In the exhibition

Blog posts about things that the exhibition will contain (and maybe a few things that it won’t!).

This copy of the Autumn volume was acquired by an academic interested in the study of children’s literature. This also just happens to be an academic who has kindly contributed ideas and content towards the main banners in the exhibition itself. Dr Sue Walsh is a colleague of my co-curator Neil Cocks and works alongside him within CIRCL (Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture and Media). With this institutional affiliation in mind it it easy to see why she might have been interested in acquiring a copy of this particular book.

Sue Walsh's copy of the 'Autumn' book

Sue Walsh’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Autumn’, complete with the standard dust jacket. It appears much the same as all the other first editions on display.

It appears at first glance to be much like the other first editions that we have borrowed for the exhibition. It has its dust jacket and is in near pristine condition. The price is, of course, the standard 2’6 for which Ladybird became known.

Price on the dust jacket of Sue Walsh's copy.

The standard price of 2’6, as printed on the dust jacket of Sue Walsh’s copy.

However, as with other individual copies, more careful visual inspection reveals subtle differences in the way this particular book has been treated by its previous owners. There are scribbles that evidence a perhaps less caring owner, most likely a child!

Scribbles on the title page of Sue Walsh's copy.

Scribbles on the title page of Sue Walsh’s copy of the ‘Autumn’ book, surrounding the iconic Ladybird logo.

Perhaps more interesting still is the later addition of an alternate price, no doubt by an enthusiastic second hand book seller. The price of £6.50 has been written inside, indicating a significant increase on its original price of 2/6. Whatever Sue herself paid for the book, this is evidence enough that the financial value of these volumes has increased markedly and that they are nolonger the economical literature of the people that they once were. Instead, they are the preserve of book collectors, enthusiasts, and specialists.

Price annotation on Sue Walsh's copy of the 'Autumn' book.

A later price annotation of £6.50 adorns the inside of Sue Walsh’s copy of the ‘Autumn’ book.

Sue herself acquired her copy with the possibility of using it for teaching or research purposes at some point in the future. I hope that involvement in this project has enthused her to make active use of this copy in the classroom context. Thanks to Sue for the generous loan of this volume and thanks also for providing ideas and content for the following exhibition banner.

Exhibition banner based on content and ideas provided by Sue Walsh.

This exhibition banner explores ideas connected with the notion of an animal and of absence and is based on content provided by Sue Walsh.

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The official opening date is this coming weekend but the exhibition is now more or less in place. Here is a little background to the selection of just a handful of objects that we chose to use.

In the course of planning this exhibition, my co-curator Neil Cocks and I decided it would be useful to undertake a brief review of some of the hunting-related content housed at MERL such that we could select suitable items for display. This process threw up some interesting gaps in the holdings of this (ordinarily very comprehensive) rural collection and led to the discovery of some rather unexpected connections.

We were surprised to learn, for example, that the Museum had no hunting pinks (or pinques) in its possession, this being the type of red coat traditionally worn by many in the hunting fraternity. Luckily, this did not prove a major stumbling block as I knew that my parents had in their possession a coat of this kind that was made in the nineteenth century for my Great Great Great Grandfather Charles Garfit and, as such, I decided to borrow this item for the exhibition. Thanks to Tim and Jane Douglas (a.k.a. mum and dad) for the generous loan of this coat.

Hunting pinks made for Charles Garfit

The red coat made in circa 1832 for MERL curator Ollie Douglas’ ancestor Charles Garfit.

Some months prior to this I had already managed to secure a hunting whip for the collection, which I purchased at auction as part of the Museum’s ongoing project Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures. As I waited to bid for this item I chatted at length to Mary Riall, Chief Executive of Ufton Court Educational Trust, who was there seeking artefacts for use in hands-on learning contexts. She revealed her own familial connections to hunting and the fact that, much like my parents, she too had some unused hunting paraphernalia at home. Again, this connection proved rather timely and Mary has kindly lent some boots and a riding cap for use in the exhibition. I would like to also extend my thanks to her for agreeing to this loan.

Hunting whip acquired at auction through Collecting Cultures funding

This hunting whip was acquired at an auction in Reading through Collecting Cultures funding (MERL 2011/7).

Just before Neil and I met to look over the MERL objects and to examine the coat that I had borrowed from my parents I spent some time looking at each item more carefully and reading through the related documentation. Prior to this moment I knew very little about the branch of my family to which the pinks were connected. I was therefore surprised and pleased to learn that the first owner of this coat had himself been based at Tabley House, Cheshire, a large property situated in the very county where Charles Tunnicliffe himself was to be born decades later. Ideal I thought, a Cheshire hunting artefact to help elucidate and interpret an image of a huntsman that itself almost certainly harked back to the artist’s own Cheshire roots.

Label found in the box in whcih the hunting coat had long been stored.

This handwritten label was in the box in which the hunting coat had long been stored. It revealed the provenance of the artefact, which had previously been unknown to me.

However, this was not the end of the surprises that I had in store. As I proceeded to revisit and re-examine the hunting whip, then still quite recently purchased, I was amazed to discover that the silver ferrule on this stylised accessory was inscribed as follows:

‘J. L–W // Tabley House // Cheshire // 1928’

In a remarkable coincidence I had purchased an object for inclusion in the MERL collection that was linked by its own object biography to a house that had earlier connections to my own familial heritage. Neil and I agreed that the Cheshire connections alone were sufficient to justify incorporating these intriguing objects and that the link between them, which was also centred on the importance of  ‘place’ in interpreting material culture, simply served to enhance the valuable part they could play in the exhibition. Plus, of course, the hunting pinks looked visually striking!

The importance of A Sense of Place in understanding the history of these objects, as well as the impetus and inspiration behind Tunnicliffe’s huntsman image, is clear. This area oif exploration is the subject of another project currently underway at the Museum, and about which my colleagues and I have also been blogging. If you are interested then why not check out this ongoing discussion or pay a visit to the exhibition and take a look at the whip and jacket on display.

The engraved ferrule on the hunting whip.

The engraved ferrule on the hunting whip, which reveals a link to Tabley House, Cheshire.

Objects on display in the exhibition, including the red coat.

Objects on display in the exhibition, including the red coat, as used to provide an artefactual understanding of the huntsman image.

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The appeal of Ladybird books as collectible items is well known, with specialist websites and blogs such as The Wee Web and Vintage Ladybird Books offering a growing wealth of online and detailed information on the volumes available and on the history of this rich strand of children’s literature and publishing history. In terms of the biographies of individual copies of Ladybird books many of these will find themselves in the hands of collectors at some point in their lifetimes. The copies we have borrowed for the exhibition are no exception.

The Tunnicliffe collector's book shelves

This photo shows the book shelves of Tunnicliffe collector Lionel Kelly, whose personal holdings include earlye ditions of many works illustrated by the artist.

We have on display a copy of the first edition of the Autumn volume that has been kindly lent by Lionel Kelly, a former academic who worked for many years in the Department of English here at the University of Reading. Like numerous other scholars of literature, Lionel was an enthusiastic book collector for many years. When he retired he became especially keen on the work of Charles Tunnicliffe and began collecting early editions of books that had been illustrated by him. This, of course, included copies from the What to Look For series.

Lionel Kelly's copy of 'What to Look For in Autumn'

Lionel Kelly’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Autumn’ is a frist edition but is lacking the standard dust jacket that came with the original volume. This lack of dust jacket reveals the monochrome Tunnicliffe image that graces the cover beneath.

Lionel has also lent his first edition copy of What to Look For in Winter, which features one of the most entertaining (not to mention worrying!) errata slips I have ever seen, and one with which other Ladybird enthusiasts are already familiar. This is shown in the picture below.

Errata slip from Lionel Kelly's first edition copy of the 'Winter' volume.

Errata slip from Lionel Kelly’s first edition copy of ‘What to Look For in Winter’.

The slip reads as follows:

ERRATA page 16 // “The red and purple berries that look like tiny jam tarts are not poisonous.”// should read // “The red and purple berries that look like tiny jam tarts are ALSO poisonous.”

One young owner of this particular copy of the book has tken it iupon themselves to write ‘are poisonous’ alongside the wording of the errata slip. Someone – perhaps the same previous owner – has also made the correction on page 16, as shown in the following image.

Correction made in pen to page 16 of Lionel Kelly's copy of the 'Winter' book.

A correction has been made to the text on page 16 of Lionel Kelly’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Winter’.

We are enormously grateful to Lionel for lending these two books and for lending a handful of other gems from his wider Tunnicliffe collection. These include two books illustrated by Tunnicliffe and, like the What to Look For series, also authored by Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson. He has also lent us a copy of Tunnicliffe’s How to Draw Farm Animals, an original pencil sketch from which we have borrowed from Oriel Ynys Môn. Why not drop in to see the exhibition and take a look at this original pencil sketch on display.

Lionel Kelly's copy of 'How to Draw Farm Animals'

One of Lionel Kelly’s two different editions of ‘How to Draw Farm Animals’.

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Book design was of paramount importance in developing the format of Ladybird books as we now know them. Indeed, as the exhibition reveals, the format and size of these volumes was determined by a desire to be economical and to get the most out of cutting a single sheet of paper without wastage. We have on display an uncut printer’s sheet from a Ladybird book that helps to illustrate this point, as well as detailed discussion of the design of Ladybird books, which has been provided by our colleague Professor Sue Walker of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication.

Ladybird books and the complexities of their design history notwithstanding, we have had our own design challenges in the course of planning and developing the exhibition itself. Our collaborator and consultant in this venture has been Mark Meredith of Waysgoose Design, whose vibrant and lively artwork has invigorated our ideas and helped render them presentable and visually appealing, as can be seen by his design for the exhibition poster (click to download here).

What to Look For exhibition poster

The ‘What to Look For’ exhibition poster, as designed by Mark Meredith of Waysgoose Design.

Mark is himself a graduate of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication and was at one time taught by Sue Walker. He also worked for her for a number of years after graduating. It is nice to see them both working on this project. Mark also managed to find time to get married whilst (seemingly simultaneously) finishing off amendments to the designs he had produced for this display, which just goes to show what talent and ability he has.

Congratulations and thanks are therefore due to both Mark Meredith and to Sue Walker for their contributions towards and commitment to this exhibition. Like the classic and well-loved look of the Ladybird book, this exhibtion wouldn’t be what it has become without the design and the authorship that lies behind it!

Banner designed fro the exhibition by Mark Meredith.

This banner on the theme of Book Design was designed for the exhibition by Mark Meredith and is based on the specialist knowledge and input of Professor Sue Walker.

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As the exhibition opening draws closer, our exploration of the biographies of individual copies of books from the What to Look For series continues. Although the copy pictured below is not a first edition but a later version and is arguably far less ‘collectible’ by traditioanl standards, I think there is little chance that this particular volume will ever reach the secondhand book market. It will certainly not do so in the lifetime of its current owner, for whom it is of special importance.

Copy of 'Autumn' book lent by Kelly Borlase-Hendry and her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry

This later edition of the ‘Autumn’ book has been lent by Kelly Borlase-Hendry and her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry, who has had it since he was a child.

Indeed, the book has come to us via Kelly Borlase-Hendry who works as a Student Financial Support Team Leader within the University of Reading. It belongs to her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry who remembers the What to Look For series being his favourite books when he was younger, so much so that they were the only volumes that he kept from his childhood.

This narrative doesn’t differ enormously from the other familial stories I have already recounted. Someone owned the book as a child and liked it enough to hang onto it into adulthood. However, there is a further twist to this particular example. Piran wanted me to point out that not only that he is a graduate of Rural Resource Management here at the University of Reading (and therefore has his own institutional connection) but that he is now working as an Ecologist, a career trajectory that has much to do with his love of these books in his youth. Indeed, as his wife Kelly told me, Piran thinks that ‘his love of the countryside stems from these books.’

For me at least and for our purposes in this part of the exhibition and wider project, this a tremdously powerful idea. It is one thing for us to be asking quite simply how people respond to an image from the Autumn volume or what they think of the book and the text now but to know it had such a profound impact on someone’s life, and that these four small books were capable of influencing what degree and subsequent career somebody chose to pursue is a step on from exploring the possible meaning of marginalia and old sticky tape marks.

Do you have a similar story to tell about one of these four books, or perhaps regarding the infleunce of Ladybird books on subsequent life choices more generally? If the What to look For books could inspire someone to a career in ecology, a type of job that was markedly less common when they were first published then there must be people out there whose subsequent paths were determined by the more straightforwardly career-oriented volumes produced through Ladybird’s People at Work series.

I and J Havenand, 'The Farmer' (1963)

First published in 1963, ‘The Farmer’ by I and J Havenand gave a detailed account of farming at this time and what it entailed. It was one of Ladybird’s ‘People at Work’ series. A slightly later edition may be seen in the exhibition.

For example, the very first two of these being Vera Southgate’s The Fireman (1962) and The Policeman (1962). This is to say nothing of I and J Havenand’s The Farmer (1963), which is arguably more relevant here, as well as the nurses, builders, postmen, miners, and others whose lives might have been shaped by these formative and informative books.

Thanks to Piran and Kelly for sharing the story behind the copy they have kindly lent.

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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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As discussed above, the exhibition on Ladybird and Tunnicliffe at MERL will feature work by a number of academics from the University of Reading discussing what they look for in a single image from What to Look For in Autumn. The approaches range from Art History to Biology, Typography to Critical Theory. Each response is displayed on a banner or panel, that works through some key ideas. Many of these have now been printed.

1) Looking at the Artist introduces some biographical information about the artist Tunnicliffe, placing the image from What to Look for in Autumn in the context of his life and work.

2) Looking at Art and Style relates the image to the work of artists that influenced Tunnicliffe.

3) Looking at How to Look asks a range of questions about the framing of the image.

4) Looking at Artefacts explores the various objects depicted in the images, and from this discusses the representation the natural and the human

5) Looking at Childhood places the image in the context of changing C20th attitudes to childhood.

6) Looking at Letterforms relates the word forms in What to Look For in Autumn to typographical innovations within the wider series of Ladybird publications.

7) Looking at Book Design describes the printing and design process, and the influence technical considerations had on the image and the book from which it is taken .

8) Looking at Names uses the mushrooms depicted in the image as a starting point for a discussion of the relationship between names and things.

9) Looking at Absence is interested in things outside of the image’s frame and how they contribute to the image within.

10) Looking at the Hunt relates the image to some of Tunnicliffe’s other depictions of hunting

11) Looking at Science engages with the work of Grant-Watson, the biologist and writer who supplied the text that accompanies the image.

12) Looking at Learning relates the image to contemporary ideas of education and literacy.

13) Looking at Rural History approaches the image through changing ideas of the rural and nature.

14) Looking at Images is a photographic response to the What to Look For books by Wig Sayell, a contemporary artist.

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Part of the forthcoming MERL Ladybird exhibition will be a series of banners featuring responses to Ladybird images by University of Reading academics. We asked these academics ‘what do you look for when you look at one of the “What to Look For  in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter” Ladybird books? We asked a visual artist the same question.

Wig Sayell has a longstanding interest in offering complex engagements with landscape and rural history. Her response to our commission was to produce four images, each reflecting one of the four ‘What To Look For…’ books.

Here is the image for ‘Autumn’.  In a future blog entry, we will be interviewing Wig, and asking her to talk through the ideas that inform this image, and the techniques she used to produce it.

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