Sandra Kroupa had to learn a lot about Russian children’s literature in a hurry to curate the exhibit now on display in UW Libraries Special Collections. But it wasn’t meant to be that way.
Kroupa is the longtime book arts and rare book curator for UW Libraries. The exhibit is “From the Lowly Lubok to Soviet Realism: Early Twentieth Century Children’s Books from Russia.” It is on display outside Special Collections and in its Reading Room in the Allen Library south basement, and in its North Balcony.
Most of the 60-some items in the exhibit came from Seattle rare book collector Pamela Harer, a highly respected donor Kroupa had collaborated with before and known for many years. Harer studied the topic for more than three years and, though she did get to see the final exhibit, she grew seriously ill before she could fully share her knowledge for the catalog to accompany the show.
“It was all kind of inside her,” Kroupa said. “She had been telling me stories for the past two years about what the purges were like and how much pressure the artists were under to make their art more representational. And that artists were killed because they did not portray what children looked like really. All this stylistic stuff was not acceptable after the (Russian) Revolution.”
Kroupa said Harer’s family members helped put together a basic catalog for the exhibit that she later expanded on with her own research. She worked quickly, too, receiving the items at the start of June for a June 30 opening.
The exhibit comprises about 100 different items, which Kroupa has arranged in rough chronological order, from the late 19th century — where some items already in the UW collection are shown — through the revolution and the 1920s. With symbolic animal caricatures and swaggering military characters, the display tells of history indirectly, through books designed for the very young.
Family members told Kroupa that Harer held on until she could see the exhibit, which she did during a special family showing on June 29. She died two days later.
“From the Lowly Lubok to Soviet Realism” will be on display until Oct. 24.
Sandra Kroupa with poem book
Sandra Kroupa, book arts and rare book curator for UW Libraries, Special Collections, holds a copy of "For the Voice" or " "To Be Read Aloud," illustrated by El Lissitsky. Mary Levin
Six boys learn a lesson
"About These Six," by N. Agnivcev and illustrated by Konstantin Ivanich Rudakov, is a 1926 work wherein six disagreeing boys from different backgrounds are helped to find agreement by a Russian worker. Mary Levin
Edited by A. Shavykin, illustrated by J. Nizhnyka, this 1930 Constructivist book depicts the Pope, the capitalist, the Social Democrat, the fascist, the sky and the drunkard. Mary Levin
Poems for reading aloud
"Poems for Reading Aloud," indeed at the top of one's voice, by Vladimir Mayakovsky, illustrated by El Lissitzsky. Said to be a masterwork of the "constructivist" style, favoring the practical over art for art's sake. The book takes the form of a phone book complete with a thumb index so the reader can find individual poems. Mary Levin
'No Better Pacifiers'
A satiric poster by Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky, text, and Aleksandra Mikhailovich Rodchenko, image. 1923. "No Better Pacifiers Anywhere." Mary Levin
A 1965 work by Fyodor Khitruck and illustrated by Sergei Alimov, based on a cartoon of the time. Mary Levin
Kipling - 'The Elephant's Child'
Geometric-shaped illustrations such as these by Vladimir Vasilievich Lebedev made a great impression on artists and critics as a work in the Constructivist style, a new approach to children's illustration. 1922.
The alphabet in pictures
"The Alphabet in Pictures," illustrated by Alexandre Nikolaevich Benois, 1904, is an icon of Russian book graphics and shows the artist's involvement with the theatrical world. His only book for children, it represents the changes that took place in the world of Russian illustrated children’s books at the beginning of the 20th century.
"Crocodile," by Kornei Chukovskii, illustrations by Nikolai Vladimirich Remizov. This 1919 work attacking tyrannical despotism was printed in a mass edition and widely read. Mary Levin
Cockroach and more
"A Giant Cockroach" by Kornei Chukovskii, a 1923 book with illustrations by Sergei Checkhonin. Josef Stalin later came to be associated with the heavily mustached cockroach character, but this book came before his time. Mary Levin