Visual and Environmental Studies

Visual and Environmental Studies

Visual and Environmental Studies encompasses a wide variety of artistic fields, from studio art to photography and film. Houghton’s versatile collection caters to all of these areas; the library owns many artists’ books and multifarious photography collections, as well as films.

Beginning with more traditional endeavors, Houghton’s large collection of incunabula, which contains almost 400 items printed during the first fifty years of Gutenberg’s printing press, provides some interesting insights on early printed illustrations. The library owns, for instance, a blockbook from around 1462 depicting the Book of Revelation (Typ Inc 14, 001242636). Blockbooks, volumes in which every richly illustrated page containing both text and image was carved separately without the use of movable types, are quite rare as artifacts—as less refined products, they were not preserved as carefully as manuscripts and incunabula. Students are very lucky to have access to this art medium as Harvard students. Another incunabulum, the Nuremberg Chronicle (WKR 10.2.7, 001527048), contains illustrations of people and landscapes, especially urban ones. It is another resource that can be used to study early printed illustrations.

Leaving the early modern period, Houghton owns thirty-six drawings of India by Thomas and William Daniell (TypDr 805.D316.00m, 007483970), the latter the author of Oriental Scenery, a compendium of illustrations of the East. While students in literary disciplines use literary accounts to assess cultural perceptions, VES concentrators might use this collection to analyze how one culture portrays another visually. Another British traveling artist was Edward Lear, who explored Eastern and Southern Europe, the Near East, and South Asia. Houghton holds the largest collection of original material by Lear, including some of his watercolors (TypDr 805.L513, 014435320) and landscape drawings (MS Typ 55.26, MS Typ 55.11, MS Typ 55.14, TypDr 805. L513, 000602418), which include 200 illustrations for Tennyson poems and can thus be used to study the relationship between written language and visual art. Another of the library’s more illustrious and proudest holdings is its 100-centimeter copy of Audubon’s Birds of America (*AC8.Au292.827b, 004352714), a volume that revolutionized scientific art due to its vivacious portrayal of fauna. Houghton also owns original Audubon drawings from his early career (MS Am 21, 000602216), which students can use to understand the artist more holistically.

However, as previously stated, Houghton is not all traditional visual art. The library has less-known yet equally fascinating items waiting for students to discover them in the stacks. They include Oidhche Sheanchais, the first sound film in the Irish language (MS Ir 36, 013512261); Phoebe Jane Easton’s research collection on marbled paper (MS Typ 1155, 013333828), a form of art intrinsically linked to Houghton’s archive, which is laden with marbled paper inner covers; correspondence between philosopher and Harvard professor W. V. Quine and Clive Entwistle, an architect, about urbanism (MS Am 2587 [333], 008937558) and between Quine and Steve Pyke (MS Am 2587 [886], 008937558), a photographer who was organizing a shoot with celebrated modern philosophers; and The Songs of Argus Zion (MS Eng 1610, 010196664), a nineteenth-century revivalist, apocalyptic hymn book with unique illustrations.

Artists’ books are another form of nontraditional art ubiquitous at Houghton. A singular artistic endeavor, they are a key part of the library’s archive, besides speaking to Houghton’s desire to collect a wide variety of materials related to the book arts. Among the most peculiar exemplars, students can find a vampire hunter’s kit from 2014 (AC20.Sw360.2014v, 014223716) and Angela Lorenz’s Sir Thomas’more, or, Utopia Impaled, a 2007 artist’s book in the shape of a s’more (Typ 2025.07.5324, 011294691). Another notable specimen in the collection is Kara Walker’s Freedom (Typ 970.97.8746, 008809633), which can be studied in conjunction with African and African American Studies.

Two collections that can be used by VES students in their research and exploits are directly connected to Houghton. One of them includes the ELLI typeface design materials (TypTS 970.90.374, 003444991). ELLI was created by Jean Evans in the 1990s to honor Elli Garvey, Houghton’s former curator of Printing and Graphic Arts, and the artist’s creative process is kept at the library. Students interested in typography, in fact, can explore Houghton’s collection of type specimens through the TypTS class. Another collection of items to explore is  the material connected to the recent Babar Comes to Houghton exhibition, which will be available for research when the displays come down at the end of the 2016 summer.

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