August 26, 2014

Russian children’s books explored in new Special Collections exhibit

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A satiric poster by Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky, text, and Aleksandra Mikhailovich Rodchenko, image. 1923.

Mary Levin

A satiric poster by Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky, text, and Aleksandra Mikhailovich Rodchenko, image. 1923. “No Better Pacifiers Anywhere.”

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.”

libraries collections Merry Company exhibit

Mary Levin

Sandra Kroupa, left, with donor Pamela Harer in 2011.

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.

 

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