Monday, November 8, 2010

Coloring Books Go Highbrow At Princeton Library

By Nancy Mattoon

PARAIN, Nathalie. Ribambelles [Paper Chains].
Paris: Flammarion, 1932.

(All Images Courtesy Of Cotsen Children's Library, Princeton University.)

A craft book for ages five to twelve with instructions for accordion-folding paper, and designs to trace and cut around. The paper chains are used to decorate table settings and other objects. Natalie Parain was one of the first Russian artists employed by Paul Faucher, and illustrated a dozen books in the Pere Castor series.

Children's literature in general doesn't get much respect from academia and university libraries. But the true "Rodney Dangerfield" of kid's books--even lower than the lowest of low-brow comic books--has got to be activity books. Coloring books, puzzle books, dot-to-dot books, and paper doll books are basically paper-bound Highlights magazines, minus Goofus and Gallant. Meant to be written in, cut up, and thrown away, they are probably the most inherently disposable books ever printed. But even these pedestrian tomes can become high art in the right hands, and Princeton University's Cotsen Children's Library has created an online exhibition of rare books to prove it.

Detail from rear cover of :
Je fais mes jouets avec des plantes
[I Make My Toys with Plants].

Paris: Flammarion, 1934.

Two examples of the use of the Pere Castor logo. Feodor Rojankovsky was well known as an illustrator of children's books and also as an erotic illustrator.

Title page vignette from: Le beau jeu des vitraux

[The Great Game of Stained Glass Windows].

Paris: Flammarion, 1934.

Wolff was a Jew who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and later emigrated to the United States.

In 1931, French author and educator Paul Faucher (1898-1967) took on the pen name Pere Castor (Father Beaver) to write and produce a series of "albums" for children. The intention of the Albums Du Pere Castor was to stimulate a child's imagination and creativity. Craft projects featuring high quality artwork which enhanced hand eye-coordination were the hallmark of the series, published by Flammarion, the well-known producer of the Tintin books. Faucher believed that "creative play with highly stylized or abstract forms, colored paper, paste, and scissors" could promote self-expression, cooperation, and "communicate human values." The busy and industrious beaver, associated with the construction of dams and lodges, was chosen as the mascot of the series, and appeared in a wide variety of logos throughout the albums.

Panorama du fleuve [Panorama of a River].

Illustrated by Alexandra Exter.

Paris: Flammarion, c1937.

Alexandra Exter was an avant-garde painter and theatrical designer. The Panorama du fleuve–nearly six feet long when opened out– was published in English translation reformatted as a conventional picture book, instead of in the original accordion-folded strips with text on one side and illustrations on the other.

Panorama's First Double Page Spread.

Faucher chose the perfect moment to begin such an ambitious project. Paris was the refuge for a large number of avant-garde artists who had fled the Soviet Union when the government decreed that the only acceptable art style was Socialist Realism. Unwilling to restrict their work to pieces which faithfully educated "workers in the spirit of socialism," these progressive artists were forced to reestablish their careers in France. In order to create portfolios of published art, they worked cheap.Their need for quick visibility in the public eye meant Faucher could afford to employ artists of a much higher quality than would normally be willing to work on a series of children's activity books.

BELVES, Pierre.
Back cover of:
Les métiers en images lumineuses
[The Trades in Illuminated Pictures].

Paris: Flammarion, 1953.

The child is instructed to cut away the white space in the picture and fill in the cut-outs with pieces of colored paper. The completed picture can be pasted on a window to create the effect of stained glass. The back cover shows all the outlines colored in as samples. Pierre Belvès created seven "stained glass" books on different subjects for the Albums Du Pere Castor series.

The Outline Of "The Miner."

Faucher was a forward thinking educator, and the innovative Russian artists were a perfect match for his theories of l'Education Nouvelle. Faucher stressed that education must enhance the child's natural spirit of exploration and imagination, and that artistic and physical skills were as important as book learning. His perfect blend of sound education theory and magnificent artwork led to the Pere Castor series being recognized almost immediately as worthy of serious attention and study.

LEBLONDE, Victorine.
Animaux domestiques articulés: Découpage et montage sans collage.

[Articulated Domestic Animals: Cutting and Assembly Without Glue].
Paris: Flammarion, 1941.

The child cuts and folds paper pieces for assembly into 3D animals. The instructions are surrounded by a border of the completed figures. The paper cut-outs are stabilized with matchsticks, making this the perfect project for budding firebugs. (Young glue sniffers must look elsewhere...)

Pieces to create the chickens and the donkey.

But more importantly to Faucher, the albums were tremendously popular with kids. And because they were published as low cost pamphlets, they were affordable even for children whose parents couldn't buy them hardcover books. The result was that cheap, inherently ephemeral publications wound up being, according to the Cotsen exhibition,"some of the most striking and influential Modernist books for children of the last century." In their pristine state, untouched by the grubby little hands they were meant to entertain and educate, the Albums Du Pere Castor are also extremely rare.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email