September 19, 2012

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We originally hoped to incorporate some animated content and film into the exhibition, which for various practical reasons was not possible. As such, I thought I’d expand on some of these ideas and provide links to some interesting material here instead.

The arrival of photography in the nineteenth century led to realistic depictions of animal movement. The most famous example of this transition came in the form of work by visual pioneer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904). He used the camera to take different series of single frame stills that represented sequences of animals and people in motion. These images revealed how things actually moved. The stills he took have been re-animated by modern scholars.

Eadweard Muybridge's animated horse galloping

Animated sequence of a race horse galloping. Photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge (died 1904), first published in 1887 at Philadelphia (Animal Locomotion).

Despite these significant advances, Charles Tunnicliffe clearly opted to study specimens directly and to sketch from life. These observations—especially of birds—shaped his own ability to portray the animal world. The huntsman illustration at the heart of the exhibition also captured motion in its own way, operating much like a single frame from an animated film.

Although unconnected in life, Tunnicliffe actually had much in common with Walt Disney (1901-1966). Born just days apart at the very beginning of 1901, they both worked as commercial illustrators, later producing popular art for children and adults alike. Whilst the former sought to entertain and the latter to educate, their work shared a degree of captivation with animal movement.

Just as Tunnicliffe explored hunting through ‘Tarka the Otter’ and his illustrative work for Ladybird, visual and animated representations of hunting also featured in several Disney productions, first appearing in the 1938 cartoon The Fox Hunt.

The most successful hunting sequence of Disney’s lifetime and career was probably the blend of live action and animation in Mary Poppins. Based on the children’s books by Pamela Lyndon Travers, this film hit the screens in 1964, the heyday of Ladybird.

Far from offering a neutral depiction of fox hunting, Disney’s satirical and humourous sequences portrayed it as something to be ridiculed and something for the British upper classes. Nevertheless, in their own way these sequences helped to add to the sense that it was somehow quintessentially English and inherently part of the landscape and rural life in question.

As well as delving into ideas of animation and how animal movement was captured by Tunnicliffe and his contemporaries, we briefly explored another bit of film, this time of a more biographical nature. Tunnicliffe himself seems to have been the subject of a 1981 BBC Wales television documentary called True to Nature. We have yet to track down a copy of this documentary. If anyone remembers it we’d love to hear from you.

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Ladybird books were designed to be easily and cheaply printed. Indeed, one of the principal aims of the publisher was to make books that were both accessible and affordable. As a result, the books were made to a standard size and format, enabling them to be quickly and cheaply produced with little or no material wasted in the process. They were, in effect, a kind of twentieth century equivalent to that mainstay of nineteenth century popular publishing, the chap book. One knock-on effect of this economical approach to book production is that the resultant volumes themselves aren’t very big.

All this means that it would be hard to place an actual (680 mm x 440 mm) printed copy of the page on which this exhibition centres at the heart of the display and expect it to have much of a ‘wow factor’ to exhibition-goers. There will, of course, be original copies of the What to Look for in Autumn book on display but to achieve more of a visual impact we decided to scale the books up and make large versions of the key volume, based directly on the very first edition held in the Ladybird Collection itself.

Our own Morryce Maddams (Gallery Assistant) carefully measured the original book, before we had it digitally copied, scaled-up in image-editing software, and large paper surrogates were produced to order by the University’s dedicated in-house Design and Print Studio, which is closely interwoven with the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication. We deliberately based these images on the printed volume and not on the original artwork as we wanted the largescale versions to echo the dot-printed finish of the actual books.

Gallery Assistant Morryce Maddams working on a scaled-up book

This image shows MERL Gallery Assistant Morryce Maddams working on one of two scaled-up copies of the ‘What to Look For in Autumn’ book. One of these will be shown to display the cover and the other to show the double-page spread of the huntsman image and text on which the exhibition centres.

With the exception of one small deletion, the digital images used in these largescale versions were not altered in any way, so the massive dustjacket of the scaled-up book model designed to display the cover retains the abrasions and crayon marks of the copy on which it is based. The small piece of editing work was undertaken to digitally remove the name and address of a previous owner of this copy of the book. I’ll write a ‘Book Biographies’ blog post about this volume and its history in due course…

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