Message from a bottle

After last week’s blurb about quills, it is hard to resist sharing a few words about vintage ink bottles. Small bottles of ink have been on the market for over two hundred years, and were for the most part made from blown or molded glass, sometimes from metal, or a combination of both. People and museums collect the early ones, and they are fairly easy to find on reselling platforms.

Jane Eastman of Winchester, England is a self-made connoisseur, and demonstrates great appreciation for them. She recklessly seeks and pulls them out of riverbeds, among other treasures. See several beautiful photographs of them, with extra historical background, in her Beach Combing magazine article “My indelible love for ink bottles.” The magazine’s channel has a video of her in action and it is quite an excursion.

As far as museums go, the Charles Dickens Museum has a bottle used by the famous author. Another bottle with a clever design is among the many others at the Corning Museum of Glass, in New York State.

Ink bottle, 1825-1875, AN 2013.4.3. Source: Corning Museum of Glass, 27 August 2022.

If it be your quill

A craft activity is a great way to convey a history lesson. A history lesson should be an opportunity to contemplate what has been long gone, as well as parts of the past that still persists in our time.

If you ever consider making a quill with your child, we suggest that you begin with the word processor in your computer. Have a close look at the many fonts available, and see if you and your child can differentiate the old looking ones from the newer ones. You will be quick to find Old English, Palatino, New Roman, Garamond, and the likes. They are the ones with stylish serifs.

Then, ask the child to gather as many different handwriting devices as possible at home. You might have ballpoint pens, felt pens, pencils, crayons, chalks. You might even have a metal quill. Ask the child to write the alphabet with each and compare the results. If you have one, use a magnifier to have a closer look. Make sure to observe the variations in the thickness of lines, as well as the presence or absence of serifs.

At this point, proceed with your quill making, to find out whether a quill will make writing in old style fonts easier. A good guide to use is one posted by the Rhode Island School of Design, aka RISD Museum on Instructible. You might also like the very detailed one by Liralen Li on this old Flick page, or one of the many videos online.

Whichever way you go about it, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, hygiene. If you take feathers directly from a farm, make sure to clean, sanitize and dry it thoroughly before you handle them with bare hands or before cutting carefully. Second, safety. For best results, the carving requires a short, sharp blade that gives maximum control. Use more than one feather, because your first attempt might fail, or you might want to try different carvings. Once your quill is ready, get some ink and write for fun, your own secret recipe for a magic potion. Try different kinds of paper, and hang on to the one that best suits your quill.

In the end, take the time with your child to browse books or the web, and see if you can find old style fonts. One fantastic recent book about fonts is The Eternal Letter (MIT Press, 2015) edited by Paul Shaw.

Trimmed and sharpened quill. Photo: RISD Museum. Source: Instructables.com, 19 August 2022.

Go, medievalists!

A couple of years ago in this blog, we introduced Onfim. This thirteenth century child whose drawing on a piece of bark had been discovered by chance, among other archeological findings. Thanks to a growing number of medievalists researchers over the past few years, the images left by medieval children are no longer left to chance.

The advances in child psychology have long helped parents and educators. They now benefit medievalists, and it is great news for children’s drawing conservation. Deborah Ellen Thorpe holds a PhD in Medieval Studies from the University of York (GB). In 2016, her article Young hands, old books: Drawings by children in a fourteen century manuscript, LJS, MS. 361, was published in Cogent Arts and Humanities (Taylor & Francis). In it, she meticulously and convincingly argues that the hands that drew three drawings in the margins of a centuries-old manuscript were those of children. Her observations are strongly supported by the works of several researchers in child psychology and arts education.

Other reputed medievalists, such as Seth Lere (Devotion and Defacement: Reading Children’s Marginalia, University of California Press), and Nicholas Orme (Medieval children, Yale University Press) have been instrumental in nurturing a growing interest in what medieval children have left us.

Drawing by a child in the margin of a 14th Century manuscript. LJS 361, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries folio 26r. Source: National Library of Medecine, 9 August 2022.

Fired up

This blog entry steps away from pens, pencils, chalks or paint brushes and sheds light on a different way of creating images, just as ancient. It is not crocheting or weaving, not bas-relief carving either. Let’s talk about pyrography, the art of drawing with heat or fire on wood, leather, metal of even glass. The most commonly used method however is on wood.

Our collection holds no sample whatsoever of such pyrographic works made by children. For sure there are some out there, because the pyrography tools are still selling aplenty. They were all the rage back in the 1950s and 1960s, when a wave of new consumer products became sought after items for crafty families.

To get a sense of the ancient origin of pyrography, see the short article by Working the Flame, a collective endeavour of aficionados: A brief history of pyrography and wood burning art.

Few artists excel in pyrography. One who masters the traditional figurative imagery is Julie Bender. Her small scale works, the beautiful fine art coasters, are as impressive as her large scale sport, pet, farm or wildlife works.

The one contemporary artist who took pyrography to another level is Cai Guo Quiang with his artworks made with gun powder and fireworks. His recent Exploding the self project is enough to convince anyone of his daredevil way.

Now why not turn up the heat and give it a try. Next is a video by Mercedes Grundy for CBC Art. In it, artist Aicha Lasfar makes a full demonstration in less than 3 minutes.

In memory of Françoise Roy

We are saddened by the passing of Françoise Roy (1924-2021), in La Pocatière, Québec. She embraced life and will be missed by all who knew her. Françoise had a long successful teaching and family counseling career. She was a pioneer in applying the Goodenough (draw-a-person) test, when helping children and their families. Françoise had been an early inspiration in creating our Collection. Her insights will continue to inspires us always. As a modest tribute to her, below is a drawing, published for the first time, by a child she had assisted. We can see her own handwriting notes, taken just after conversing with the child.

My family, c1982. Source: CDIC-CIDE, fonds Françoise Roy.

Let’s make History

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, if we keep repeating the same mistake, but expect different results, we are insane. Up until recently, too little was done to preserve the expression of children. The result is that the contribution by children to the societal narrative has been erased and historians do not have access to enough if it to draw significant interpretations from it. This situation is particularly unfortunate for the past 150 years, since the emergence of public elementary education in western cultures.

Fortunately, change seems underway in the 21st century and a few historians demonstrate a growing interest in what kids have to say or show. It is about time because whatever was left on paper by children during the second half of the last century is about to vanish. We created our Collection largely to remedy the situation and to leave mistakes of the past behind, when it comes to preserving children’s drawings.

A superb article by Professor Karen Sánchez-Eppler (Amherst College), published by The Conversation, is an encouraging sign that children’s drawings may find their rightful place in history and help history reveal itself to future generations: How studying the old drawings and writings of kids can change our view of history.

We also take notice of the recent mostly European initiative by the International Research and Archives Network (IRAND) and their Historical Children’s Drawings display. This initiative is a contribution to the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme. Read the beautifully illustrated article by Dr Jutta Ströter-Bender, co-founder of IRAND, published on Research Outreach.

The Nelson Brothers’ Encyclopedia of Their Fictional World, 1890s. Amherst College. Source: TheConversation.com, 23 November 2020.

A Lebanese nightmare

Only people who have suffered unspeakable traumas can fathom what citizens of Beyrouth are experiencing since last month’s explosion at the heart of their city. Author and mother of two, Yasmina Farah Massoud shared her thoughts about the horrendous time she, her family and her people find themselves in. See her August 11th Facebook post and her son josef’s rendering of the aftermath of the explosion (in French).

Puis il y a les enfants de Beyrouth au mois d’Août, by Yasmina Farah Massoud. Drawing by Yasmina’s son Josef. Source: Yasmina’s Facebook page, 26 September2020.

Drawing FOR children

Parents, siblings, friends and teachers can definitely influence in how and what a child draws. Let’s not however overlook illustrators, who make it their trade to draw FOR children. Picture books have long fed kids’ imagination, but rarely do we see their illustrators celebrated. We turn our attention to Japan, where the museum community has done so, in a wonderful way.

The Chihiro Art Museum grew from the works and life of famed illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki. Located in Tokyo and Azumino, the museum holds an impressive internal collection with over 17K pieces by over 200 illustrators from 33 countries.

Chihiro Iwasaki at work. Source: Chihiro Art Museum web site, 27 July 2020.

In Onfim’s footsteps

Nobody knows who this young boy named Onfim was, but we know when and where he lived: Medieval times, Russia. Thanks to Onfim himself, for drawing, thanks scientists’ curiosity and a great deal of luck. Onfim’s drawings were not meant to be preserved for centuries, yet they were by chance, due to where they ended up and preserved by natural elements. Find out the details of this amazing discovery in Justin E.H. Smith‘s article on on LitHub.com: Onfim Wuz Here. His article previously appeared in Cabinet Magazine. Let us all be inspired by Onfim’s images and make sure that in centuries from now, people will have access to today’s images from children, not by chance, but by design.

Gramota No.203, after Onfim. Source: LitHub.com, 19 July 2020.

This was Spring 2020

What do the kids draw while schools are closed, during this global pandemic? Which telling images will remain as memories, to illustrate future tales to children and grand children?

Does anyone have children’s drawings of the time of the Spanish Flu, a century ago? We doubt it, but let’s do everything we can to prevent a similar catastrophe this time around. Stay safe and protect those vulnerable around you!

Tristesse, by Valerie, c1982. Source: CDIC-CIDE.
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