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Saw the Tolkien exhibit in NYC - and Hammond and Scull lecturing on Tolkien's art

squire
Half-elven


Feb 1, 7:41pm

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Saw the Tolkien exhibit in NYC - and Hammond and Scull lecturing on Tolkien's art Can't Post

Well, after gnashing my teeth in envy all last fall at the reports from Oxford about the new Tolkien Art retrospective show, I finally got to the Morgan Library in New York yesterday evening to see the traveling version of the show.

It was really fabulous. I know many here have plans to go, or wish they did. It runs until May, so there is still time. The show is not as big as the Bodleian one, evidently, as some pieces could not travel. But it occupies a large gallery, with about four subdivisions of spaces. It's really the work that is all small. Like in little.

That was what really amazed me and made me feel I was learning something new about Tolkien, something all the books don't get across: The guy was a freaking miniaturist! He had to have worked with a magnifying glass or a loupe, half the time. He always did his paintings and sketches on letter-sized paper (often the back sides of academic worksheets or looseleaf) and yet they're fantastically detailed. His maps of Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings? Tiny, one page at most, with all the texts crammed onto them. It's amazing that Christopher was able to redraw them as clearly as he did for the books. The paintings are likewise small, yet every brushstroke is considered. And sometimes details are there that the best reproduction on the web, at some mid-size resolution, does not convey. For example:

The painting of "Halls of Manwe (Taniquetil)", the highest mountain in Valinor at the top of which lives Manwe and the other Valar, is justly famous. It features on the cover of Hammond & Scull's seminal 1995 review of Tolkien's art, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. I thought I was pretty familiar with it. But on close inspection, I saw for the first time last night that the corny and out-of-place 'swan boat' in the foreground is echoed by another much smaller one, evidently far in the distance and right at the foot of the mountain. It's in front of what on close inspection is revealed to be the Elvish city of Alqualonde, the "Haven of the Swans".

Why hadn't I ever noticed that before - or the similarly tiny but detailed city of the gods at the very peak, which simply looks like a golden beacon light on casual inspection? Because these details are very tiny, very tight, and quite simply unnoticeable on most images that are shared on the internet at lower resolutions. See this close-up of the image that I have a copy of in my files; the red circle shows how the second swan-boat gets lost at lower, web-friendly resolutions:

So although this exhibit is not all that large, it repays a Tolkien fan to spend a couple of hours there, really looking at all the tiny, and fabulous, art and graphics.

Another thing that comes across is how talented an illustrator Tolkien was, within his range. He was best at landscapes, and at the height of his artistic productivity, when he painted the Hobbit color plates and book jacket cover, he had mastered a kind of layered and bordered style that is as much graphic design as classical watercoloring. Instead of training himself to grade color with washes, and to use the water medium to create lively fields of tone, he drew concentric or multi-bordered fields of color. They convey changing intensity or fading distances via contrasting steps or gradations of solid tones, and the graphic patterns of the boundaries between fields give a rhythm to the picture that is pleasing in its own right.

That's just one feature of his style that repays studying; he really did do some wonderful work with color pencils and black ink as well. His lack of formal training shows, especially in his lifelong weakness with the figure, but his best works really are not just naive anymore, but very accomplished amateurism.

The reason I went last night, and not before, is that at 6:30 there was a lecture, "Tolkien and the Visual Image", given in the auditorium by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull. Any long-time Tolkien fan knows their immense contribution to Tolkien Studies over the past 35 years, and I wanted finally to see and hear them in person.

Wayne is a dour-looking gentlemen who seems the very image of expert librarian, which is what he is, but I was pleased to find that as a speaker he is quite witty and light-hearted about his subject. Christina is less accomplished as a speaker, but her deep devotion to her subject comes across very clearly. They spoke in alternation, with Christina, a trained art historian, tackling the thornier topics of Tolkien's style and Wayne covering the historical and literary context of the images. They had an immense slide screen to refer to, and of course it was fun to see them talk about pictures I had just looked at the originals of an hour or two before.

I can't say I learned a whole lot, as much of what they had to say rehearsed a kind of set script of Tolkien's life, works, and artistic progression that they laid out in their 1995 book and in the well-known details of his biography. But they did throw in little tidbits, like an unofficial suggestion that Tolkien was more influenced by Japanese graphic art than is generally known, and pointing out that the famous Celtic Knot dragon drawing was supposed to be an immature, and hence more innocent-looking, 'dragonet', compared to the terrifying paintings he had done of Glorund and Smaug. I also liked the note that Tolkien literally did no paintings (that we know of) to illustrate The Silmarillion during almost ten crucial years from 1918 to 1927. Evidently he was so wrapped up in the linguistic and textual processes that he did not need to pictorialize any part of his developing world in order to imagine it or write about it.

After the lecture the museum director announced that Hammond and Scull would be in the lobby to take questions, rather than remain at the podium in the hall. When we (my daughter Milady had come along) got up to the lobby, we found a table had been set up, and Hammond and Scull were seated before a long line of autograph-seekers with their armloads of H&S books. The two authors looked exhausted at the prospect of the coming hour, and professionally flexed their fingers and readied their pens. I had hoped to chat them up just a bit, after following their careers and work for so many decades, but that was not to be. The museum director mentioned to me in passing that he had decided against an open question-and-answer session, fearing that a very high percentage of the questions would be, to put it politely, so simple, misdirected, or foolish as to be a waste of H&S's time. I had no idea how right he was; the audience looked to me like a classic bunch of Tolkien fans with a decent knowledge of stuff. But on the other hand, a lady nearby told me she'd hoped to have her question answered as to whether Gollum was based on the Jewish legendary creature, the Golem. I suggested it was an unintentional overlap of sounds, and she was surprised to learn that Gollum's name was based on his gulping reflex and was not, actually, spelled Golum - she'd never seen it, only heard it. So there's that.

I am very glad to have gone, and even gladder that I'll get one or two more chances to return and give everything another few hours of study. The New York Tolkien Symposium is being held at the Morgan in mid-March, and some folks here have proposed getting together at the exhibit in April, which I hope I can join in on. I do advise anyone who can, to get to the exhibit. It shows a side of Tolkien's work that just isn't the same reading about it or looking at reproductions and photos. To a certain degree, one feels him in the room, peering with you at some just-finished, gorgeous, meticulous, picture, and thinking "not good enough, really, but it's time for bed after all."



squire online:
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hanne
Lorien

Feb 1, 11:18pm

Post #2 of 10 (613 views)
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Wow! Thank you thank you [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you so much for taking the time to write all these lovely details for the rest of us. It sounds so so wonderful!
Of course rushed immediately to my copy of the Sil which has the Taniquetil painting for the cover to look for the two cities and the second ship. How truly wonderful. Thank you again.



grammaboodawg
Immortal


Feb 2, 1:20am

Post #3 of 10 (609 views)
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*mods up* I'm so happy you made it there [In reply to] Can't Post

With your depth of knowledge and devotion to Tolkien's work, I'm so very glad you were able to experience his work first-hand.... and to hear Hammond and Scull. Not meaning this to sound like a cliché... it hard to describe the emotional connection to seeing his work in reality... in his presence, in a way.

I gasped when you said , "To a certain degree, one feels him in the room, peering... " That's exactly what I felt on the 2 occasions I was able to see his work first hand. And you're so right about the detail! I saw some of his maps at the Field Museum in Chicago 2007. Then some of his work (including a hand-written menu) at the NYC Lincoln Center Original Manuscripts from FotR exhibit. I, too, felt like I was sharing these discoveries with him there. I didn't want to leave and wished I could have lingered longer without the press of people who also wanted to get in there.
There must be so much more you want to focus on to glean all of the intricate details of his sketches/paintings like you found in the Artist and Illustrator book. I immediately grabbed my copy off the shelf and my magnifying glass!

Thank you so much for this. I hope you make it back until your mind and heart are filled to the brim with the wonder :)




sample

We have been there and back again.


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dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 2, 3:34am

Post #4 of 10 (607 views)
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Excellent! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you for this glimpse of the exhibit! There is nothing that can compare with standing right in front of something Tolkien has written or drawn, to give you a feeling of closeness to him.

I'm glad you finally saw and heard that great duo in person. They do complement one another well, don't they!

I am so looking forward to seeing these in April. Heart


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 2, 4:12am

Post #5 of 10 (613 views)
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Photobucket has changes its mind? [In reply to] Can't Post

In light of I shall not say what (well, there is a connection to this, brother, and to the North), Tolkien's art was on my mind tonight, specifically as regards a question I asked here nine years ago. Logging into TORN, I get two pieces of good news: (1) there's a great new post by you on Tolkien's art; and (2) many months ago, Photobucket abandoned its "hostage" policy that had locked up the photos of millions at an exorbitant charge. That makes it possible for me to intelligibly ask:

This little fellow--who is he supposed to be?

Was any of Tolkien's "Father Christmas" art on display at the Morgan?


Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.


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acheron
Gondor


Feb 2, 5:43am

Post #6 of 10 (597 views)
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Thanks for the summary [In reply to] Can't Post

As another long-time admirer of H&S's worker, I had hoped to make it up for the lecture, but it didn't work out. Still hope to come see the exhibit anyway later in the spring. Sounds like a great time.

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


Silverlode
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 2, 6:35am

Post #7 of 10 (594 views)
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Thanks for the report! [In reply to] Can't Post

I have no chance of getting to the exhibit myself, but it's fantastic to get such a detailed report from someone who did! Talking about Tolkien painting tiny, detailed pictures and the feeling of him being in the room reminded me of Leaf by Niggle:
"He was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges."

I can picture him leaning over his desk, working away on some tiny gem of a picture, trying to catch the particular feeling of the thing he wanted to portray.

Silverlode

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.




squire
Half-elven


Feb 2, 12:54pm

Post #8 of 10 (583 views)
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That, my dear friend, is [In reply to] Can't Post

a golliwog, a popular doll in that time. It's easy to find references in British (and American, etc.) culture of this time to a stylized African negro character, personified in a children's doll, with all the unpleasant visual associations we as a culture have tried to bury in the past sixty years.

I wonder, then, if the 'Pantomime' that Father Christmas refers to, at just the point where he draws a golliwog, includes performances in blackface? That came to my mind in part because, when researching my town's history in the 1940s newspaper archives, I was stunned to discover that the town's annual festival included blackface performances by some of the leading citizens, to everyone in the (wholly white, NY suburban) town's amusement. Needless to say, that's now a thing of the past, and long forgotten if not buried.

I've come across other references to the golliwog, in 1930s and 40s English literature, such as the novels of Nevil Shute, and of course one sees the casual racism underlying its popularity in children's books, now banned or discouraged, from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Tales to Hugh Lofting's Dr. Doolittle to Mary Travers' Mary Poppins.

As far as the exhibit goes, the Father Christmas art on display was the first one, of FC trudging through the snow and showing "my house" as a circular hut in the snow. It was, as I've said about all his pictures, very small and exquisitely penned for all its simplicity of style. There may have been additional ones, but I didn't get to see the entire exhibit due to shortness of time.

Good news on Photobucket; I know many here have used it to illustrate their discussions.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Feb 3, 4:09pm

Post #9 of 10 (466 views)
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Very pleased to hear that you were able to get there! [In reply to] Can't Post

And I enjoyed your summary and descriptions. I am still holding out hope that I will be able to get out there before it leaves in May, but I'm not sure I will be able to.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 4, 9:00pm

Post #10 of 10 (423 views)
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Grr. That should have read "changed" not "changes", of course. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.


-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.

 
 

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