The emergence of art instruction in this country and the
democratic ideals that made art education accessible to all youngsters, not
just the privileged elite, are explored in a new exhibition at The
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Opening August
2 and continuing through January 4, "Drawn to Art: Art Education and the
American Experience, 1800-1950" will showcase the materials and methods used
for teaching art to young Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Among the 79 objects on display in the West Hall of the Library are vintage
paint boxes, Victorian-era coloring books, stencil kits, slates, tracing
books, drawing manuals, crayons and colored pencils, books on educational
theory, and a Chautauqua combination drawing board and writing desk from the
late 19th century.
The material is drawn primarily from the Diana Korzenik Art Education
Collection, an archive of more than 1,400 artifacts, books, and ephemera
donated to The Huntington by Boston educator Diana Korzenik in 1997. The
collection complements The Huntington's own extensive holdings in American
history and art, creating an incomparable resource for the study of art
education in the United States.
National support for art instruction began with the idea, popularized during
the mid-19th century, that art is a worthwhile pursuit for all, not just for
aspiring artists or the upper classes. The democratization of art education
in this country in turn led to a reconsideration of its place in American
public schools. Yet, despite persuasive arguments made for art education
from the 1800s right up to the present, public support for mandatory art
instruction in the schools has fluctuated. The exhibit enables visitors to
reflect on the role art plays in education today as they view it in a
Many of the individuals whose ideas first began to shape American attitudes
toward art education were Europeans. Among these were British artist Joshua
Reynolds, whose Discourses at the Royal Academy (1820), on display in the
exhibition, was one of the most influential publications in the history of
Western art. Swiss educator Johann Pestalozzi, a follower of Rousseau, and
Pestalozzi's disciple, German pedagogue Friedrich Froebel, taught that art
instruction - drawing or manipulation of tangible objects - enhanced
children's understanding of the conceptual. American artists such as
Rembrandt Peale, John Gadsby Chapman, and John Rubens Smith also wrote
influential works on the subject, espousing the belief that drawing was a
skill within reach of all.
Leading educators and social reformers of the 19th century saw art education
not just as an aesthetic exercise but as a way of facilitating cognitive
learning and the development of useful skills. Materials such as blocks,
modeling clay, paper weaving kits and parquetry tiles-several examples of
which are on view-cultivated children's innate ability to reason and
observe. In an increasingly industrial society, drawing and design were
marketable skills, as sought-after in an educated workforce as the "Three
"Art also provided students with a medium for spiritual enrichment and the
understanding of self," says Cathy Cherbosque, curator of historical prints
and ephemera at The Huntington and curator of the exhibition. "Over the
course of the twentieth century, educators increasingly promoted the notion
that children learn to see their artistic creations as reflections of self.
Art making provided opportunities to relate that self to other individuals
Art education brought commercial benefits, as well. Businesses recognized
that their own interests could be served by linking art to products as
diverse as coffee and pianos through small promotional booklets meant for
drawing and coloring. Several of these graphically appealing booklets are
displayed. Fleischmann Co.'s "Easy Drawing for Little Ones" (circa 1890),
the "Dutch Boy's Jingle Paint Book" (1921), the "Heinz Kindergarten Book No.
5: Pictures to Trace, Jingles to Learn," (circa 1910) and Singer Sewing
Machine Co.'s "The Singer Drawing Book for Young Artists" (circa 1900) all
built brand loyalty while teaching youngsters how to draw.
Formal drawing manuals are also on view, ranging from The Compleat
Drawing-Master, published in 1763, to Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy, familiar
to many art students from the 1950s. These and other manuals indicate a
gradual shift away from rigid exercises towards methods that encouraged
spontaneity and individuality. Other developments in art education that are
traced in the exhibition are the expansion of art materials for home and
classroom, an increased emphasis on self-expression, the use of art to
promote patriotism and serve practical needs during wartime, and an
awareness of other cultures.
Enhancing the exhibition are nearly two dozen photographic images on loan
from the collection of Lillian Moats and Christie Ann Hewlett depicting
children engaged in art making at Children's House, a non-profit community
art center in Detroit during the 1930's and 1940's. A continuous video
presentation will feature a 16mm film of young artists at Children's House
in Detroit, Michigan, circa 1940.
LECTURE: Diana Korzenik will give a public lecture entitled "The Changing
Concept of Artistic Giftedness" on Wednesday, October 8, at 7:30 p.m.
Admission to the lecture is free. Information: (626) 405-2100.
Copyright The Huntington