhibition, Opening, and Press

Our newest exhibition, “Acting Black: Black Performing Arts in RI since the 1700s”, guest curated by Robb Dimmick, explores the roles played by Black musicians, actors and actresses, models, writers, storytellers, poets, and dancers.

This past weekend the Providence Journal published an article about the exhibit, including a series of beautiful photos.

An opening reception will be held at the library tonight, October 19th, 2015, from 5 – 6:30 p.m. Please join us if you are in the area!

Magician of the Week #38: T. Nelson Downs, the Mystic Wonder

This week’s star magician is T. Nelson Downs, who was both a Mystic Wonder and a Celebrated Prestidigitateur.

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The image above is an advertisement from the back pages of Will Goldston’s Secrets of Magic (London: A. W. Gamage, 1903).

Downs was a highly successful self-taught magician, performing in well-known venues across the United States and Europe and prestidigitating (is that a verb?) for royalty. Because of his many well-known and elaborate coin tricks–illustrated by the spooky disembodied hands above–he was known as “The King of Koins”, an epithet that is engraved on his tombstone.

Also, and this seems too good to be true: T. Nelson Downs had two wives over the course of his 71 years, one named Nellie Stone and one named Harriett Rocky.

The internet archive has a digitized version of Downs’s The Art of Magicand Brown University’s Library houses the T. Nelson Downs Collection, which includes correspondence, documentation of tricks, photos, programs, and advertisements.