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28 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Gorgeous Grimm: 130 Years of Brothers Grimm Visual Legacy

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What evil stepmothers and conniving wolves have to do with understanding the future of reading.

The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register for the preservation of cultural documents, have been delighting and terrifying children since 1812, transfixing generations of parents, psychologists, and academics. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm is an astounding new volume from Taschen editor Noel Daniel bringing together the best illustrations from 130 years of The Brothers Grimm with 27 of the most beloved Grimm stories, including Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty, amidst artwork by some of the most celebrated illustrators from Germany, Britain, Sweden, Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and the United States working between the 1820s and 1950s.

The new translation is based on the final 1857 edition of the tales, and stunning silhouettes from original publications from the 1870s and 1920s grace the tome’s pages, alongside brand new silhouettes created bespoke for this remarkable new volume.

An introduction by Daniel explores the Grimms’ enduring legacy, from the DNA of fairy-tale scholarship to the shadow play and shape-shifting at the heart of the stories, and a preface to each tale frames it in its historical and sociocultural context.

The Grimms’ were a vital engine for a whole new caliber of artistic activity [...] Suddenly, artists across the Western world could make a living illustrating books, and they found a solid foundation for new work in the heroes and princesses, talking animals, dwarfs, and witches of fairy tales. The tales were an important part of each technological advancement along the way, and the best of this visual iconography still influences artist, art directors, filmmakers, and animators today [...] Even as our modes of reading continue to change with new technologies, taking a measure of the interactivity of text and image in past treasures helps us understand the changing landscape of reading in the future.”

And in case you were wondering why Taschen, purveyors of high-end and often risque art and design books, are doing a children’s book, they’ve got a thoughtful answer:

Taschen recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. We have many readers who have come of age with us and are now have their own families. These readers are interested in beautifully produced children’s books that take seriously a child’s exposure to stories and images with depth and historical meaning. We wanted The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm to embody our mission to create meaningful books that are timeless yet original, modern but classic.”

Rigorously researched and breathtakingly art-directed, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm is a whimsical wonderland in its own right, blending seminal cultural history with our private individual nostalgia in an utterly gorgeous volume to charm the design lover, the history buff, and the eternal kid all at once.

Images courtesy of Taschen

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28 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Lessons for the Living from the Brink of Death

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How to take life one ephemeral dinner party at a time, or why hope is a gift of the hopeless.

Lessons for the Living is a poignant documentary by Lily Henderson exploring the unique subculture of hospice volunteers as they contemplate their own philosophies of life and death. This grounding excerpt from the film follows Kathleen, who is both a hospice volunteer and a hospice patient. She has been preparing for her own death for over a decade, but has managed to master that art of living from sheer presence — a powerful lesson, indeed, for the rest of us.

I’ve talked to people who say they feel sorry for me for not having any hope. I say, hope is a thief. I am living today as fully as I am able.”

Kathleen has since passed away.

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28 SEPTEMBER, 2011

The Toaster Project: A DIY Quest for the Origins of Stuff

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A nine-month journey to find what we lost between fifteenth-century smelting and China’s factories.

Futurist and Wired founder Kevin Kelly has famously observed that with the current structure of humanity’s practical knowledge, there isn’t a single person on Earth who can make, say, a computer truly from scratch — from the mining of the metals for its motherboard to printing its circuit boards to designing its interface to programming the complex software that runs on it. But RCA design graduate Thomas Thwaites has orchestrated a commanding counterexample, while at the same time illustrating Kelly’s point in a visceral way.

The Toaster Project chronicles his nine-month mission to build an electric toaster from scratch — no small feat, given the £3.94 toaster Thwaites dismantled was made of 404 separate parts and given also that plastic is almost impossible to make from scratch. But Thwaites persevered, from mining the iron, copper, mica, nickel and crude oil to learning how to smelt metal in a fifteenth-century treatise to creating a crude foundry in his mother’s backyard.

The quixotic quest and its end result — an oddly beautiful and artful object, with a net cost 250 times that of a store-bought toaster — offer poignant commentary on commodification and the disposability of consumer culture. Thwaites’ charismatic tone and self-deprecating wit pull off another near-impossible feat — that of making the same obnoxiously preachy message we’ve heard a thousand times elsewhere for once completely devoid of moralizing self-righteousness and instead full of the kind of honest spark that might actually make us take heed.

I poked through the furnace with a stick and pulled out a blobby black mass of something heavy [...] Using a blowtorch, I heated it up until it turned bright red and hit it gently with a hammer. My iron shattered on impact along with my dream of making a toaster.”

Sample the project’s genius with Thwaites’ excellent talk from London’s 2010 TED Salon:

At once a charming manifesto for the maker movement and a poetic reflection on consumerism’s downfall, The Toaster Project is a story of reaquainting ourselves with the origins of our stuff, part Moby-Duck, part The Story of Stuff, part something else made entirely from sratch.

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