Blogs: Visual Arts

Wild Beauty Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge 1867-1957 bookcover imageCompiled and written by Terry Toedtemeier and John Laursen, Wild Beauty is a collection of historic and contemporary photographs of the Columbia Gorge, the first publication of the Northwest Photography Archive, that Toedtemeier and Laursen founded to publish books of Pacific Northwest photography. The authors selected images from the Oregon Historical Society and private collections, many previously unpublished, that were skillfully reproduced in digital formats to match the originals. "Working with Oregon State University Press, they chose to make the Columbia River Gorge the focus of their inaugural volume, in support of which they received the state's first award under the American Masterpieces Initiative from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Oregon Arts Commission." A copy of this book was given to each public library in Oregon and Washington, through support by Jim Scheppke, of the Oregon State Library, and corporate funding.

"In Wild Beauty Terry Toedtemeier and John Laursen provide an affectionate and enlightening study of photography in earlier times in the Columbia River Gorge. This book is a first-class pleasure, both for its wonderful pictures and for the authors’ clear and compelling writing about the photographs’ geographical and historical context. It is an achievement that gives hope to all who want art to engage the world." - Robert Adams, photographer. Review source: Northwest Photography Archive.

Link: Northwest Photography Archive

Storms by Mich Dobrowner bookcoverThe cover image of the book Storms is titled "Wall Cloud," one of many photographs in this book for which the land is an minimal part of the image as compared to the sky. Published by the Aperture Foundation, this is the first book by Mitch Dobrowner, the result of his travels following storms in the Midwest with Roger Hill, storm chaser. The full page images, introduction by Gretel Ehrlich, and interview with the photographer creates a book that  allows for contemplation of the form and power of these events abstracted from the sound and destructive power they contain.

The choice of black/white/greyscale captures the motion of swirling clouds, lightning and hail on landscapes that appear still, as yet unaffected by oncoming velocity of wind. "On a drive we took from Colorado to Kansas in 2010 - more than a hundred miles through cornfield after cornfield, nothing but corn - we found the storm, and I photographed it. On the drive back to Colorado, returning by the same road, we saw that all the corn was  gone. Instead, there remained only bare stalks standing there, for, maybe, a hundred miles."  from interview with the author at the conclusion of Storms.

Info: Storms Dobrowner, Mitch. New York, NY : Aperture Foundation Inc. 2013.
Central Library: 770 D634s 2013


Place a hold on this title to reserve it and send to your closest neighborhood library.

Links: Mitch Dobrowner | Aperture Foundation

 

Image Caption: Life cycle illustration from Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium. Amsterdam :Voor den auteur, als ook by G. Valck,[1705]. from the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s image collection on Flickr. The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible online the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections.

Quite possibility one of the most recognized names in natural history art is John James Audubon (1785-1851), considered one of the greatest bird artists, namesake of the Audubon Society and famous for his double elephant-folio volumes of the Birds of America. Audubon hunted his subjects and used these freshly killed birds in life-like poses for drawing.  Conservation of nature was not much of a consideration at this time and Audubon might shoot many birds before he found what he considered the perfect representation of the species. Audubon’s life work and act of Creation was also an act of destruction, an unrealized possibility of extinction.

In my youth I often went camping in MacKerricher State Park, on the Northern California coast.  I kept a journal to record aspects of small plants and animals I found along the beach and in the nearby woods.  Each entry was focused on a detailed penciled drawing of the creature.  Little did my young mind know this was a child’s play of natural history illustration. Our species’ interest and fascination in drawing the natural world around us goes back into prehistory long before Audubon when people first drew charcoaled animals on cave walls.  

This was a life’s work held by some women long before it was acceptable for them to be scientists and naturalists, women like Maria Sibylla Merian who in 1699 traveled from Amsterdam to South America to study metamorphosis and is known for her beautifully accurate drawings of the life cycles of butterflies.  This exceptional naturalist’s story is brought to life in Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis.  It was a profession held by women like Genevieve Jones who went out into the field with her father an amateur ornithologist to find bird nests and eggs to collect, identify, and draw. She noted that Audubon had not included eggs or nests in his drawings in any detail.  Jones’ life work and posthumously her family’s became the  Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio (1879). Virginia, Genevieve Jones’ mother stated that the family finished the drawings and created the book in memory of their daughter. “She had just begun the work when she died. So for her sake I made it as perfect as possible.” The story of the book’s creation and the Jones family’s colorful illustrations are on display in America’s Other Audubon by Joy Kiser.

Natural history illustration is a practice which was not quashed by the advent of the camera; neither captured light on film nor the instantaneousness and abundance of today’s digital images can completely achieve what can be expressed with the process and art of natural history illustration. Unlike a digital image which captures perfectly one particular individual at one particular moment in time, a drawing or painting of a heron or a moth can be the perfect hypothetical representation of its species.

Art and science converge in natural history illustration.  Katrina van Grouw aptly demonstrates this convergence in The Unfeathered Bird, a richly illustrated book showing birds painstakingly drawn without their feathers. This recent (2013) book combines “the visual beauty and attention to detail of the best historical illustrations with an up-to-date knowledge of field ornithology.”  It is is a book that shows how the birds’ outward “appearance, posture, and behavior influence, and are influenced by, their internal structure.”  The Unfeathered Bird bridges art, science, and history and is an unique offering in the continued practice of natural history illustration.  

For more comprehensive collections of natural history art check out the oversized Cabinet of Natural Curiosities which illustrates Albertus Seba 's unusual collection of natural specimens from the 18th century, dig into David Attenborough’s Amazing Rare Things for a history of natural history illustration in the age of discovery, or browse through an overview of three centuries of natural history art from around the world in Art & Nature by Judith Magee.  Anyone interested in the beauty of the natural world will be drawn to the interlocking fields of art and science that natural history illustration creates.


Image: Life cycle illustration from Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium
Amsterdam :Voor den auteur, als ook by G. Valck,[1705]. from the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s image collection on Flickr. The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible online the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections.

Throughout downtown Portland outdoor public artworks enliven the spaces we walk through. The Regional Arts and Culture Council, a sponsor of Portland’s public art collection, has published a guide to artworks along the Transit Mall, available in the downtown Trimet Ticket Office in Pioneer Square. If you are interested in learning more, Central Library's collections of books, exhibition catalogs, and online sources, such as the Oregonian, offer more in-depth background information and stories about these works and the artists who created them.

"Ring of Time" Bronze sculpture by Hilda Morris Standard Plaza at 1100 SW Sixth Avenue Portland OR photo: Beverly StaffordFor example, “Ring of Time" is a monumental sculpture along the Transit Mall, at the entry to the Standard Plaza building, 1100 SW Sixth Avenue.

The Central Library book Hilda Morris, published by the Portland Art Museum, includes full page color plates of many of her sketches and completed works, with biographical commentary and essays by Bruce Guenther, Susan Fillin-Yeh and David C. Morris.

Quote: “Introduced to the mathematical figure of the continuous one-sided surface of a Möbius strip by her son David, as she was developing the various maquettes for the project, Morris recognized a perfect way to animate the sculpture while creating a work of great visual stability and weight.” p. 24 from the book Hilda Morris - by Bruce Guenther, Portland Art Museum, c. 2006

 

According to the AARP Foundation, across the United States almost 5.8 million children are living in grandparents’ homes, with more than 2.5 million grandparents assuming responsibility for these children. Grandparents are often isolated in their endeavors; they report a lack of information, resources, and benefits to successfully fulfill their caregiver role. Armed with these statistics and anecdotal evidence from community members, I gathered a team of staff members to figure out a way the library could celebrate these grand families. The team agreed on a simple mission statement to direct our efforts: it is through the infinite wisdom and experience of their elders that children learn the unique cultural and familial values that help them grow into valuable contributors of the community. After meeting with different agencies and groups across the County, we saw a unique need the library could fulfill--a space where grandparents could share their stories. Our goal was a series of programs that would highlight a variety of methods of storytelling. Grandparents, Grand Stories was born. 

 

We began with storytelling through film. In partnership with MetroEast Community Media, Midland and North Portland libraries hosted media camps for teens and their grandparents. Our internal tag line for the media camp was simple and spoke to the team’s main objective: “You are a Storyteller, Come Share Your Story.” We wanted grand families to feel empowered to share their voice with the community. Each participant also had the added bonus of learning great technology skills. Jennifer Dynes, Education Director at MetroEast Community Media, reflected on the experience:

As a filmmaker, I learned so much by working with the families of the Grandparents, Grand Stories media camp. Sure, there were the usual lights, camera and action. Of course each participant learned about lighting and audio and interview technique. But when I look back on this camp, I recall a summer filled with more than basic filmmaking workshops. I recall a summer filled with laughter, stories, new friends and revelations about the experiences that make us who we are. In meeting these families and hearing the stories each person told, I glimpsed the connections that we all have with each other.  Families are the fabric that holds us together, and grandparents are often the weavers of this fabric. I am humbled  by the commitment and deep love that I saw each grandparent display to their grandchildren, both in action and in words. I hope that I can carry this lesson to my own family and one day live up to their example.  And I am proud to help bring these stories to you.  

The other forms of storytelling the team chose to focus on were storytelling through music, dance, spoken word, and written word.  Throughout the month of September look for other Grandparents, Grand Stories  programs at a location near you.

AARP fact sheet

See more videos from participants
 

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.

 

The books in the Library about the art of Maori people and other groups from the islands of the South Pacific provides us with  "a sense of awe, the admiration for arts that are both beautiful and profound, with a history that commands our respect both for what we can know of it and what we cannot." - Arts of the Pacific Islands by Anne D'Alleva. This summer, the Library added a new book published in 2012, titled Art in Oceania: A New History, that spans art of the Pacific Islanders from the remnants of thousands of years ago to contemporary artists of this decade. Chapters describe by centuries the impact of political and social changes upon art of these islands, with effects of trade, war, and globalization of culture.

Many of the sculpture and other objects of wood, stone, and textiles historically were created for ceremonial uses, with elements of design and representation of human form that far exceed the merely practical. The wood carving shown here on the cover dates from 1896, by Tene Waitere, a master woodcarver and teacher, who during his lifetime created many commissioned works such as this panel. It is an example of the powerful sculpture and other forms of art in this book, interspersed with photographs, poetry, and stories from master craftsmen, artists, tribal leaders, travellers, and historians.

View an excerpt from this book from the publisher, Oxford University Press.

Looking for more books about the art of this region of the world? There is a good selection at Central Library. Find them collectively in the Library catalog with a search by subject heading: Art- Oceania.

This new book accompanies a recent exhibition of works by Chinese-American artist Hung Liu at the Oakland Museum of California.  Hung Liu and the Rene de Guzman, Curator of Art at the Oakland Museum, have created a set of interviews on YouTube, so that not only can you read the artist's quotes in the book, but listen to her voice as she describes her approaches to paintings and other works. It's an interesting way to experience a book, to hear the voice of the artist along with her paintings, that portray people in China from the time of the Cultural Revolution forward to the present. Often in a political context, the paintings and mixed media works use photographs, some faded, to "make history and memory materialize in the present." - p. 82 Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu.

Authors: Liu, Hung, 1948-
Title: Summoning ghosts : the art of Hung Liu
Publisher: Berkeley : University Of California Press, 2013
Notes: Catalog of the exhibition Summoning Ghosts: the Art of Hung Liu, organized by René de Guzman on behalf of the Oakland Museum of California and presented March 16-June 30, 2013

Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons The author of this biography, Thomas Nast The Father of Modern Political CartoonsFiona Deans Halloran, has written a fascinating book about the complex and controversial work of Thomas Nast, whose cartoons portrayed the political and social events of 19th century America. "Nast’s work marked an important transformation of political cartooning. Before the Civil War, cartoonists’ work relied on dialogue rather than imagery. To Nast, the picture became the message: text commonly was relegated to a caption or appeared in the picture as a broadside. Many historians call him the father of modern American political cartooning. His work remains in the first rank of that genre, expressive and passionate." -from: Simpson, Brooks D. "Thomas Nast." American National Biography (2010):  Biography Reference Center.

An interesting sidenote in the American National Biography is that there is no complete collection in a library or archive of the papers of Thomas Nast other than three volumes of "scrapbooks" of his cartoons in the New York Public Library. The most complete record is in the periodicals that originally published his cartoons.

Infinite Jest; Caricature and Satire From Leonardo to Levine
Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to LevineThe drawing for this bookcover is part of a series titled Collection of Grimaces, lithographs from 1823-1828 by the french painter Louis-Leopold Boilly, who began the set with exaggerations and contortions of his own face. Infinite Jest is the catalog of an exhibition last year from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring works of the Museum's collections from 1590 to the present.  The book explores the varieties of intent of these images: as simple caricatures and forms, as visual satire, and as weapons to mock the political and social power of celebrities and political leaders. The website for the exhibition features an interesting short introduction about the history and artists whose works are included in the catalog.

For more on caricatures and political cartoons in art,  take a look at the booklist sampler of titles from Central Library. You can place holds for delivery to your closest neighborhood branch. 

If you look through the Library catalog for books about chairs, Bookcover: The Chair: Rethinking Body, Culture, and Designyou will find a whole array of titles about the history and design of chairs for interiors. However, this book has a different focus; it is more of a sociological tour through the chair as familiar object and how it affects us on an everyday basis. As compared to the Library's other books about chairs, this book is mostly text, with few images. The small black and white images are in a resolution that only allows them to be used for basic identification of styles, nothing more. The text, however, is entertaining, generally humorous and conversational, with advice about why chairs can be uncomfortable and how the ergonomics could be improved.

Quote: "Without a doubt, their effects are profound. What is true of the chair is true of all the artifacts we create. We design them; but once built, they shape us. As sitting in chairs spread to the common person over the centuries, it left its mark on the human body and human consciousness. The chair offers a glimpse into our collective ideas about status and honor, comfort and order, beauty and efficiency, discipline and relaxation. As our ideas change, so do our chairs." - from the introduction to The Chair, by Galen Cranz.

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