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June 17, 2006

Festival of the Bratislava Lyra & Marta Kubišová

One of the most dramatic posters in the Winters Collection (a poster that's hip-in-a-late-1960s way) is an oversized piece that was produced in 1967 for the Festival of the Bratislava Lyra. The poster does not carry any documentation as to . . . which company published it, who took the photograph that's been artistically manipulated for the image on it, or whose photograph it even is on the poster. In a way, the lack of information is almost fitting—it adds to the mystique of the poster's black-and-white, slightly fuzzy image.

So, what's on the poster? The face of a woman, her mouth slightly open, as if she's in the middle of a song (a microphone seems to be in front of her). She has dark bangs and eyes, and her eyes are cast a touch to her right side and a touch upward. Her face is repeated on the poster, one face beneath the other; for the next two successive shots, below the first that's at the top, the camera has zoomed in on parts of her face. The topmost portrait is a "conventional" or complete one, showing all of her face. Then underneath is a close-up of her expression, in which you still see all of her face (though no bangs and no microphone). Underneath that is a view of her mouth/lips, and then the final shot is an even smaller picture of what is at the top. One look at that poster, and you know a statement about music, culture, self-expression, and artistry is being made. This woman's pensive, knowing look (though, at the same time, uplifting) tells you she means everything she's singing.

I mention this poster, because when I was searching for more information on the Festival of Bratislava Lyra, I came across some material and lots of photographs of a singer from that era, Marta Kubišová. The pictures of her remind me of the images that make up this poster; in fact, I'd wager a tidy sum that it is Marta Kubišová's photograph on the 1967 poster. Given that Kubišová was also known as a protest singer (her recording of "Prayer for Marta" got her banned from singing in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s/early 1970s) and that the poster is rather pop-art in style (very reflective of the times in which it was published), it's more than possible that she's the one whose image is creatively repeated & fragmented on the poster. If you're affiliated with UIUC, you can be the judge: take a look at the poster and back again at all the period photos of Kubišová and compare.

(Incidentally, if you've seen the movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being, based on Milan Kundera's book of the same name, and—like me—you bought the soundtrack two decades ago, then you might remember a rendition of the Beatles' "Hey, Jude" in Czech; well, that's Marta Kubišová voice--deep, strong, and full of feeling. If you recall the movie, the song is played during those achingly authentic black-and-white shots and scenes of a chaotic Prague in August 1968.)

Posted by at 12:34 AM

April 6, 2006

New Posters from Winters Collection on Display

The display case outside the entrance to the Slavic Library finally has different posters from the Winters Collection on exhibit. They are posters by two of the Czech Republic's best-known graphic artists, Adolf Born (1930) and Stanislav Hóly (1943-1998).

Interestingly--or maybe not so interestingly, since the world of Czech graphic artists is a small one--both Hóly and Born studied at the Applied Arts Academy in Prague. Although a student of animation and cinematic puppetry, Hóly is perhaps most recognized for his illustrations in children's books. As the creator of Mr. Pip, the main character in a corpus of literature (and also in animation) for children in which stories are told purely through pictures, Hóly arrives at a kind of book or paper version of animation--his drawings are colorful, lively, and full of expression. Here is a snapshot of Mr. Pip in an animated context.

Born, who is still alive and active in art, pursued caricature and newspaper illustration at the Applied Arts Academy. His cartoon drawings in newspapers and magazines were his first claim to fame. But a stricter political climate in the early 1970s in Czechoslovakia forced Born to focus his creativity on other kinds of art, such as animation, graphics, book illustrations, and ex libris (bookplates). Born is famous for creating anthropomorphic portraits (woman as vessel steered by man or woman as house with many floors and rooms), and often the result is a playful surrealness. Here are several examples of Born's art (from an online exposition of the artist's works--mini-images on the right), as well as more information about him.

Posted by at 3:30 PM

February 8, 2006

Czech Black Theater and Czech Puppetry

When I did a little research on Divadlo za branou, I discovered that it was known also for its productions of Czech Black Theater, which is nomenclature for a type of puppet theater: "This form of theater can be used with many styles of puppets, although it is most commonly used with tabletop puppets. The puppeteer dresses from head to toe in black velvet. There are black velvet curtains behind them and on both sides. A sharply focused curtain of light shoots across the playing area. It is generated by carefully shuttered lamps on Stage Right, Stage Left and a bank of instruments above. When the puppet is placed in the light they can be seen clearly as if under normal stage lighting but the puppeteer becomes invisible" (from "Czech Black," part of a website on Other Hand Productions, a company of puppeteers that stages productions and conducts workshops.)

As it turns out, there is rich tradition of puppetry in the Czech lands. One of the posters in the Winters Collection advertises an exhibit on the theater of Josef Skupa, recognized as a pioneer in the theater and design of modern puppetry. The theater where Skupa staged productions of puppetry was the Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre, which he founded.

Also worthwhile noting: Czech Theater Magazine has an entire issue (no. 13, 1997) on theatrical puppetry in the Czech lands. This issue is out of print, so it's especially generous of the publication to make it available in its entirety (with wonderful pictures) and free of charge!

Posted by at 10:49 AM

February 1, 2006

A Resource on Czech Theater

Check out divadlo.cz (it has an English-language counterpart, theater.cz), developed and maintained by the Theatre Institute in Prague. Not only does it have current news about the theater scene in the Czech Republic (the infosources link connects users to materials on the cultural politics surrounding Czech theater, on statistics, personalities, reviews, and more), it also has several issues of Czech Theatre Magazine in PDF and thus immediately accessible to visitors at the site. For someone who does not specialize in theater, Czech or otherwise, this resource is proving both helpful and informative.

Posted by at 12:38 PM

January 31, 2006

Divadlo za branou / Theater beyond the Gate

One of the great things about the Winters Collection is its sampling of performing arts posters, three of which advertise productions at the well-known Divadlo za branou (Theater beyond the Gate) in Prague. This theater no longer exists, but it is still remembered as a venue for innovative stagings and top-notch dramaturgy and performances. The theater was started in 1965 by, among others, the director Otomar Krejča and the playwright Josef Topol; in 1972, however, the Ministry of Culture shut it down for vague "technical reasons." (It was revived in 1990 as Divadlo za branou II but had to close for lack of funding in 1995.) At the height of its popularity this theater company had the feel of a workshop, in the Chekhovian tradition, where original, creative ideas could be played out (literally) for experimentation purposes.

The originality and creativity of Divadlo za branou arguably is corroborated by the graphic design of its posters. Here is a poster from 1971 that endorses a double production of Sophocles' tragedies Oedipus and Antigone. [Note: This image is viewable only by UIUC-affiliated patrons who have a NetID and proxy password.] There is something viscerally terrifying about this stark black-and-white illustration of a ravaged head, with what appear to be hollowed-out eyes (recalling Oedipus blinding himself) and a mouth agape, showing mostly black (like the eyes)--as if to suggest a muteness or helplessness. These tragedies by Sophocles are about characters who arrive too late (Antigone has hung herself before Creon can get to her) or come upon realizations too late (Oedipus discovers he murdered his father and that Jocasta is his mother). In a sense, what is a more helpless feeling than comprehending, "What's done is done," and that there is no turning back?

I have been looking for information on "Brom/Kopřiva," the team that designed these posters for Divadlo za branou but, so far, nothing has turned up. If any readers know of possible sources to consult for information on artists with these names, I hope you'll post on the comment board.

Posted by at 3:28 PM

January 18, 2006

New Look to Winters Collection Website

The website where the Winters Collection digitization project is described has a new look. See: http://www.library.uiuc.edu/spx/winters/index.htm.

In revamping the site, I've tried to make the various components of the project a little clearer. Future plans include:


  • Expanding on "Collection Resources" by grouping the posters according to subject, style, and/or period and providing relevant secondary resources for further reading and research along these lines.

  • Revising the EAD to include links to the digitized images for which there is metadata.

  • Featuring a different digital image of a poster as copyright holders grant reproduction permissions.


Comments and/or suggestions regarding the new site are welcome!

Posted by at 10:46 AM

January 4, 2006

A Sampling of Czech Posters

The site "Czech Graphic Design 50 Best Czech Posters," put out by the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization (JIDPO), exhibits images of some of the best Czech posters produced between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. More of graphic artist Čestmír Pechr's work can also be found here.

These posters are linked from the Japanese version of JIDPO's site, where they have a page devoted to international graphic design. One link in particular, "Graphic Design Brno 1997 Collection," takes users to even more images of Czech posters. Brno is where the Biennale of Graphic Design is held; I will post on the Biennale here at a later date.

Posted by at 11:27 AM

An Introductory Resource to Czech & Slovak Posters

When we began working on this project in the fall of 2004 (viewing the collection, getting a sense of what would be involved in terms of repair/restoration, agreeing on a metadata scheme, meeting with the digital services staff, etc.), I trolled the Web for any information I could find on Czech posters. One of the first resources I came upon was an article, "Contemporary Czech and Slovak Poster Design," written by art historian and former reference librarian, Anna Dvořák. The article is based on a lecture she gave at the National Humanities Center in September 1998, in accompaniment to an exhibition on Czech and Slovak posters at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. The article features images of some of the posters that were shown (largely from the collection of an American, Dana Bartelt, who has taught, and written on, graphic design and who currently lives and works in Prague as the resident coordinator of the NCState College of Design Prague Institute)--all of them excellent examples of 20th-century poster art. One of the images is of a theater poster, designed by Cestmír Pechr, whose work is also featured in the Winters Collection. Read Dvořák's piece at http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us:8080/ideasv61/dvorak.htm.

Posted by at 11:01 AM

January 1, 2006

Posters and the "Art" of Advertising Movies

What happens when a film producer has to advertise a movie that has no well-known actors in it? The first 2006 issue of the New York Times has an article that suggests that fine art increasingly is the remedy. It describes how producers of films in which there is no "name" actor or actress must rely on more creative ways of advertising their movies, since a photo of their lead performer on a movie poster won't sell their product if an unknown is starring in it. Thus, producers are drawing on the work of artists, such as the photographer Mark Kessell (some of whose work may be an acquired taste but is nonetheless intriguing), to help convey the gist of what their movies are about. This use of artists in the design of movie posters harks back to an era of poster art in Communist Poland, when--as remarked by Charles Evans, Jr., a producer of The Aviator--"poster art wasn't so much about commerce as about expression." From "Not Just Another Half-Dozen Pretty, Floating Faces," by Christian Moerk, in the 1 January 2006 NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/01/movies/01moer.html

Posted by at 4:30 PM

December 21, 2005

Brief Biography of Josef Čapek

Thanks to Helen Sullivan, Head of the Slavic Reference Service at UIUC, for referring me to Grove Art Online--a great resource for artist bios and term definitions, among other things. Here is GAO's entry for Josef Čapek:

Čapek, Josef

(b Hronov, 23 March 1887; d Bergen-Belsen, April 1945).

Czech painter, printmaker and writer. He studied weaving (1901–3) in Vrchlabí and then from 1904 to 1910 decorative painting at the School of Applied Arts in Prague, where he was influenced by the highly decorative art of the Secession. During this period he wrote stories with his brother, the novelist Karel Čapek (1890–1938). In 1910 they went to Paris for nearly a year, where Josef Čapek studied painting at the Académie Colarossi and became a friend of Apollinaire. In 1911 he and his brother co-founded the Cubist-orientated Group of Plastic Artists. Čapek attempted to modify Cubism by introducing elements of Expressionism and Symbolism. His efforts dumbfounded some members of the group, and in 1912 he and various of his friends parted company with it. From 1915 he began to achieve a synthesis of Cubism, Neo-classicism and a personal symbolism (e.g. the Man in the Hat, 1915; Hradec Králové, Reg. Gal.), and in 1917 he participated in the first and subsequent exhibitions of the group Tvrdošíjní (The Stubborn Ones) and began to produce a number of prints for the magazine Červen, including the poster design for Arnošt Dvořák’s Mrtvá at the Červná Sedma theatre in Prague (colour lithograph, 1920; Prague, Mus. App. A.). [NB: This poster design is mentioned in the 12/12/05 weblog posting.] In the 1920s his paintings and prints became more densely woven, more expressive and more concerned with issues of civilian and suburban life. He also undertook theatre design, journalism and book illustration as well as publishing his own theoretical essays. In the late 1920s he became greatly influenced by folk art, painting simplified images of houses and countryside in bold strokes of bright colour. In 1933 he became a member of the editorial board of the magazine Život; by then his expressionistic painting had become somewhat oppressive, as in Cloud (1933; Ostrava, A.G.). In 1938 he painted the first pictures of his cycle Fire, whose large, gesturing figures played out a warning against war (e.g. Fire (1), 1938; Prague, N.G.). His last cycle of paintings, Longing, dating from 1939, is symbolic of a despair with contemporary events. On 1 September 1939 he was arrested by the Germans and taken to Dachau, and later to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where he died.

Vojtěch Lahoda: "Josef Čapek" Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 21 December 2005, http://www.groveart.com/

Posted by at 3:43 PM

Examples of Josef Čapek's Art

The Main Library at UIUC has acquired a license for ArtStor, a database of art collections that have been reproduced in digital format. (If you are a UIUC student or a member of the UIUC faculty or staff, then you can access--and register for a log-in to--ArtStor through the Online Research Resources page. Just type "ArtStor" in the white box, and you'll be taken to a link through which to enter, and register for, the database.)

So far, the only Czech artist whose works I could find in ArtStor is Josef Čapek, which is probably no surprise! There are two examples of his Cubist-inspired style in the ArtStor database:

NOTE: You will need a UIUC Net ID and password to view these images.

A comparison of these examples with a painting from Čapek's Ohen cycle, accessed here, shows that in his later works Čapek was aiming for a more primitive (less explicitly Cubist) style.

More information about Czech Cubism may be found in this brief 2001 article, based on an exhibition in Salzburg, Austria, that same year: Kimball, R. "Czech cubism, 1912-1916" at the Rupertinum, Salzburg. The New Criterion v. 20 no. 2 (October 2001) p. 43-4. Here is the abstract for the article: "A review of 'Czech Cubism, 1912-1916,' an exhibition at the Rupertinum, Salzburg, Austria, from July 21 to October 7, 2001. Intelligently and professionally put together, this quiet show had the good sense and daring to focus on the artwork, leaving the 120 paintings and sculptures to speak for themselves. Of the nine artists represented in the show, only Josef Capek and Emil Filla are known in America, and their work is also the show's most distinctive and aesthetically rewarding."

Continue reading "Examples of Josef Čapek's Art"

Posted by at 2:56 PM

December 12, 2005

Josef Čapek and the Poster "Boje a zápasy": Tragic Irony or Subversive Subtext?

The Czech artist Josef Čapek, whose work is reproduced on two posters in the Winters Collection, is remembered best for his paintings, book illustrations, theatrical set designs, and writings (particularly of novels, plays, and journalistic pieces). He also collaborated on short fiction and critical writings with his brother Karel, who is probably the better known of the pair.

The two posters featuring Čapek's work are "Boje a zápasy" (Fights and Encounters, poster #7, Folder 1), which advertises a 1973 exhibit in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the "February Victory" (the Communist Party's rise to power in Czechoslovakia in 1948), and "Scéna 'Červéna sedma.' Arnošt Dvorak: Mrtvá" (Folder 5, poster #81), a 1978 copy of the 1920 poster that Čapek designed for a production of playwright Arnošt Dvorak's Mrtvá (Dead) at the Cervná Sedma theater in Prague. The latter poster, originally a color lithograph, is reminiscent of Cubism, the style of painting for which Čapek became known early in his career.

Continue reading "Josef Čapek and the Poster "Boje a zápasy": Tragic Irony or Subversive Subtext?"

Posted by at 9:30 AM

November 28, 2005

Winters Project Staff

A variety of librarians are participating in the digitization of the Winters poster collection.

Patricia Hswe, CLIR Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Slavic & East European Library at UIUC, is carrying out the day-to-day responsibilities of the project. These include the construction of metadata for the posters; resolving copyright issues; expanding on the website for the Winters Collection; and designing, and posting on, the project blog. In addition, she is responsible for mounting posters from the collection for display at the entrance to the Slavic Library.

Miranda Remnek, Head, Slavic & East European Library, initiated the project and serves as supervisor. She has given presentations at international conferences on the Winters Collection, particularly with respect to metadata issues, and will contribute occasional postings to this weblog.

Marie Kallista, Library Technical Specialist in the Slavic & East European Library and a native of the Czech Republic, assists with translation matters as needed, in terms of both Czech language and Czech culture.

Janice Pilch, Acting Head, Slavic Acquisitions, offers guidance on copyright issues.

Nuala Bennet Koetter
and Amy Maroso-Hatcher, both of the Digital Services & Development (DSD) Unit, advise on the application of ContentDM, the digital collection management software that is being used to display the digitized images of the posters, and on issues concerning the actual scanning of the posters.

In addition, we receive occasional guidance from academic faculty members. Frank Gladney, Associate Professor, and David Cooper, Assistant Professor, both of the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures at UIUC, serve as consultants on content and on translation.

Finally, Marc Gartler, a 2005 graduate of the Graduate School of Library & Information Science, worked on the project from Fall 2004 to Summer 2005. He is responsible for constructing the EAD for the collection (with help from Chris Prom, Assistant University Archivist) and for devising the fields for the metadata schema (based on VRA Core, version 3.0).

Posted by at 7:52 PM

November 23, 2005

About "Postings on Posters"

This weblog was created to document the digitization and cataloging of the Zdenka and Stanley B. Winters Collection of Czech and Slovak Posters, 1920-1991. The Winters donated the collection to UIUC in 1991, with the hope that in the future it would be accessible online, for research and educational purposes, to faculty and students both here and beyond UIUC. Digitization of the collection began in earnest in early Summer 2005, and now that the digital surrogates are being amassed in an image database, cataloging has commenced. In the continued scanning of the posters and the construction of metadata about them, issues inevitably will arise. "Postings on Posters" will keep track of these matters (and provide some context for the next person who works on, or maintains, this project).

Posted by at 12:53 PM