Category Archives: art research

Artist Spotlight: David Macaulay

Combining architecture, engineering, and down-right awesome illustrations, David Macaulay is perhaps best known as a children’s book illustrator. You may recognize some of his most popular works  – The Way Things Work, Cathedral, or, and this is easily my favorite, Motel of the Mysteries.

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

Born in Lancashire, England in 1946, Macaulay was raised in New Jersey and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. At the RISD, Macaulay focused his studies on Rome and Pompeii. Combining his academic interests, attention to detail, and some witty humor, much of Macaulay’s work is grounded in intricate designs and architectural renderings of buildings throughout time.

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

The illustrator focused on children’s nonfiction for the early portion of this career, producing some of his most well-known works. Additional titles include Pyramid (1975), Castle (1977), and Unbuilding (1980).

An illustration from Underground (1976)

An illustration from Underground (1976)

As I mentioned, my favorite of Macaulay’s work is Motel of the Mysteries (1979). This book focuses on future archeologists encountering a highway motel dating from the 1980s. The archeologists are led by Howard Carson, a young professional, designed with a nod to Howard Carter, of Tutankhamen fame. With limited data, the motel is soon interpreted as a religious burial site, with each room seen as a sacred tomb. Misguided conclusions are made, many of them terribly wrong. (A motel room’s TV is seen as a sacred alter, the toilet seat a decorative necklace…) Here, and in many of his other works, Macaulay presents some scientific lessons in observation and data gathering while producing a creative story with layers of history, archeology, and architecutre. I first encountered this book in the sixth grade, when a reading/social studies teacher read it aloud to our class. I still remember that day, and thinking “This is cool.” It was around this time that I became interested in how the past is interpreted and material culture.

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

In the 1990s and early 2000s Macaulay began producing some children’s fiction and picture books, such as Angelo (2002). Angelo follows the friendship of an Italian preservationist who, while working on a rooftop in Rome, encounters an injured pigeon. Overcoming a lifelong disdain for the animal (and its effect on historic buildings), the two form a friendship while the craftsman works to preserve the building. You can see why this illustrator appeals to me and others in the field.

Cover of Angelo (2002)

Cover of Angelo (2002)

In 2007 the National Building Museum featured an exhibition focused on the author, David Macaulay, The Art of Drawing Architecture. I’m sorry to have missed the exhibit, but I thoroughly enjoyed examining the exhibition designer’s renderings and photos – I even spotted some familiar gallery seating. The chairs utilized in the exhibition appear to be the same the Illinois State Museum features in its hands-on children’s gallery, The Play Museum! (For those interested: The chairs are Ikea Benjamin stools, here creatively utilized outside a museum gallery.)

I recently signed up to be a reader for National Reading Day through our local Volunteer in Public Schools Program (VIPS) in Little Rock. I look forward to selecting one of Macaulay’s works and sharing it with new audiences!

Have you read any of David Macaulay’s works? Do you have a favorite? I’d love to hear some recommendations!

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Artist Spotlight: Ansel Adams

We all know him for his landscapes and nature scenes – but did you know Adams was also a street photographer? I recently stumbled across this 2010 NPR article which details that the photographer’s range of work.

I came across the NPR article while researching  Adams. An advertisement for the Peoria Riverfront Museum appeared in the program for the upcoming Association of Midwest Museums 2013 conference “Locally Grown, Community Created.” The advertisement outlined the new exhibit “Ansel Adams: Western Exposure” which opened April 13 and runs through September 22, 2013.

Anyone want to check it out? 


Ansel Adams, c.1950


“Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park,” Montana., 1933 – 1942
Ansel Adams

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Partnering with a Campus Museum

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the exhibit “Experiences of the Illinois Civil War Soldier: Reflections through Art and Artifact” hosted at the Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University.

Current students in the Historical Administration program partnered with the Tarble Arts Center (an AAM accredited institution) to share the stories of Civil War soldiers from Illinois, with a focus on art and artifacts. It was a fascinating, focused look on a popular topic as we continue to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War – the students did a great job!


Explore an exciting new exhibit at the Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University.
Photo credit: HA Class 2012-2013.

To see the exhibit up close, explore the exhibit’s TumblrFacebook, and Twitter. Students created these social media pages through class assignments in Museum Digital Apps I & II. The sites outline the exhibit from a “big idea” to hammer and nail construction, and each site grants a unique behind the scenes look at the arch of the project. 

My graduate class also collaborated with the Tarble Arts Center, working with their permanent art collection and archives. One of our projects was to research and craft a disaster plan for the collection. It was a wonderful opportunity to apply material learned in the classroom (best practices, theory, etc) directly with a partnering institution on campus.

Campus museums play a great role in the development of not only budding museum professionals, but also students and staff affiliated with the arts, humanities, sciences, and all sorts things in the realm of informal learning.  The role of campus museums was recently discussed in the American Alliance of Museums LinkedIn group.

Did your college or university have a museum or two? What type? How did you connect with it as a student or visitor?


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Artist Spotlight: Erastus Sailsbury Field

While interning with the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum in South Hadley, MA, I became fascinated with a painting on dispaly at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Located in a permanent gallery, the piece was of a little girl holding a book. The background features a landscape scene with a lake, with a draped column on the left. The girl seems to greet you, her gaze warm. The straight lines of her dress and the detail on the fringe suggest a steady painter’s hand while the attention and care with the facial expression and eyes indicates an observant and careful creator. From the Skinner collection, this oil on canvas dates from about 1835 and is by Massachusettes artist Erastus Sailsbury Field.

What do you think of this piece?

Born in 1805 in Leverett, MA, Erastus Sailsbury Field spent much of his life in Massachusetts. The National Gallery of Art details that with an early interest in art, Field moved to New York in the 1820s to study with Samuel B.F. Morse. With a natural talent, Field spent much of his time painting portraits and landscapes, and was known for his quick and precise work.

The artist married and had one child, a daughter. Field integrated changing technology as he worked, utilizing evolving camera technology such as the daguerreotype to capture a sitter’s image. He would use this image as he finalized painting a portrait. Adoptive, resourceful, and industrious, Field created a small studio in Sunderland, MA.

By the time of his death in 1900, Field had produced over three hundred paintings. In addition to portraits and landscapes, Field’s work also includes many historical and biblical scenes. I was grateful to encounter this artist’s work while living in Massachusetts!

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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM)

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library

Researching manuscripts for the Springfield Art Association. Mmm the smell of archives!

Have you been to a presidential library and/or museum? Which one(s)?

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Artist Spotlight: Edward Hopper, Nighthawks

Growing up, there was a print of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks above our family’s computer desk at home. I remember working on papers in high school and glancing up at the print, imagining what the figures would think of my poetry analysis or chemistry report. The figures seemed so lonely, isolated in the brightly lit diner. The colors and structure of the piece emitted an atmosphere almost of tired tension. I was – and am – often reminded of the movies from the 1940s and film noir period. I could imagine Humphrey Bogart or Barbara Stanwyck stepping into the scene, exhausted after a long day and in need of a strong, hot cup of coffee.

During this time I made it a point to hop a train and visit the Art Institute of Chicago and actually view Hopper’s Nighthawks in the flesh.


Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Nighthawks, 1942
Oil on canvas
84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.)

Located in the American Art Gallery, this 1942 oil on canvas immediately captures a sense mystery  – Who were these individuals? What were their stories? The Art Institute points out that because the piece has a visible lack of narrative, it also has a timeless quality that transcends its particular local – inviting the imagination to concoct its own tale for the figures in the diner.

With just Nighthawks in mind, I was curious – who was Edward Hopper as an artist? What was his life like? In a 2004 biography written by Sheena Wagstaff, the director of exhibitions at the Tate Modern, London, Wagstaff notes that as a quiet and introverted man, Hopper had a gentle sense of humor and a frank manner. Born in New York in 1882, Hopper studied at the New York Institute of Art and Design, and was greatly influenced by Rembrandt, Impressionists, and engravers such as Charles Meyron. His work shifted between urban and rural settings, utilizing a spare and careful style. Hopper focused his work in mediums such as oil, watercolor, and prints. Nighthawks is his best known work, for additional pieces check out this convenient list. Hopper died 1967, and his wife, who had been a strong partner in his career, passed away ten months later. Much of his life’s work was left to the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2007 the National Gallery of Art hosted an exhibit, Edward Hopper, which surveyed the artist’s work.

Hopper’s art has inspired countless other works in a variety of mediums from comics to motion pictures. Nighthawks specifically has inspired its fair share of parodies. Check out this 2009 article which highlights several pop culture interpretations of the piece.


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PechaKucha 20×20

Last week I was invited by the ISM to present a public lecture at our Research and Collections Center. I decided to focus on a topic I have both a personal and professional interest in – film posters. The presentation focused on the history of film posters, how posters may act as both art and artifact, and how to identify common styles of film posters.

Here’s one of the posters I discussed: 


Star Wars, 1978 rerelease one-sheet, style d

While I was a bit nervous speaking before both museum staff and the public, the lecture went well. The audience was very welcoming, and I had numerous questions after the presentation. A few days after the lecture, I was asked whether I would be willing to present this topic at a different venue, at a PechaKucha

A PechaKucha? A short Google Search later and I was caught up to speed. This unique form of presentation calls for 20 images shown and discussed for 20 seconds each. How’s that for timing? While it will be interesting to skim the hour lecture down, it should be a fun and unique challenge. The details still need to be ironed out – but I’m excited about this possibility, and the opportunity to see other community members speak on a range of topics! 

Have you ever attended a PechaKucha? What would you present about? 

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Artist Spotlight: Vivian Maier

Have you heard her story? It’s a good one.

In March 2011 I was thrilled to attend the exhibit “Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer” at the Chicago Cultural Center. Centered on the life and works of the mid-20th century nanny/photographer extraordinaire, the exhibit was the result of a 2008 discovery via a storage unit auction of Maier’s life work (suddenly Storage Wars seems a bit more credible). Not only is the discovery of her work amazing – so is the quality of her work.

As an amateur photographer, street photography has always fascinated me.There’s something especially entrancing about Maier’s work. Her camera captures both light and shadows, and her subjects’ expressions span the range of emotion from anger to apathy.

Is there a particular artist or medium that inspires you?

Here are just a couple of Maier’s works to wet your appetite (All photos by Vivian Maier). For more photographs by Maier, check out this blog.



Hooked on her story?

Check out this trailer of a new documentary about her life and work:

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