William Nicholson’s portraits

A selection of celebrated personalities of the early 1800s (men, that is) sit for their portraits in a publication of etchings and engravings by William Nicholson (1781 – 1844) which makes up our latest Capital Collections exhibition.

It is notable that all the portraits are of men and this reflects attitudes towards the female sex during the early 1800s which precluded recognition of their contribution towards society and opportunities for women to gain an education and take up significant positions in Scotland. Our historic collections in Edinburgh Libraries reflect these attitudes and have impacted the make-up of our collections dating from the past.

Nicholson’s series comes with the somewhat grand title of Portraits of Distinguished Living Characters of Scotland, and although William Nicholson began the series in 1818, no date is given for this particular volume.

It’s a large book. The pages are embossed either from the typesetting or the prints, the endpapers are marbled, and the corners are rounded and worn. Usually it sits on a shelf in a closed access area of Central Library – down the back stairs, around a few corners – a companion to the darkness, dust and a lot of quiet.

Walter Scott, an etching and engraving by the artist William Nicholson

William Nicholson was born on Christmas day, 1781, in Northumberland. He was a painter and printmaker (not to be confused with the later William Nicholson (1872 – 1949), also a painter and printmaker), and he spent his early life predominantly in Newcastle and Hull. In Newcastle he studied in the studio of the Italian, Boniface Muss (or Musso); in Hull he painted miniatures – and around 1814 he moved to Edinburgh. By 1820 he was well settled there, and remained in the city for the rest of his life.

The prints use both the techniques of etching and engraving in the same image (etching is the chemical process of eating into the metal plate so that a groove is created for the ink to sit in; engraving uses only tools, without a chemical process, to change the surface of the plate). Especially at the edges of the pictures, it’s easy to see the looser marks of William Nicholson’s etching needle as opposed to his engraving tools.

For his subjects, he drew from his own paintings and from those of other artists’. Robert Burns, for example, is drawn from the famous Alexander Nasmyth painting (1787) in the National Galleries of Scotland’s collections; Henry Raeburn from his self-portrait (painted just prior to, or in, 1815, and is also held by the Galleries). And throughout the volume other Enlightenment heroes sit for their portraits, some with accompanying biographical text, some without.

Robert Burns, an etching and engraving by the artist William Nicholson

As well as his work as an artist, William Nicholson was instrumental in the founding and establishing of the Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, which we now know as the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1826 he was elected its first secretary, and this involvement was something for which he was well-regarded at the time.

Have a browse on our exhibition on Capital Collections for a closer look at the pictures.

Heard any good art recently?

It seems counter intuitive as there are no pictures but the art podcast is thriving. When you hear people talking about art the images spring to life in your imagination.

Art and Design Library staff get asked to recommend good art podcasts. It’s a difficult enquiry to answer on the spot but here’s a round-up of some you might like to explore.

The Art Newspaper Podcast from the London publication The Art Newspaper provide some of the most topical podcasts around. Hosted by Ben Luke, the weekly show is not a digest of recent articles, but a chance to hear experts talk in depth about new developments or trends.

Find out what it was like to be a woman artist making art during the feminist and civil rights movement with Recording Artists Radical Women. Drawing on the archives of the Getty Research Institute, podcast host Helen Molesworth explores the lives and careers of six women artists spanning several generations. Contemporary artists and art historians join Helen in conversation.

If conversational, gossipy and fast-paced is more your style try Talk Art: actor-collector Russell Tovey and musician-turned gallerist Robert Diament speak to some big name artists and collectors. Listen in to explore the magic of art and why it connects us all. Special QuarARTine episodes picking up on the latest responses to the pandemic across the world.

Photography Down The Line from Stills Centre for Photography in Edinburgh is a weekly series of conversations between artists, photographers and the Director of Stills: starting during the coronavirus lockdown this series shares the ideas of artists during this challenging time.

Meet Me At The Museum is a series of podcasts from The Art Fund featuring well-known faces taking someone they love to a favourite museum or gallery. The current series is available every week for four weeks from 20 April 2020 and features Mel Giedroyc, Edith Bowman, Katy Hessel and Anneka Rice, all exploring museums they love.

Podcasts on art are proliferating. If you find an art podcast you like and think others would enjoy why not share this with us @edcentrallib

Lifelong learning in lockdown – quilt making

Today’s blog is written by Zoe from the Central Lending team. She tells us how she’s finding creative inspiration during this time of lockdown.

“Like many Lifelong Learning staff right now, I have a bit more time on my hands. I’ve put in a few shifts at the Hub schools, but back at home, there is only so much TV watching, baking, Spring cleaning and even reading I can do before the need for something more constructive kicks in.

I’ve always liked a hands-on project and luckily, the Library’s digital magazine services have come to my aid. Pressreader has proven to be a treasure trove of creative titles on subjects as diverse as photography, knitting, woodworking, painting and gardening.

This has inspired me to begin making a quilt by hand, from all the old child’s dresses, shirts and other scraps of fabric I have been squirrelling away for years, ‘just in case’. Quilt-making is something I would never have had the time to even contemplate under normal circumstances. But I have found it to be a very calming activity to do a little bit of each day, while listening to music or a podcast, and it’s very satisfying to see it gradually take shape. I’ve found plenty of online magazine titles on quilting and patchwork to guide me, ranging from beginner level to tackling more advanced techniques.

Zoe’s quilt takes shape

I’ve also enlisted my daughter’s help in stitching the pieces together, and that makes the whole project easier and more fun. The trade-off is that she’ll get to keep and use what will be a unique, useful and hopefully, a beautiful quilt.

If you feel similarly inspired to take up a new craft or hobby or to rediscover an old one, Pressreader and RBdigital are both well worth exploring.

And if you’d like to get involved with craft activities in a more social setting, there is an online craft group run by Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust. For those looking for a quick way to help out during the lockdown, the Trust is also looking for volunteers to help stitch face masks for key workers. If you’re interested, go to their online newsletter for more information.”

What libraries mean to me with Molly Kent

In today’s library Q & A session, we ask artist, student and library advisor, Molly Kent what libraries mean to her.

Molly is currently in her final year at Edinburgh University studying for her MA Hons Fine Art and Art History. Molly is currently curating her degree show which uses the traditional medium of rug tufting to create an immersive installation space on the topic of doubt. The work draws on contemporary existence regarding social media and living in an internet-driven environment through the visual aesthetics of digital glitch. It also highlights the importance of a time-old craft, evolved and made relevant to the field of contemporary art through various areas of research. Making use of bright and neon colours, unsettling phrases and organic shapes, each piece intends to mirror the feeling of doubt through sensory experience and highlight the commonality of doubt, albeit often brushed under the rug. Rugs, that we’d normally see as domestic objects, begin to morph and climb walls, resembling bacteria and virus structures, as if mutating before us. It plays on the idea that doubt can be perceived as an ailment that overtime shifts and morphs into something new continuing its hold over us.

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as an artist and as a student?
Libraries have often been one of the main starting points of my research when it comes to approaching a new series of artwork. While my current work centres on my personal experiences and emotions, the medium I am currently working with is new to me. Libraries have offered me an otherwise unattainable insight into the process of rug making, with both my university library and Edinburgh City Libraries holding a series of books that weren’t available online. As well as a wonderful holding on contemporary arts more widely, the library gives insight into other practices as well through exhibition catalogues that inspire new methods and presentation.

In particular, Edinburgh City Libraries has a great holding of books that go through the step by steps of rug hooking, including what fabrics, yarns and adhesives to use. Information into the practical side of rug making is somewhat scarce online and the insight gathered from these books has been invaluable to my practice. In addition to this, being able to experience a whole host of artistic expressions from so many areas of visual culture through the rotating monthly exhibitions in the Art and Design Library sparks creativity from often unexpected works – opening up ideas to branch off existing works into new multidisciplinary methods.

Also, I grew up in libraries, so to speak. Often taken after school to access books that we couldn’t at home, and as a safe place to work, libraries have become a haven for me over the years. The ability to immerse myself in so many different topics, enabling my research and artistic practice to reach new avenues is invaluable.

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

What is your earliest library memory?
My earliest memory of libraries would be from back home in Birmingham, at my local library after school. My mom would take me in so I could read to my heart’s content, often getting through a book a day. Talking to the librarians was a highlight and over time I’d be allowed to help out around the library, especially after my mom started to work there.

When I was around 12/13 years old I would be helping to run craft sessions. These sessions helped me find my love for creating and helped others express themselves through art too. I continued to help with the craft sessions when I started working at my hometown library at 17 years old.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
Without a doubt, yes. As I’m coming to the end of my degree, it’s especially difficult not to be able to dip back into all the books I’ve been looking at for the past year or so, or find inspirations in new ones. Books have always been one of my main sources of creative inspiration and the loss of access is difficult. As well, having worked as a library advisor for the past 7 years, and having a good understanding of catalogue systems, it’s easy for me to find books on particular topics and areas quickly. Now, with just the internet and e-services, it’s more time consuming and far more difficult to find relevant information quickly.

I’d advise looking into the eBook services, particularly magazines and periodicals we host online now. Being able to browse art magazines and see what’s going on worldwide in contemporary arts is vital, and especially seeing how galleries and artists are responding to and working within the new confines of a COVID-19 landscape. In addition to this, for myself, Instagram is a great place to look for inspiration and community in these strange times. I’ve been able to connect more widely across the UK, and globally, and as I’ve put more time into sharing my work there. I’ve made new connections that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

A lot of people are struggling just now – art has the capacity to soothe by reflecting our emotions but also to challenge – what do you recommend as an artist to those that are struggling?
It’s difficult to pinpoint because we all process things differently. For myself, I am creating more now that I am home and challenging myself to produce something new every day. But for others, trying to navigate this new way of living could be difficult and we shouldn’t feel the need to use this time as one of productivity. If you have the spark to use this time for creativity, my recommendation is to start now. If you’ve ever wanted to draw, paint, sculpt etc. work with what you have currently, be it only a pencil and paper and start making. Or, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about art or any other topics, there’s a whole host of courses being published for free online by some of the biggest institutions online. I’ve been eyeing some courses from Harvard for when I finish my degree next month, as something to keep my brain engaged and continue my learning.

Are you able to practise as an artist just now? What are you working on? What would you recommend as a way through?
I am lucky enough to have a home studio (read: my partner and I have a  home office that is completely overrun with rug-making materials) so I have been able to continue my artistic practice. I was lucky enough to have had my degree show sponsored in part by Paintbox Yarns via Lovecrafts and was sent yarn to work with. So, thankfully, I have plenty of materials to work with. Just before quarantine started I was able to upgrade my rug tufting frame so for the past few weeks I’ve been working on some large scale rugs.

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

How can we connect as librarians, borrowers, readers and as creatives just now when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement or do we need more? How can art help to overcome this?
I don’t think social media can be a total replacement for the physical, in-person communicative experience. Some galleries are creating stunning digital exhibitions, and it’s great that more investment is being made into online engagement with individuals, particularly as this will greatly benefit social groups who were excluded from some mainstream artistic spaces. But currently, it’s a fantastic place for us all to connect. I’ve seen digital book clubs, live-streamed art tutorials, even art tutorials taking place via Zoom. This is all so we can continue learning, sharing and providing one another with feedback to keep our work developing.

Ultimately art can bring everyone together, there’s no need for a high brow understanding of the ins-and-outs of art history. If art makes you feel something or peaks a curiosity you hadn’t otherwise explored, now is a great time to engage with institutions, artist-run spaces, and individual makers within your locality or internationally. Then, when libraries re-open it will be wonderful to bring together a newly engaged community focus into these pre-existing spaces.

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

With huge thanks to Molly for talking to us and sharing what libraries mean to her.

Libraries on lockdown – keeping connected online

During these strange times while our buildings are closed, our libraries are keeping in touch with their communities online in innovative and inspiring ways.

Here a just a few of the things we’ve spotted. Follow your local library on Facebook to keep in touch with them whilst we’re all staying safe at home.

Moredun Library have moved their usual Bookbug session for babies, young children and parents and carers online! You can tune in every week on Tuesdays at 10.30am to join Susannah with rhymes and singing on their Facebook page.

 

Muirhouse Library are regularly producing printable activity sheets for children. Visit Muirhouse Library’s Facebook page to see all their beautifully illustrated instructions for getting creative.

Snippy Sticky Foody Folk collage activity from Muirhouse Library

Central Children’s Art Club created a fantastic drawing tutorial showing young artists how to draw Polpo, the Club’s octopus mascot.

 

And this Thursday evening, 23 April, to celebrate World Book Night, Carol from Stockbridge Library will host a special family-friendly book quiz streamed live on Facebook from her living room!

There will be four rounds of questions and a couple of riddles and short readings thrown in as well. There’ll also be a short interval at 8pm so that everyone can join in with the Clap for our Carers.
Get your virtual team together and tune in from 7.30pm on Thursday!

 

Visiting art exhibitions from your armchair

This blog is written by Bronwen, Librarian in the Art and Design Library.

“Working in the Art & Design Library we are keen to promote access to exhibitions and make a point of collecting catalogues of the major shows around the UK. This year is a little different but with art museums having their virtual doors open we’ve pulled together some of the many online exhibitions and galleries you can visit without leaving home.

Tour some of the world’s greatest galleries with Google Arts and Culture!

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in Google Street View

With Google Arts and Culture you can take virtual tours around some of the best art museums in the world from the British Museum to MoMA in New York to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris – you can zoom in far closer on individual works than you ever could in real life! You can even take a tour of our National Museums Scotland.

Close to home explore the collections of the National Galleries Scotland; explore their featured artists and art works and get some ideas for getting creative.

Catch up with the latest videos from The Royal Academy, London including virtual curator-led tours and artist interviews and explore the Royal Academy collections from home. The Royal Academy Gauguin and the Impressionists was due to open on 29 March: the Royal Academy are bringing a taste of the exhibition to you at home.

Tate Modern may be closed but you can view their series of Online Displays.

Watch an online-only performance by the Congolese choreographer and dance artist Faustin Linyekula in the Tanks at Tate Modern My Body, My Archive is a performance re-invented for the particular situation of this exhibition and its closure to the public. It combines segments of his works Sur les traces de Dinozord 2006, Statue of Loss 2014, Banataba 2017 and Congo 2019.

Image from the Dai Nippon (Great Japan) exhibition on Capital Collections

Ever wanted to get the National Gallery London all to yourself? Now you have a chance with their series of virtual tours. Tours link directly to painting pages where you can find out more information on the art works on display.

Dai Nippon (Great Japan) is an online exhibition of beautiful Japanese prints on Capital Collections. The artworks are taken from the Henry Dyer Collection of amazing artefacts gifted to Central Library by his family.”

The house that Jack built

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience. The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘The house that Jack built’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). This book, along with several others by the artist, was created with children in mind and its style became synonymous with Victorian children’s literature, a period considered the ‘golden age’ for this genre of books.

The House that Jack Built, front cover

Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott’s work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s books and illustration in the Victorian era with his influence still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

The work showcased in this exhibition is the first in a collection of books originally published in 1878. The book tells the story of the goings on in and around a country house built by Jack with a myriad of delightful characters making appearances. His illustrations were exercised with a manner of humour and full of life, reflecting his own personality. His images, although often not predominantly meant to make a person laugh, are extremely entertaining and good fun. Stylistically, ‘The house that Jack built’ is written in the form of a cumulative tale. This is when a tale is told by repeating dialogue that builds up to allow the story to progress. As a cumulative tale it does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn” and the “Maiden all forlorn” as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. ‘The house that Jack built’ became a world renowned piece of work, referenced in both political satire and popular culture.

“This is the Cat,
That killed the Rat”
from ‘The house that Jack built’

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. His ability to express true meaning and subtleties of thought through primarily image and minimal text is something of great admiration and ‘The house that Jack built’ is a perfect example of this. The delightful style and bright colourful images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style. The exhibition’s accompanying text provides a little more detail into the message of the image and the artist in question, although the images are so detailed and charming that they can be enjoyed and admired just as they are.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.

Quines Exhibition

Launching next Saturday 7 March on the eve of International Women’s Day is the exciting new exhibition `Quines: poems and textiles in tribute to women of Scotland’ on display across Central Library.

Taking inspiration from Gerda Stevenson’s poetry collection Quines: poems in tribute to women of Scotland celebrating and exploring the richly diverse contribution women have made to Scottish history and society, edge textile artists Scotland members have each selected varied poems from the collection, interpreting them in diverse and inspiring personal ways.

Come to the launch afternoon running 2-4pm Saturday 7 March. Book on Edinburgh Reads to hear Gerda Stevenson reading poems from her collection Quines and take a guided tour led by edge members around the exhibition. Enjoy a cuppa and chat to edge members.

The exhibition is on display on the Mezzanine, on the Staircase and in the Art & Design Library running until Monday 30 March.

 

 

 

Blair’s Edinburgh Views

Our current exhibition on Capital Collections is a collection of atmospheric scenes of late 19th century Edinburgh landmarks and landscapes, taken from watercolour paintings by artist John Blair.

The Old Town from the Waverley Bridge

The images are taken from a volume of loose lithographic prints dated 1892 which were printed in Paris and published by Aitken Dott of Castle Street. Many of the pictures contain moonlight or fading light and evocative weather conditions. The views are scenes of Edinburgh’s famous streets populated with typical residents of the time or picture postcard vistas looking from different geographic points towards the city’s famous skyline.

There is one picture however, which sits apart from the rest. It is a view of the Scott Monument looking east along Princes Street. The street characters seem in this view more defined and there are three men walking in a line towards the viewer each wearing sandwich board advertisements. On closer inspection, the signs are promoting a Castle Street exhibition of watercolours by John Blair – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the artist himself and his publishers.

The Scott Monument and Princes Street

View the full set of thirteen plates on Capital Collections.

LGBT history in the Art & Design Library

February is LGBT History Month and, in the Art & Design Library we’ve been looking at some of our books that explore this rich history and its amazing contribution to the visual arts. All are available for borrowing from the Art & Design Library.

A Queer History of Fashion: from the Closet to the Catwalk edited by Valerie Steele, published 2013.
From Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, many of the greatest fashion designers of the past century have been gay. This book looks at the history of fashion through a queer lens, examining high fashion as a site of gay cultural production and exploring the aesthetic sensibilities and unconventional dress of LGBTQ people to demonstrate the centrality of gay culture to the creation of modern fashion.

Art & Queer Culture by Catherine Lord & Richard Meyer, published 2019.
Art & Queer Culture surveys artworks that have constructed, contested, or otherwise responded to alternative forms of sexuality. Rather than focusing exclusively on artists who self-identify as gay or lesbian, the book instead traces the shifting possibilities and constraints of sexual identity that have provided visual artists with a rich creative resource over the last 130 years

A Queer Little History of Art by Alex Pilcher published 2017.
The last century has seen a dramatic shift in gender and sexual identities for both men and women, reflected in a period of artistic experimentation as artists have sought to challenge social conventions and push the boundaries of what has been deemed acceptable. The result is a wealth of deeply emotive and powerful art intended to express a range of desires and experiences but also to question, criticise and provoke dialogue. This book showcases a selection of works which illustrate the breadth and depth of queer art from around the world.

Drawing difference: connections between gender and drawing by Marsha Meskimmon and Phil Sawdon, published 2016.
Drawing Difference’ analyses how both drawing and feminist discourse emphasise dialogue, matter and openness. It demonstrates how sexual difference, subjectivity and drawing are connected at an elemental level – and how drawing has played a vital role in the articulation of the material and conceptual dynamics of feminism.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 edited by Clare Barlow, published 2017.
With a focus just on British queer art, this book has sections on ambivalent sexualities and gender experimentation amongst the Pre-Raphaelites; the science of sexology’s impact on portraiture; queer domesticities in Bloomsbury and beyond; eroticism in the artist’s studio and relationships between artists and models; gender play and sexuality in British surrealism; and love and lust in sixties Soho.

We’ve many more biographies and analyses of works by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender+ identified artists. From Diane Arbus and Francis Bacon to Keith Haring, Gilbert & George and David Hockney, we’ve got them covered. Drop into the Art & Design Library for more information.

February’s Exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The February Exhibition in the Art and Design Library is a group show by two Scottish-based women artists: Barbara Mackie and Rowena Comrie.  Colour in Play is a celebration of their vibrant and striking use of colour to convey landscapes and abstract ideas and emotions.  The exhibition opens on February 3rd.

Rainbow Light by Barbara Mackie

Barbara Mackie is based in Midlothian and first studied painting and drawing at Edinburgh College of Art.  She has participated in numerous exhibitions including group and solo shows at the Scottish Arts Club, Riccio Gallery and West Dean College in London.  “There is both abstraction and representation in my work that I refer to more as ‘settings’ than landscapes. There are traces of skies, coastline, valleys, mountains, farmland and fenland for these are memories carried from the various places I have know or seen, part referenced, part imagined. The nature of my work can be bold and yet restrained in both colour and form.”

Subaqua by Rowena Comrie

Rowena Comrie has worked as a professional artist for the past 30 years; in January 2010 she relocated from Aberdeen to Glasgow where she now works from a WASPS studio in Glasgow’s Briggait. She was born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, and in 1982 completed her BA(Hons) in Fine Art at Reading University where she embraced expressionist colourfield painting with confidence and passion.

She continues to develop this dramatic and emotive painting style saying: “I make these works from a specific aesthetic point, that personally expresses sublime elements of human experiences. Over many years I have refined and developed my technique, a process that continues to challenge and intrigue“.

The exhibition is open throughout February and runs until 28th.

A Day in a Child’s Life

Tucked away backstage, in a room in Central Library, is a copy of Kate Greenaway’s A Day in a Child’s Life. It’s an illustrated children’s song book with page after page of quaint colour wood engravings from the 19th century (the book was first published in 1881).

‘A Day in a Child’s Life’, an illustrated children’s song book

The pictures are quintessentially delicate and gentle. They skip along, lightly, gracefully; and every child that Kate Greenaway drew – and she drew many all through the book –  she drew them in historical costume, historical costume for the time, that is. The costumes date from decades before, from the early 19th century and Regency-era.

Playtime, an illustrated page from ‘A Day in a Child’s Life’

Kate Greenaway’s mother owned a millinery shop in Islington and the shop later developed into a ladies’ outfitters. Kate Greenaway, not unsurprisingly, learnt to sew, and she began to make the costumes for her child models to wear. Her illustrations were such a success that Liberty’s, the London department store, even introduced a line of children’s clothing based on them.

Behind the millinery shop was a garden, which as a child Kate Greenaway spent many hours in, and her pictures, as well as featuring children, feature flowers. Flowers drawn with thought and detail, picked and placed like a florist might for the best composition. Slim-leaved daffodils look particularly tall and upright beside a line of standing children, hands behind their backs; and in another illustration, big-faced sunflowers stand like shining suns to either side of a child (who has a head of golden curls) and is just about to wake up…  There was big public interest in flowers in Victorian times, floral dictionaries were enjoying a boom, and a few years later, in 1884, Kate Greenaway’s own The Language of Flowers became very popular.

Introductory image for ‘A Day in a Child’s Life’, an illustrated children’s song book

In terms of its production, A Day in a Child’s Life, was at the forefront of Victorian printing. It was engraved and printed by Edmund Evans, (who printed books by other illustration greats including Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott). He was pre-eminent in his work, pushing forward printing technologies by using a woodblock technique known as chromoxylography, and printing toy books and picture books that filled the floors of Victorian nurseries. It was also Edmund Evans’ nephew, Miles Birket Foster, who wrote the music for the song book.

Kate Greenaway, who has given her name to our own contemporary illustration award, the Kate Greenaway Medal, has been an influential figure in illustration. The artist and critic John Ruskin wrote of her:

“The fairyland that she creates for you is not beyond the sky nor beneath sea, but near you, even at your own doors. She does but show you how to see it”.

They were friends, John Ruskin and Kate Greenaway, and their correspondence with each other lasted until Ruskin’s death in 1900.

Do have a look on our Capital Collections exhibition to browse over more of these wonderful pictures.

Paranormalise Me, Please

The first exhibition of 2020, Paranormalise Me, Please with artworks by Isaac Benjamin opened on 6th January in the Art and Design Library.

Untitled by Isaac Benjamin

Untitled by Isaac Benjamin

Isaac Benjamin is an Edinburgh-based artist who works across media including photography, painting and drawing. His new work is a representation of paranormal experiences. As an artist, he has previously explored his own personal struggles with severe mental health issues including delusional hallucinations and paranoia. Having found a sense of stability after a period of struggle, his work engages with the perceived dichotomies, parallels and divergences between issues related to mental health and paranormal experiences. He questions the common perception that otherworldly experiences are merely one aspect on the spectrum of hallucinations. This is Isaac’s second solo show.

The exhibition runs until 31st January.

Some of our favourite books of 2019 (continued)

We asked colleagues to share with us the book they’d most enjoyed this past year.

Jen from the Art and Design Library chose Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator by Alan Powers.

“I was asked what library book I’ve enjoyed most this year and could I write about it, just a paragraph. To begin with this stumped me. It’s a tricky question – with a superlative in it too (what about all those other books?)… and then I thought of Alan Powers’ Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator. Sometimes, some things, just really are good.

It’s a large book, from the Art & Design Library.

Little Tim’s on the cover looking out to sea (at something, what is it? Not the ship). The book wouldn’t even need to be well written for me to be excited about it. There wouldn’t need to be many pictures, even one picture would do, even if it was in black and white (Ardizzone really could handle a pen, and that irksome material, black ink). But, of course, it isn’t. There are lots of pictures, lots in colour, and there are little gems throughout: unknown early commissions, men in pubs, things happening in streets, in parks. Always there’s a lightness – his pen is so loose and free, and just in the right place – and there it is, the moment is perfectly caught.

Edward Ardizzone (1900 – 1979), was an artist and illustrator, a biggie in 20th century illustration. The first of his Little Tim books was published in 1936; he also illustrated many contemporary writers (Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Graves). He drew illustrations for Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie, for magazines and advertising, and for the classics – to illustrate Dickens, Bunyan, Cervantes.

The book was published in 2016 alongside a retrospective exhibition held by the House of Illustration in London. It covers Ardizzone’s biographical story (he was also a war artist – have a look at the library catalogue for his war diaries…), mid-century illustration and illustration practice (book production, printing). And about illustration itself, Ardizzone is fascinating, and assertive. He particularly prized visual memory, and the art of making it all up. Illustration is about an imaginary world for Ardizzone. An illustrator,

‘creates a visual world, which looks real and which can be believed in. Yet it is not the real world but, like the author’s, a fiction.’
(p.179, quoting Ardizzone, The Born Illustrator, p.37).

This is a book for picture lovers, and book lovers. I thoroughly recommend it.”

Maybe 2020 could be the year to discover or revisit the treasure trove and book lover’s haven that is the Art and Design Library? Tucked away in a top corner of Central Library, you’ll find a feast of books, old and new on every aspect of art, craft and design to inspire and captivate.

Read more staff reading recommendations from 2019.

The Nine exhibition

A new photography exhibition illustrating the rich diversity of Scotland’s population is now showing in Stockbridge Library until 13 January 2020. The portrait exhibition will feature images of twenty people that were captured for the opening titles of the BBC Scotland channel’s flagship news programme, The Nine.

The library exhibition has been developed as part of a partnership agreement between the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) and BBC Scotland.

Public libraries are at the heart of our communities and are accessible to everyone, making them the perfect place to host this wonderful exhibition. It’s further demonstration of the range of activities on offer in modern libraries.

The Nine exhibition at Stockbridge Library

Next time, it could be you… here’s how to get involved.

December’s art exhibition: Noni Choi

The December exhibition in the Art and Design Library showcases artist, Noni Choi, whose work is a gorgeous celebration of nature, colour and energy.

Noni Choi is a botanical artist and illustrator based in Edinburgh. She is from South Korea and trained in ceramic arts in Seoul. Noni worked as an art teacher in Korea until 2009.

“As a painter and an illustrator, flowers and stars are a rich source of inspiration in my art. My work captures the precision of nature creating meditative studies of the beauty of the natural world I see around me.  To me painting is a return to nature. I hope that my paintings which are created with bright colours, full of happiness and vibrant energy help people to return to innocence.

I love nature and I hope to protect nature with my works someday.”

You can learn more about Noni on her website: www.nonichoi.com and follow her on Instagram: @artistnoni

The exhibition runs from 3rd December until 31st December.

Art and Design Library exhibition – November 2019

Edinburgh Photographic Society returns to the Art and Design Library in November with a group exhibition by their members. The exhibition showcases a wide variety of work across a range of photographic genres – including portraiture, nature, still life and landscape. Members of the society work with traditional techniques as well as creative digital photography, so the exhibition will have something for everyone.

A Walk Through Time by Alistair Cowan

The Society are based in the New Town and welcome new members who can participate in courses and attend lectures.  Please visit www.edinburghphotographicsociety.co.uk to find out more.

Gone Fishing by Edinburgh Photographic Society

The exhibition runs from 4 November to 29 November in the Art and Design Library.

Mary Webster – watercolour views of Scottish travels

Girls and young women of upper class families of the 18th century didn’t usually learn domestic or academic skills but were coached in what were known as ‘accomplishments’.

These would be learned either at boarding school or from a resident governess. In Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, the snobbish Caroline Bingley lists the skills required by any young lady who considers herself accomplished:
“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages…”

During the 19th century both landscape painting, as a subject matter, and the medium of watercolour became a popular pastime and were included in the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy summer exhibitions. Queen Victoria’s interest in watercolour made the practice attractive to both professionals and amateurs and another suitable artistic accomplishment for a refined young woman.

Glen Rosa, Isle of Arran, 1836

By the mid 19th century, transportation was getting much easier with the railway network flourishing. By 1852 there was 7,000 miles of rail track in England and Scotland. With the advent of the railway, there was in turn, the need for accommodation. During the Victorian era, when you stepped out of a railway station in any self-respecting town or city, the first building you would set eyes upon would be the railway hotel, providing a relatively safe option for a young woman travelling alone.

We have a fine collection of watercolour paintings by a woman named Mary Webster which span the period 1824 to 1863. She seems to have greatly enjoyed travelling Scotland and further afield sketching her adventures. Sadly, despite exhaustive searches we have been unable to find out much about Mary’s life, other than the few clues that are contained in the pictures themselves.

‘Views from Nature’ by Mary Webster (title page)

One of our volunteers, John, began the search to find out more. There was a short entry in The Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture which stated that her work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy. However, searching the RSA Exhibitors Catalogues from 1830 to 1860 failed to turn up any trace of Mary and we were unable to verify this assertion.

He discovered that Reading Museum also hold a painting by Mary – A naïve view of the ruins of Reading Abbey’ – but they hadn’t been able to find out any more about the elusive Mary Webster either.

By looking through our collection of paintings, John created a timeline of Mary’s work tracing her movements from her paintings. The dates of the paintings and pencil drawings date from 1824 to 1863 and the majority of the paintings had been bound together in an album titled Views from Nature. 1830 was a particularly busy time for Mary as 44 are credited to that year alone! Of the 150 paintings in the collection, all but 9 feature Scottish views. Her painting travels took her far and wide, including to the Borders, Perthsire, Fife, the Highlands and Dublin. We don’t know if Mary was Scottish, or whether she simply enjoyed taking artistic tours of Scotland. A lady in a red dress appears in many of the watercolours, sometimes even sketching, could this be a companion or even a representation of Mary herself?

Dublin from the Phoenix Park, 1833

Apart from one painting dated 1845, there is a gap in Mary’s timeline of 17 years between 1830 and the next batch of paintings covering 1847 to 1863. In that 17 years, was her time spent bringing up a family? Or is there perhaps another collection hidden somewhere else?

Ruins of St Andrew’s Castle, 1863

The last year for our paintings is 1863 attached to two watercolours done of St Andrews. By that time 39 years had elapsed since the first batch in 1824 and by then she would probably have been in her mid to late 50s at least. Mary Webster has left little trace of the detail of her life, but she has left a remarkable record of 19th century Scottish scenes and locations still popular and recognizable today.

You can view the full collection of Mary’s paintings on Capital Collections.

Libraries Week focus: Capital Collections

Where can you find a Dalek alongside The Fonz?

A record of the changing face of the city and a view of the castle from all angles?

Or a teddy bear named Gilmour and a half-completed Scott Monument?

Family histories and sporting moments?

Vintage children’s book illustrations and a priceless Japanese scroll?

Fashion tips from the Georgian Lady’s Monthly Museum and a pair of early eighties platform shoes?

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And quite possibly, the best online collection of photographs of old Edinburgh?

You’ll find all this and much more on Capital Collections, Edinburgh Libraries and Museums and Galleries online image library. There are over 20,000 digitized images and dozens of online exhibitions to explore. What will you find?

 

October Exhibition – Art and Design Library

The October exhibition in the Art and Design Library is a group show showcasing the work of Edinburgh based artist, Norma Henderson and her father, Forbes Dunn.  Friends, Family and Photography features painting and photographs by the two artists, along with several examples of work by close family friends.

Forbes Dunn (1925-2016) studied Technical Drawing when he left school in 1939 aged 14, going on to a lifelong career as a Technical illustrator & Advisor with the Scottish Gas Board. He was passionate about all aspects of art and was skilled in a range of areas including acrylics, pen & ink and watercolour. He was a member of Musselburgh Art Club for many years and travelled abroad with groups on “Painting Holidays.” He remained an active member of the Art Club until his death in 2016.

Norma Henderson discovered her love for photography early on, thanks to her artist father who gave her a camera when she was 7 years old. She became fascinated with darkroom processes and went on to study photography at Napier University. She made her career with the University of Edinburgh where she worked as a photographic technician for 28 years. She says that, “Art has gone along on a parallel life with my photography – it’s a relaxing hobby.” The exhibition includes examples of her paintings as well as her photography.

The exhibition also includes work by Sue Cavanagh, who has studied art since she was at school with a focus on etching and watercolour, and Mark Douglas, a photographer inspired by his interest in film and television.

“Friends, family and Photography” runs from 3rd to 31st October in the Art and Design Library on George IV Bridge.