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2003-2004 Visiting Fellows

Sara Pankenier
Stanford University

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 Collection.

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 expression.

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.


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