About the Exhibit
January 30, 2013
The exhibit E. McKnight Kauffer, Gwen Raverat, and the Illustration of Modernity opened at Watzek Library on August 1 and runs through May 1. A reception on November 15 honored cocurators Casey Newbegin B.A. ’12 and Rishona Zimring, associate professor of English and a scholar of British modernism.
The exhibit explores artistic responses to rapid change in the period before World War II through the work of visual artists E. McKnight Kauffer (1890–1954) and Gwen Raverat (1885–1957). Both artists worked in England, where the speed and progress of modernity contrasted sharply with the pastoral landscape and traditions of art and literature. The exhibition also includes work by other artists and noted modernists, including Leonard and Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot.
Many of the exhibition’s visual works depict transportation technology, such as cars, modern roads, and subways. Others reflect interest in a more pastoral time. “These illustrations have something to teach us because they help defamiliarize the world we live in,” Zimring says. “We still have airplanes and subways, but this exhibit shows them through the eyes of artists for whom they were new.”
Both Kauffer and Raverat worked as commercial artists, and the exhibit includes commercial works such as advertising posters. “The idea that advertising could be an artistic medium—that something like poster design mattered artistically—was new,” says Newbegin. “Fine art was also incorporated into other media, such as furniture and tile.” The beautifully designed advertisements and handcrafted home goods we see today are descendants of these artists’ work.
Most of the items in Illustrating Modernity belong to Special Collections, including first editions of works by Virginia Woolf and a collection of rare woodcuts from the Omega Workshops, a modernist design group. Retired William Stafford Archivist Paul Merchant loaned items from his personal collection for the exhibit, including editions of poet T.S. Eliot’s “The Four Quartets.”
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