May 16 - July 29, 2006. Teaching America to Draw: Instructional Manuals & Ephemera, 1794 to 1925. Curated by Albert A. Anderson, Jr., William L. Joyce, and Sandra K. Stelts.
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May 16 - July 29, 2006
Teaching America to Draw: Instructional Manuals & Ephemera, 1794 to 1925
Curated by Albert A. Anderson, Jr.,
William L. Joyce, and Sandra K. Stelts

 

Nineteenth-century American drawing books were richly illustrated volumes with charming, sometimes stunning, and occasionally eccentric illustrations of the human figure, animals, and the natural and constructed landscape, which child or adult learners were expected to copy to the best of their ability. Indeed, the activity of copying was seen as the principal vehicle for learning to draw. These volumes were aimed at the general public and, increasingly, schools, and they have been described by one scholar as "primers for a democratic art."

This little-known topic in American life will be the subject of a major exhibition opening in May at the Grolier Club. "Teaching America to Draw: Instructional Manuals & Ephemera, 1794 to 1925," on view from May 17-July 29, 2006, will present an in-depth survey of drawing manuals, drawing cards, lithographs, copybooks, and other ephemera, curated by Albert A. Anderson, Jr., emeritus professor of Art Education at The Pennsylvania State University, and William L. Joyce and Sandra K. Stelts of The Pennsylvania State University Libraries. These wonderfully evocative books, which are seldom seen by scholars and educators, much less by contemporary Americans, were instructional in nature and widely used, often to the point of destruction. As a result, relatively few remain today; those that do are scarce, sometimes rare, highly collectible, and typically heavily worn. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view the full range of this seldom-seen genre. The images themselves constitute an extraordinary window into nineteenth-century American culture.

"Teaching America to Draw" traces the history of American publications on the subject of drawing instruction, together with related materials published between 1794, the date of the first American drawing book, and 1925, by which time art instruction had become principally the domain of textbook publishers. The exhibition includes drawing manuals and copybooks as well as the drawing cards, illustrated lithographs and other related ephemera, mostly drawn from the collection of Albert A. Anderson, Jr. and Evelynn M. Ellis in the Pennsylvania State University Libraries and from the holdings of the Special Collections Library.

Included among the items on view will be several rarities, including English antecedents such as Henry Peacham's The Gentleman's Exercise. Or, an Exquisite Practice, as well for the Drawing of All Manner of Beasts in their True Portraitures… (1634), thought to be among the earliest publications on drawing imported into the American colonies, and Compton Holland's A Book of Drawing, Limning, Washing, or Colouring of Maps and Prints… (1652), based in part on the work of Albrecht Dürer, and one of the first manuals published in the English language. In addition, there are a number of important, if scarce, American titles, including Louis Benjamin Francoeur's An Introduction to Linear Drawing… (1825), translated by William Bentley Fowle, and thought to be the first drawing book ever introduced into an American school, along with Fielding Lucas' Progressive Drawing Book (1827), one of the most sumptuous and rare of nineteenth-century drawing books, filled with beautiful illustrations of Hudson River Valley landscapes by John H. B. Latrobe (1803-1891), derived from the drawings of his father, Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820).

Also on view will be the drawing manual of John Rubens Smith, A key to the art of drawing the human figure (1831),one of this country's first professional art critics, who wrote under the pseudonym of "Neutral Tints." The widely popular Graphics: A Manual of Drawing and Writing for the Use of Schools and Families (1835) by Rembrandt Peale will be shown accompanied by numerous later editions of Peale's work. J. G. Chapman's beautiful and widely influential Chapman's American Drawing Book… (1847) will be accompanied by a wide array of manuals produced by authors and publishers such as J. T. Bowen, Josiah Holbrook, Thomas Fairland, William Newton Bartholomew, Louis Prang, John Ruskin, and Walter Smith. This rarely-seen collection will provide an overview of art instruction as it progressed through the nineteenth century, and illuminates the role of drawing manuals in creating a democratic and uniquely American visual culture.

LOCATION AND TIMES: Teaching America to Draw: Instructional Manuals & Ephemera, 1794 to 1925 will be on view at the Grolier Club from May 17- July 29, 2006. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 AM- 5 PM. Open to the public free of charge. An illustrated booklet will be available at the Club.

For more information e-mail Megan Smith at the Grolier Club.

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