Exhibition

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In an earlier post I wrote about some of the strange coincidences that have emerged in the course of developing this exhibition. Another bizarre coincidence has now come to light. It is concerned not so much with a history relating to the written word or to visual culture but one that is nevertheless firmly centred on paper.

My colleague Helen Westhrop works as a Library Assistant in Special Collections and Cataloguing here at the University of Reading. In her spare time she is a keen blogger (her blog, Living Libraries and [Dead] Languages, is definitely worth following). Having been aware for some time that this exhibition was in progress and being interested in the Ladybird archive herself, Helen was trying to think of interesting ways of connecting her own writing with this collection. What she happened upon was a link between her own life story and the history of Ladybird books, possibly even connecting her with the physical manufacture of the Autumn volume at some stage in its later history.

Indeed, in the course of pondering ways to justify introducing discussion of the Ladybird collections  she realised something rather amazing. At an earlier point in her career, Helen worked as a clerk in the Buying Office of John Dickinson Paper and Board, then based at Croxley Mills in Watford. One of this company’s most prominent customers was the publishing house Wills and Hepworth, producers of Ladybird books.

As Helen notes on her blog, she therefore at one time had a hand in the very production of these books, albeit from the source context of working for the company that produced the paper on which they were printed. Nevertheless, this surprising ‘paper trail’ and revealing ‘paper tale’ together provide yet more evidence of the fascinating stories that underpin this seemingly simple series of children’s books.

Far too often we take the material things in our lives for granted and give little thought to the highly complex processes involved in their production and distribution; the people and places, and the companies and cultures that lie behind the existence of artefacts like Ladybird books. Thanks are due to Helen for sharing her piece of this rich, detailed, and endlessly fascinating puzzle. Perhaps others might be persuaded to share their own part, however small, in the processes that brought subsequent editions of the huntsman image and the What to Look For books to the book shops and to our modern-day book shelves and bibliographic collections.

 

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Echoing the themes of the last blog post on this topic, this example offers further evidence of the amazing and widespread enthusiasm that exists for Ladybird books. This time the impetus of the person acquiring this particular copy of a What to Look For book was not centred on a love of the work of Tunnicliffe but was based on a love of children’s literature. Indeed, this copy of the Spring volume has been kindly lent to the exhibition by children’s book enthusiast and collector Polly Harte.

Polly Harte's first edition copy of 'What to Look For in Spring'

Polly Harte’s first edition copy of ‘What to Look For in Spring’. Like Lionel Kelly’s ‘Autumn’ volume it lacks a dust jacket, revealing the Tunnicliffe image beneath.

Polly Harte works in the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading. More specifically, she helps to run its commercial and printing section, the Design and Print Studio, and has therefore played a peripheral but nevertheless key part in administration running alongside the production of panels and printed content for use in this exhibition.

In response to the original call for loan copies of the Autumn book, Polly had hoped that she on her shelves a first edition of the volume we were keen to use. She was sad to discover that she only had a copy of the Spring volume to hand. However, her enthusiasm for the book biographies microproject and for the wider goals of the exhibition itself was so overwhelming that I felt it impossible to decline her offer to lend another season instead.

Nevertheless, in spite of it not being the Autumn volume, Polly’s copy offers yet another unique and fascinating glimpse into the mulitfaceted stories that such items can tell. It was acquired at a car boot sale or in an informal second hand context. Polly collects these kinds of books because she has a longstanding interest in them and harbours the desire to return to researching them in greater detail.

Many thanks to Polly for kindly lending this book and for sharing her story. I hope she does decide to return to studying children’s books and that the exhibition lives up to her initial enthusiasm!

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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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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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From 6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013 an exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life presents a range of different responses to a single illustration of rural life. It focuses on a small watercolour by the artist Charles F. Tunnicliffe.

The Huntsman

'The huntsman, on his dappled grey..' by Charles Tunnicliffe (Image © Ladybird Books Ltd)

This was one of many artworks created by him for Ladybird children’s books. The painting featured in What to Look For in Autumn, published in 1960. This was part of a four-book series printed between 1959 and 1961. It was written by the biologist Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson and charted seasonal change in the countryside.

The original Ladybird artwork is held alongside the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading. This juxtaposition inspired us to invite specialists to examine a countryside image. Their responses form the core of the exhibition and together offer different answers to the question of What to Look For. They reveal the diverse stories that one illustration can tell.

Here we intend to ask how you might choose to look at this image and read the accompanying text? Are you interested in the artist, the illustration or other artistic responses? Perhaps the written word is more important. Maybe histories of science, of childhood or of hunting are more inspiring to you. What of the design of the book, its role in reading and learning, and how it teaches us to see and think about the world? As the exhibition progresses we hope that you will share your responses and join the conversation here.

What to Look For? Ladybird, Tunnicliffe, and the hunt for meaning

6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013

Dr Ollie Douglas (Museum of English Rural Life) and Dr Neil Cocks (Department of English Language and Literature)

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