A WINTER FLURRY OF UNIVERSITY FACULTY AND STUDENT VISITORS AT THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU LIBRARY
All this month the library has been inundated with requests for library orientations and special presentations of rare materials for a wide variety of academic disciplines.
Professor Judith Gura and four students from the New York School of Interior Design were the earliest arrivals this year, and we laid out a variety of materials for them to peruse. One highlight was Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament, an oversized tome illustrating various decorative styles on one hundred folio plates drawn on stone by F. Bedford and printed in color by lithographers Day and Son of London.
Of course the library holds all sorts of materials of interest to interior designers including Julius Klinger’s Le Femme: dans la décoration moderne.
The library collection also includes numerous portfolios of pochoir plates serving as inspiration for wallpaper and upholstery fabric designs in the Art Deco style, including Andre Durenceau’s Inspirations showing 128 of his compositions on 24 plates.
When the professor learned that we had a copy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Wasmuth portfolio”—a two volume edition printed by Ernst Wasmuth in Berlin, Germany—we obliged by pulling it out from the back stacks. Wright had gotten entangled in an adulterous affair with the wife of a client, but as neither he nor his lover had been able to secure a divorce, the couple decided to abandon their families and spouses and run off to Europe together. The Wasmuth portfolio exposed Europeans to the Prairie Style and established Wright’s reputation on the continent as the preeminent Modernist architect. Although mainly celebrated for his designs for private homes, the portfolio also includes a design for what would have been his largest urban complex, Lexington Terraces, an unrealized housing unit with an interior “green” courtyard proposed for Chicago’s south side.
Florida International University professor Bernadine Heller-Greenman also brought students to the library to look at a selection of works by American artists.
The library holds a large collection of books, advertisements, and posters created by Bill Bradley, a prolific illustrator, graphic artist, and book designer. While his earliest work is reminiscent of the style of Aubrey Beardsley, he is most known today for introducing and popularizing the Art Nouveau style in the United States.
The students also had the opportunity to see some of the children’s books and sheet music covers illustrated by Mac Harshberger (1900-1975) on which he collaborated with his partner and musical composer Holland Robinson.
The class also looked over a series of commercial calendars illustrated by Winold Reiss (1886-1953), a German-born American artist renowned for his positive portraits of African and Native Americans in a time when racial stereotyping was the norm. Many of his culturally sensitive portraits of Blackfeet Indians were used by the Great Northern Railway to promote tourist travel to Glacier National Park and the route of the Empire Builder and Oriental Limited.
We had laid out a large number of wood block books, an ancient illustration technique that was revived in the 1930s. When the Great Depression rendered printing press production too expensive, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration Handicraft Project sponsored inexpensive art projects by encouraging schoolchildren to carve discarded or surplus linoleum tiles to make illustrated calendars, portfolios, and books in the classroom.
Many professional artists also took to carving scrap wood or linoleum blocks to produce illustrated books, graphic novels, and artist monographs.
FIU Professor Tori Arpad-Cotta also brought her installation class to the library where they viewed a number of world’s fair, international exposition, and other materials dealing with the display of art and merchandise. The students had the opportunity to see a variety of materials including the large format color chromolithographic plates of a book from the 1851 “Crystal Palace” exposition in London, England;
One student was particularly interested in a portfolio of kiosks designed for the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris, 1925.
Other materials on display for the class visit included a manual describing the principles and best practices for creating exciting window displays.
Almost as soon as we completed reshelving the items pulled for Professor Arpad-Cotta, Dr. Harsanyi was laying out the tables in the main reading room with a selection of items for the students enrolled in FIU Associate Professor Winifred Elysse Newman’s architectural course, “Space, Society and the Digital.”
After a brief library orientation, Professor Newman guided the students through a pre-selected group of rare library books and ephemera with pull-away flaps that demonstrate the working parts of various industrial arts objects;
The most sophisticated (and popular) of these items is a mechanical work showing the working parts of an automobile engine from 1915, and which is featured in an earlier blog post and Youtube video; a German book with a binding linking the new coal-fired locomotive to a fire-breathing dragon;
postcards and advertisements for typewriters;
and even some books on automobile design with transparencies.
A glance at the monthly calendar indicates that we will be hosting a number of other FIU class visits this week and next, so my readers are also liable to be seeing some more of the library collection this month related to architecture and landscape architecture, literature of the Great Depression, graphic design and propaganda.