First of all I would like to express my gratitude
to the Friends of the Princeton University Library for giving me an opportunity
for extended study of the exceptional materials in the Cotsen Children's Library
Research Collection. I also would like to extend special thanks to Andrea Immel,
Margaret Sherry Rich, AnnaLee Pauls, and all of the helpful employees at the
Cotsen Children's Library, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections,
and the Special Collections Reading Room for their kindness and guidance during
my research visit.
Thanks to the Friends of the Princeton University
Library Visiting Fellowship for 2003-2004, with special funding from the Cotsen
Children's Collection, I have been able to conduct four productive weeks of
research on the topic of my dissertation "Child-Oriented Primitivism in the
Russian Avant-Garde." During this past month, I have found the staff to be as
warm and welcoming as the Special Collections Reading Room was cool and calm.
It was pleasant and relaxing to spend this summer month poring over the rare
treasures of Soviet children's literature to be found in the depths of the Cotsen
Close examination of Soviet children's literature
materials in the original helped me to make a number of strides in my thinking
and research. The wealth of information contained in the minutiae of the original
publications also granted many insights into the figures and cultural context
of my period of study. At times, these details allowed me to revise or clarify
conventional beliefs and to crystallize the arguments of my dissertation.
For example, examination of the 1917 volume Shornik
Elka (The Christmas Tree Collection) revealed that this rare book united
literary and artistic figures of the aristocratic past and the revolutionary
future in a collaborative effort to create a book for Russian children. Published
at the beginning of the year of the October Revolution, this volume still displays
the influence of a world that was about to come to an end, as does Alexandre
Benois' earlier book for children Asbuka v kartinakh (An Alphabet in
Pictures) published in 1904. The collection also contains the first work in
the field of children's illustration by Vladimir Lebedev, one of the key figures
for my research. Another Cotsen volume, Russkii plakat 1917-1922 (The
Russian Poster 1917-1922) contains twenty-three plates that showcase Lebedev's
propaganda poster art from the years before its publication in 1922. The accompanying
essay by the art historian Nikolai Punin helps to clarify the artistic context
in which Lebedev was regarded and provides support for my artistic claims regarding
his work. These posters provide effective comparison alongside his later illustrations,
such as those for the 1925 book Morozhenoe (Ice Cream), and reveal the
aesthetic similarities between different branches of Lebedev's artistic practice.
A comparison of the style of Lebedev's famous illustrations for Slonenok
(1922) , a translation of Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child," with
those of El Lissitzky in the Yiddish version of the same story, Elfandel
(1922), also helps to place Lebedev's work in the context of Suprematism and
the folk art which influenced El Lissitzky. In the case of the 1926 book Bagazh
(Baggage), the presence of several editions in the Cotsen Collection made it
possible to trace the alterations that were made to the various editions over
time, reflecting the increasingly political pressure being exerted on artistic
With other Cotsen materials, the details and minutiae
of publication information provided by the original editions raised new questions
and revealed new narratives. Two children's books by the famous revolutionary
poet Vladimir Mayakovsky throw his often disregarded work for children into
a new light, since the experimental layout and meta-literary play of his books
for children provoke comparison with similar elements in his works for adults.
As regards more subtle artistic observations, I have been able to detect the
influence of children's drawings on the styles of many graphic artists, including
Mayakovsky, Lebedev, and others. This corroborates one of the arguments in my
dissertation about the influence of children's own art in this period. Publication
information, meanwhile, helped to illuminate the reception of the children's
journal Ezh (Hedgehog), which at first involved the best and the brightest
among writers and artists, including Daniil Kharms, an avant-garde figure important
for my research. Publication figures printed on each of the 111 issues dated
from 1928 to 1935 reveal a gradual decrease in demand that coincided with the
journal's shift to a more overtly political content and the disappearance of
writers like Kharms from its pages. From its peak to its fall, the creative
content of the journal, the emphases of its various sections, and the writings
and drawings of its readers reveal much of significance about the editors' stance
toward their child audience. Interestingly, the annual solicitation for subscriptions
approaches market-based advertising aimed at their child readers.
For the latter part of this year, I have committed
to giving two scholarly presentations on aspects of my dissertation research.
The content of these presentations will be enriched by the Cotsen Collection
materials that I have had the opportunity to examine during this Visiting Fellowship.
In August, I will participate in the Second Nordic Workshop in Children's Literature,
organized by the Nordic network for Children's Literature Research (NorChilNet).
Dedicated to Applications of Theory this Workshop will take place on August
6-9, 2003, in Kristiansand, Norway. I will present a paper entitled Visuality
Meets Literacy: Vladimir Lebedev and the Construction of a Visual Language for
Children that builds its arguments on the graphic artist's attention to children's
perception on the basis of books illustrated by Lebedev that I have examined
in the original at Cotsen. These are, for instance, Slonenok (1922),
Priklicheniia Chuch-lo (1922), Okhota (1925), Azbuka (1925),
Morozhenoe (1925, and Bagazh (1926). At the end of the year, I
will present a paper on a different area of my dissertation research at the
2003 National Conference of the American Association for the Advancement of
Slavic Studies (AAASS), to be held in Toronto, Canada, on November 20-23, 2003.
Entitled A Backwards Revolution in Time: Childish primitivism and the Russian
Futurists my paper will deal with the child-oriented primitivism evidenced
by the poetic practice and collection interests of Futurist poets. A key figure
for this area of my dissertation is the Futurist poet and theorist Aleksei Kruchenykh,
who collected children's own writings and published these alongside his own.
Rare materials related to this aspect of Kruchenykh's poetic practice that I
have been able to examine at Cotsen are the first edition of Porosiata
(1913), which Kruchenykh co-authored with an eleven-year-old girl, and his first
collection of children's drawings and writings, Sobstvennye razskazy I risunki
detei (1914). In addition to these presentations, I intend to submit a research
article to be considered for publication by the Princeton University Library
Chronicle, as I was encouraged to do by its editor Gretchen Oberfranc.
My research in the Cotsen Library Collection has also
helped prepare me for the future stages of my dissertation research. For instance,
I will be able to make a more knowledgeable prioritization of the resources
available in Russia when I spend nine months next year in St. Petersburg and
Moscow on a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) Fellowship.
It is worthy of note, however, that for my research the materials at Cotsen,
particularly the graphic design of Vladimir Lebedev from the 1920s and early
1930s, rival those to be found with great difficulty in Russia. During my time
at Princeton, I have also been able to make arrangements for the photoduplication
of many materials that will continue to be of importance for my research. In
these ways, the Visiting Fellowship granted to me by the Cotsen Children's Library
with the Friends of the Princeton University Library has contributed to my scholarly
pursuits not only this year, but also to my continued research and what I hope
will be the timely completion of my dissertation in 2005. Although my time here
at Firestone Library has been very productive, I cannot promise that I won't
be returning again for more.