Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Imagination; or, the herp is in the eye of the beholder

September 29th, 2014

When it comes to creating an exhibition of illustrated books with a biological theme, a fabulous sea monster can be almost anything in the eye of the creator, and by power of suggestion, in the eye of the beholder. Some historians of biology have suggested that the basis-in-fact for the Scandinavian sea monster, Bishop Pontoppidan’s kraaken in this case, was a whale, so the image was used in a past show of whaling books in the Spencer Library. But Moby Dick‘s author, Herman Melville, as well as marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, thought it more likely that the real basis for the legends was the giant squid. For purposes of this post, it’s a sea serpent, but we intend to keep it in mind for our up-and-coming Squid Exhibit.

Erik Pontoppidan (1698-1764). The natural history of Norway. London: 1755. (Ellis Aves E333)

Image from Erik Pontoppidan (1698-1764). The natural history of Norway. London: 1755.
Call number Ellis Aves E333, Special Collections.

The Danish original of this natural history was published in Copenhagen (1752-1754), and is of interest chiefly for its accounts of the myths connected with whales and other natural curiosities such as the fabeled kraaken.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conservations

Throwback Thursday: Beat Texas Edition

September 25th, 2014

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 1,700 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

It’s Homecoming week at KU, and this Saturday the Jayhawks will be taking on the University of Texas. We’re getting excited about the game, so this week we’re showing the football squad from 1901, the first season in which KU faced the Longhorns. The game, which took place in Lawrence on November 23, 1901, was a 12-0 victory for the Jayhawks.

Want to see photographs of past KU Homecomings? Last year on “Inside Spencer” we featured some pictures of floats created in previous years, just a taste of the almost 500 Homecoming images we’ve digitized and made available online. Enjoy!

Photograph of the KU football team, 1901

KU football team, 1901. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 66/14 Team 1901 Prints: Athletic Department: Football (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Brian Nomura
Public Services Student Assistant

‘Dead Coloring’ Revived Again: John Gould’s Hand-Colored Bird Lithographs

September 22nd, 2014

Over the centuries a number of techniques for creating graphic images have outlived their original technology, successfully migrating to new imaging technologies. I was recently reminded of this while planning Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s exhibition, “Ornithological Illustration in the Age of Darwin: The Making of John Gould’s Bird Books” (open September 11-November 15, 2014 on weekdays 9-5 and Saturdays 9-1, except October 11).

John Gould, an English ornithologist, published illustrated books about birds from 1830 until his death in 1881. The Library has recently digitized its holdings of Gould’s 47 large-format volumes, as well as nearly 2000 preliminary drawings, watercolor paintings, tracings, lithographic stones, and proofs.

When searching the new digital John Gould Ornithological Collection (accessible at the University of Kansas Libraries website at http://lib.ku.edu/gould), I happened to compare the published hand-colored print of the Horned Lark or Otocoris alpestris with the black printing image on lithographic stone. “What a great example of dead coloring!” I exclaimed.

Image of Otocoris alpestris / Horned lark

Otocoris alpestris / Horned lark. Lithographic crayon on stone by
John Gould and Henry Constantine Richter.
Reference: ksrl_sc_gould_2387.tif.
Call number: Gould Drawing 2387. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Otocoris alpestris / Horned lark

Otocoris alpestris / Horned lark. Lithograph and watercolor by
John Gould and Henry Constantine Richter.
Reference: ksrl_sc_gould_gb_1_3 (n77).
Birds of Great Britain, 1st edition, volume 3, plate 18.
Call number: Ellis Aves H131. Click image to enlarge.

So what is dead coloring? It involves underpainting shapes in a neutral hue, then finishing the oil painting with transparent colored glazes, and was often used by late-18th-century English painters. Early painters in watercolor, a medium gaining popularity in England during the late 18th century, employed a similar approach.

However, dead coloring also had a place in European printmaking. Mezzotint and aquatint, new methods of intaglio printmaking capable of the tonal gradations necessary for dead coloring, were invented in the mid-17th century and increased in use thereafter. John James Audubon’s hand-colored aquatints of American birds published in the early 19th century were outstanding examples.

During the early 19th century yet another new printing technology, lithography, spread from Germany, where it had been invented in 1798, across Europe to England. Working with a waxy crayon on a block of lithographic limestone with a fine-textured surface was similar to drawing on rough-textured paper. The lithographic crayon caught on the tips of the grained stone surface, creating a random pattern of irregular dots. Viewed with the naked eye, the tiny dots merge into shades of gray.

Lithographic drawing was much easier to learn than mezzotint and aquatint and was the obvious choice for illustrating John Gould’s ornithological books. Elizabeth Gould (his wife), an amateur artist, rapidly mastered crayon lithography under the tutelage of Edward Lear, a younger but more experienced artist employed by Gould. She illustrated Gould’s books until her death in 1841, after which he employed a succession of professional artists.

Image of Melanopitta sordida

Melanopitta sordida. Watercolor and lithographic crayon drawing by
William Hart. Reference: ksrl_sc_gould_1264.tif.
Call number: Gould Drawing 1264. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Melanopitta sordida

Melanopitta sordida. Colored lithographic proof by
William Hart. Reference: ksrl_sc_gould_1265.tif.
Call number: Gould Drawing 1265. Click image to enlarge.

Artist William Hart executed his drawing of Melanopitta sordida in lithographic crayon and watercolor, thus rehearsing his final drawing on lithographic stone for printing and hand coloring. Colored by hand using watercolors, Gould’s lithographic prints are successful examples of dead coloring. By the time of Gould’s death in 1881, color printing was taking over the reproduction of graphic images, bringing the hand-colored lithographic revival of dead coloring to a close.

Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Family Weekend Edition

September 18th, 2014

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 1,700 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

We selected this week’s picture in honor of Jayhawk Family Weekend, taking place on campus this Saturday and Sunday.

 

Photograph of a KU student with his family on Parent's Day, 1955

A KU student with his family on Parents Day, 1955. Note the Memorial Campanile
in the background. Lawrence Journal-World Photo Collection, University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG LJW 71/8 1955 Prints: Student Activities: Parents Day (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Brian Nomura
Public Services Student Assistant

Throwback Thursday: Fall Preview Edition

September 11th, 2014

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 1,700 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

The official beginning of autumn may still be almost two weeks away, but this week we’re getting a preview of cooler fall-like weather on Mount Oread. Who else is ready for sweaters, colorful leaves, and pumpkin-flavored treats?

 

Photograph of a KU student resting surrounded by leaves, undated

In this undated photograph (circa 1990-2000), a KU student rests on a blanket
surrounded by leaves. Snow Hall can be seen in the background. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/24/1 Trees No Date Prints: Campus: Areas and Objects (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Brian Nomura
Public Services Student Assistant