E. McKnight Kauffer, Gwen Raverat, and the Illustration of Modernity
Date: October 6 2012 6:00am - 9:00pm Location: Watzek Library
Curated by Associate Professor of English, Rishona Zimring and 2012 graduate, Casey Newbegin, this exhibit explores artistic responses to rapid change in the period before WWII. On display at Watzek Library, through May 2013.
Whether melancholy or effervescent, the artistic responses to the conditions of rapid change in the period before WWII are arresting in their vitality and verve, and they were everywhere. We have chosen to feature and contextualize two somewhat lesser-known visual artists in order to underscore just how compelling and vivacious the art of everyday life in the early 20th century could be. Our two featured visual artists are E. McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954) and Gwen Raverat (1885-1957), both of whom worked in England, where the impact of new technologies and the consequent transformation of the landscape—both urban and rural—created a fertile friction when they met up with a long tradition of pastoral poetry and art and Romantic longings for a pre-industrial Golden Age. You will not find the art of Kauffer and Raverat drawing crowds in the grandest museums. Rather, you are likely to find it familiar because it has graced a book cover, illustrated a children’s book, or advertised an airline. Your eye will be arrested because both artists worked in or were inspired by the medium of the woodcut, with its boldness of line, its encouragement of geometric patterning, its tactility and sensuality. Both artists worked as illustrators and designers, finding opportunities to make art for London Underground posters, bus company advertisements, book jackets, set and costume designs for theatrical productions, and volumes of poetry and fairy tales. Their art is not just for museums, galleries, and isolated contemplation. It is for, and of, the everyday aesthetic experience, and embellishment, of modernity.
This exhibit resulted from a Faculty-Student Collaboration Grant administered by the Office of the Associate Dean with financial support from the President’s Strategic Initiative Fund. Faculty member Rishona Zimring, Associate Professor of English, worked with senior English major Casey Newbegin, Lewis & Clark Class of 2012, in close collaboration with Watzek Library’s Special Collections, especially Paul Merchant and Jeremy Skinner.
In her junior year, Casey enrolled in Zimring’s English 333, Major Figures: Joyce and Woolf, where she studied major novels by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Her final paper for that class examined father-daughter relationships, and she began to develop a strong interest in learning more about Woolf’s life and that of her husband, Leonard. Casey applied for and was a co-winner of the English Department’s Dixon Award, which funds research and travel for junior English majors in the summer before their senior year. Casey spent the spring of her junior year studying abroad in the Czech Republic, and used the money from the Dixon Award to fund a longer stay abroad which included an early summer expedition to the University of Sussex in England, which houses papers of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Casey not only researched unpublished materials in the archives; she also had the opportunity to develop her expertise in the visual culture of modernism, and especially Bloomsbury, by visiting museums and heritage sites in Sussex such as Monk’s House, the home of the Woolfs, and Charleston, the home of Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell.
Upon returning to LC, Casey met with Zimring to discuss collaboration on modernist materials in Special Collections, where Casey was honing her skills as an archivist through her work-study job. Zimring had been working more closely with Special Collections in recent years to develop connections between her classes on modernism and the library’s acquisition and preservation of modernist archival materials, such as important journal issues, examples of book and magazine design and illustration, and rare books from the period of the early 20th century. Casey’s archival experience at Special Collections, her interest and expertise in British modernism, and her sharp and imaginative sense of design made her an ideal partner for the exhibit’s development and realization. Meanwhile, Zimring’s ongoing research and publication in the field of British modernism kept her intensely engaged as a scholar as well as a teacher in the materials and backgrounds for the project. Zimring and Casey worked together throughout the spring semester of Casey’s senior year to research backgrounds for the exhibit and select engaging quotations. In the summer after she graduated, Casey and Zimring worked especially closely with Special Collections to create explanatory text and design the layout for the exhibit. Watzek Library generously funded Casey’s additional work during the summer.