October 3, 2011

Love to learn?

Then  do we have the book for you.

For those excited by the more, ahem, nerdy pursuits (history, botany and zoology, for example), we bring you The Art of Instruction, by Katrien Van der Schueren, owner of the eclectic gallery voila! in Los Angeles, and published this month by Chronicle.

Van der Schueren, who was born in Belgium, has been collecting education charts since she was a child, and it’s a passion she’s turned into a most curious and visually engaging new book. “The first educational wall charts were likely printed in Ger­many around 1820, when compulsory schooling began to spread throughout Europe and classroom size increased,” she writes in the introduction. “The continent was facing the Industrial Revolution, rapid popula­tion growth, and a new perspective on education: learning as a fundamental human right. Governments saw it as their duty to mandate schooling, and this shift created a sustained and thriving market for the illustrated charts.”

plate 16
Male Fern: Polystichum filix-mas
Fern plant with fronds in various stages of development; Underside of a pinnule with soris; Transverse section of a pinnule with secondary veins, sporangia, and indusium; Mature sporangium; Mature spore; Germinating spore; Prothallus (underside) with rhizoids, antheridia, and archegonia; Opened antheridium with escaping antherozoids; Archegonium with oosphere and mucilaginous apex; Prothallus with young plant.

The popularity of charts peaked between 1870 and 1920, when they were translated into different languages and distributed around the world. “The size, vibrant color, and rich detail of these illustrated charts not only made them an ideal medium for teaching classifications in nearly all branches of biology, but these characteristics also lent them an aesthetic quality. The charts served a dual role, as both scientific tools and works of art.”

Some of the charts (like the fern seen above) were large in scale and designed so that they could be seen by everyone in the classroom. They needed to be bold in order to capture the students’ interest and were intentionally designed without any or much text. (That was left to the accompanying books.)

plate 79
Hedgehog: Erinaceus europaeus
Animal in walking position. The spiny coat of the back gives way to hairy skin on the ventral side; Rolled-up animal with spines standing on end in all directions; Hedgehog, rolled up. The spiny coat in front is removed; The cap-formed dorsal muscle and the strong orbicular muscle form a pocket into which head, tail, and extremities are withdrawn; Soles of the fore and hind feet with the thick pads; Skull of a hedgehog with lower jaw; Molar with crown, seen from above and from the side; A spine with bright and dark areas. On the left, a cross section of a spine, showing the interior structure. In the cuticle, radial prominences give the appearance of a furrowed surface.
Illustration by Gottlieb von Koch (1849–1914)

For a century, roughly between 1850 and 1950, charts were fundamental tools in education. The number of charts that had been printed or handmade by individual professors and teachers worldwide during this time was likely in the hundreds of thousands,” Van der Schueren writes. “Today, it’s likely that only a frac­tion has survived. Smaller class sizes and richly illustrated schoolbooks for individual use gradually diminished the chart’s popularity, as did the introduction of technologically advanced visual aids, such as the slide projector. Although some manufacturers flourished until late in the 1980s, and production does continue today on a small scale, pictorial wall charts gradually lost their universal appeal after the 1960s.”

As we bring you in Entra’s Archivalia column, which highlights newly digitized and previously unseen collections of works on paper, technology has enabled museums and universities to reconsider often overlooked materials in their collections. “Considered ephemeral at the peak of their popularity, these charts were seldom cataloged by the institutions that used them, or even by the compa­nies that printed and sold them,” explains Van der Schueren. The Art of Instruction offers a beautiful reintroduction of the material and, as was the original goal of the charts, makes looking and learning fun.

plate 98
Red Star Coral: Astroides calycularis
Stony corals of the Mediterranean: a) living star coral, b) living branching coral, c) limestone skeletons of dead star coral; Young polyp of star coral opened to show gastrovascular cavity and skeletal structure (slightly diagrammatic); Transverse section of a polyp (enlarged); Part of the theca with dividing walls in transverse section: a) portion with three septa (enlarged), b) a single dividing wall with muscle attachment, germ cells, and showing the thickening of the wall (greatly enlarged), c) thickened wall showing stinging and glandular cells (very much enlarged); Development of stony coral: a) young larva in water, b) shapeless larva swimming, c) larva with early tentacle formation, d) larva with short tentacles settling down (very much enlarged).

The book can be purchased through Amazon, or directly through the gallery.

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