Sunday, November 23, 2008


...And here my blogging began

About a year ago I started this blog after I visited Hillsboro, Ohio, the Ohio Historical Society and the Cartoon Research Library. OHS and OSU both had exhibits on Hillsboro-born cartoonist Milton Caniff. Last week I went back to Columbus. OHS still has their Caniff exhibit running and the Cartoon Research Library is home to Caniff's personal collection of letters, papers and artwork.

At the Ohio Historical Society, I talked with Connie Bodner about the Caniff exhibit. Bodner is the Director of Education and Interpretive Services. One of the things that struck me about the OHS exhibit is the lack of artwork, which seems odd for a famous artist. Bodner explained that the museum was more geared toward 3-D objects while the Cartoon Research Library excels at displaying art. Whatever Caniff art they had is now at the Library and the 3-D objects the Library had were transferred to the museum. The OHS exhibit, 'Spotlight on Milton Caniff', is really about the man. Included are furniture, toys and other objects from his childhood, as well props and apparatus used in drawing. Bodner told me that when school groups come through they focus on Caniff as a famous Ohioan. The children relate to the childhood objects (apparently Caniff's mother saved everything) and learn about a little boy who loved to draw and was able to make a career out of it.

Complimenting the Caniff exhibit are new exhibits on Currier & Ives prints and Norman Rockwell's magazine covers. I'll admit that I knew zippity-zoop about Currier & Ives, other than their namecheck in "Sleigh Ride". I knew they made prints, but I didn't know they weren't the artists. I learned that Nathaniel Currier was a lithographer who, in the 1830s, started making making artistic renderings of current events into prints for newspapers and public consumption. Hiring accountant James Ives, the two began a successful partnership of selling decorative art prints to the masses. These hand-colored prints look remarkable for their age. Witness the vibrancy of the print shown here, which is over 150 years old. It's interesting to me that the successful use of photography in newspapers didn't come of age until the 1930s. Papers were still using a staff of artists to depict the news and newsmakers of the day. This is how Milton Caniff got his break. Aside from cartooning, he was also doing spot news illustrations for the Columbus Dispatch and then the Associated Press.

The Norman Rockwell exhibit, Rockwell's America, was a thrill for me because I was nuts about his art back when I was in high school. You might infer, then, that I was one of the popular kids, but you'd be wrong. I read his autobiography, asked for books of his art of Christmas and did my junior history fair project on his work. My Rockwell fervor has abated since then, but was reinvigorated by this exhibit. The Rockwell illustration work that is best known are the 322 covers he painted for the Saturday Evening Post, a weekly magazine founded by Benjamin Franklin. The exhibit uses these iconic images to tell the story of the technological and social changes in America from World War I to JFK (Rockwell's tenure on the Post). Some of the covers are recreated in statuary (see the cover the picture came from here. There are even some live performers, like Rosie the Riveter (below).
There's no original art in the exhibit, but rather the atmosphere of being inside Rockwell's paintings and his vision of American life. The most impressive part to me was the gathering in one room of the 322 Post covers, hung chronologically.

'Spotlight on Milton Caniff', 'Currier & Ives: Illustrating America' and 'Rockwell's America' all run through March 1st. To plan your visit, check out the Ohio Historical Center's website. And if art isn't your thing, they still have the two-headed calf...

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