“The Whole World for Your Children”:
 Artists’ Reinterpretations of the 1934 Britannica Junior

Ronni Komarow from the Britannica Junior (1934 edition) Altered Book Series, 2013

Ronni Komarow, from the Britannica Junior (1934 edition) Altered Book Series, 2013. Mixed media assemblage with box and pages from encyclopedia volume, small globe, rhinestones, and other found objects.  Courtesy of the Artist.

October 14, 2015–February 28, 2016

ChildrenÂ’s Gallery, 2nd Floor

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About the Exhibition

The first edition of the Britannica Junior was published in 1934, in response to a growing interest for encyclopedias designed specifically with children in mind. Often heavily illustrated, encyclopedias intended for younger audiences sought to teach through both text and image. Britannica Junior was not the first of its kind, for a number of popular children’s encyclopedias were published earlier in the twentieth century, but it was a welcome addition to the genre. New editions of ever-expanding volumes of Britannica Junior designed and written specifically for elementary-school children were published until 1983.
The title of the exhibition, “The Whole World For Your Children,” comes from an advertisement for the 1934 Britannica Junior, which assured parents that a purchase of these books was a sound investment in their child’s future. From animals to vegetables, poetry to history, the Britannica Junior promised to bring the whole world into your home.  Now, the artists in this exhibition extend the encyclopedia’s reach once more to provide a contemporary, creative interpretation of the knowledge bound within its pages.

We are pleased to have these reinterpretations of the 1934 Britannica Junior on view, as each work offers a nuanced view of the book as art, visually and intellectually. These works push the Britannica Junior beyond its original intent and invite the viewer to consider it as both a transmitter of information and an art object.

Click here to download and view the
Britannica Junior Gallery Book [PDF, 3.4 MB]

About the Britannica Junior Altered Book Series

Exhibiting artist Carol Blackwell discussed the origins of this project and the artists she invited to take part. Blackwell came into possession of the 1934 twelve volume series of the Britannica Junior by accident, and says:

A friend was disposing of them when I rescued them from permanently disappearing. Then having to decide what their final destiny might be, I chose to distribute each volume, randomly, to fellow book artists with no specific directions other than to look keenly at the contents, then transform the volume into whatever form it suggested. And thus was born this series.

The result of this open-ended direction that has intrigued me most is the difference each artist saw as her connectedness or lack thereof to the 1934 encyclopedia. While these differences translate as visual, the backstory seems to me based on something else that is not necessarily visual. Why, I wonder, did one artist make a very personal visual response with letters from her mother, while another artist drew or painted ever page of her volume, and two artists reshaped each page into a completely different form?  All artists began with the same “prompt,” a similar volume of the same encyclopedia. The transformations puzzle me, mystify me, and this is what draws me into the heart of this exhibition.

Blackwell’s apt statement is what should draw viewers in as well, for each of these works asks us to think about the role of the book as object and as source of knowledge, as well as the many ways we can reinterpret it. Additional statements from the exhibiting artists are available in the gallery book.

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