Blogs: Visual Arts

As a child, I spent a lot of time with animals. My family had dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, lizards, assorted tropical birds, and even a herd of 13 goats. Moose visited the yard once or twice a week, and when the snow was deep sometimes ermine (those little weaselly-looking white critters with the black-tipped tails) peeked in our windows. To while away the dark winter nights we would check out a film projector from the local library, tack a white sheet up on the wall of the log cabin, and watch films (on reels!) of wildebeests stampeding across Africa, bears fishing in Canada, warthogs wallowing in the mud… somewhere far warmer than where we were. To this day, I can’t resist checking out lavish books of animal photography, big expensive books that would be awkward to own but that are a treat to look at for a few weeks.

Across the Ravaged Land book jacketAcross the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt. is my favorite of these. When it arrived on hold, I was shocked by its size. Opening it revealed majestic and ominous black and white photos of elephants, lions, hyenas, and other African wildlife, created without a telephoto lens or digital camera. Apparently Brandt is gutsy enough to walk right up to a hyena to take its portrait. Especially striking are the eerie shots of animals whose every last feather and hoof have been preserved by the mineral waters of a natron lake, including a bat perched among thorns that looks like it belongs on the cover of some long lost apocalyptic folk album. But the heart of the book is with the elephants, so monumental and solemn - fittingly so, since some were killed by poachers not long after their portraits were taken. A beautiful but sometimes bleak book, well worth a look.

It may prove elusive to locate just exactly the imagery you are looking for on the Internet, or by searching for books in the library catalog. The Central Library Picture File Collection helps solve this problem. For many years (starting long before the Internet!), books beyond repair, outdated calendars, and discarded magazines were reviewed by librarians and organized by volunteers into massive file cabinets of pictures, all by subject. 

Multnomah County Library picture file collection sampleThe composite picture shown here is from the file of womens' fashion from 1950, just the single year 1950. Womens' fashion design is one of the most extensive sections, with a file for each year from 1900-2005. There are picture files for hundreds of topics from the arts, history, social sciences and natural sciences.

Pictures can be checked out just like books. To use this collection, ask for picture files at the Central Library Art and Music Reference Desk, on the third floor. You can check out up to 50 images selected from multiple folders.

The individual pictures are all protected by copyright laws of the US, since they are from printed books and magazines, published after 1922. As such, the goal of the collection is for helping people shape the ideas for their projects.

Felt Swan from the Hermitage MuseumThe felt swan shown here, on display in the Hermitage Museum, dates from the 4th-5th centuries BC.  An object made of felt and deer hair with the figure supported by wooden stakes, it was part of a burial mound in the Eastern ranges of the Altai region in Russia. This image is from the book Felt, by Willow G. Mullins, an account of the many uses of felt over spans of centuries to contemporary times. It is an example of a type of book in the library that can serve as good starting points for your imagination, beginning with raw materials.

When experimenting with various types of media and processes associated with them, another type of book that is useful to remember about are the books about art hazards. As many people know from studying art, it's easy to forge ahead and forget that some of the properties of materials may be less than benign for health.

 

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