Brain Pickings

Salvador Dalí Illustrates Alice in Wonderland, 1969

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What the Mad Hatter has to do with one of the most inspired collaborations in Western culture.

Last week, we marveled at Leonard Weisgard’s stunning illustrations for the first color edition of Alice in Wonderland, circa 1949. But it turns out they might not be the most culturally intriguing. As reader Varvn Aryacetas points out on Twitter, exactly two decades later a collaboration of epic proportion took place as the Lewis Carroll classic was illustrated by none other than Salvador Dalí. (And let’s not forget what a soft spot I have for obscure children’s illustration by famous artists.)

Published by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House in 1969 and distributed as their book of the month, the volume went on to become one of the most sought-after Dalí suites of all time. It contains 12 heliogravures — one for each chapter of the book and an original signed etching in four colors as the frontispiece — all of which the fine folks at the William Bennett Gallery have kindly digitized for your gasping pleasure:

Frontispiece

Down the Rabbit Hole

The Pool of Tears

A Caucus Race and a Long Tale

The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill

Advice From a Caterpillar

Pig and Pepper

Mad Tea Party

The Queen's Croquet Ground

The Mock Turtle's Story

The Lobster's Quadrille

Who Stole the Tarts?

Alice's Evidence

As you might expect, the book isn’t exactly easy to acquire — Amazon currently spots just a single copy, handsomely priced at $12,900, and there’s even a video tutorial on what to look for when you hunt for this treasure:

But the collaboration brought together two of the most exceptional creators of Western culture, both ticklers or curiosity and architects of the imagination, and who can really put a price tag on that? Besides, if this baby can command $4.3 million, what’s $13K for a Dalí?

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Meat the Future: An Animated Case for In-Vitro Meat

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Petri dish to plate, or how to feed the world of 7 billion without starving the planet.

To anyone who’s read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or seen Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc., the wretched state of the meat industry and its noxious impact on the environment is no news. Meat the Future proposes an intriguing alternative to the traditional meat industry that neither requires you to become a granola-crunching vegetarian nor holds the foolish expectation that meat companies will suddenly take responsibility. And while that alternative might not seem appetizing at first, this beautiful and compelling animated short might just make you see the issue with new eyes.

In theory, a single cell from one animal can be used to feed the entire global population, without stressing the environment.”

The film ends with an emphasis on the need for publicly funded science, something we’ve made a case for before.

The project is the brainchild of Afshin Moeini, Christian Poppius and Kim Brundin from Sweden’s Beckmans College of Design.

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Celestial Navigations: 5 Conceptual Vintage Science Films by Al Jarnow

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Education meets entertainment in experimental animation, or what Big Bird has to do with the dawn of computing.

Last week, Jason Kottke reminded me of how much I love the vintage short films of painter, educator, museum designer, and software developer Al Jarnow. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, Jarnow created short segments for PBS’s 3-2-1 Contact series, Sesame Street, and various other children’s television programs, using stop-motion, timelapse, cell animation, and other experimental at the time techniques to bring everyday objects to life and illustrate scientific concepts by blending education and entertainment. (Sound familiar?) The films are now collected in Celestial Navigations: Short Films of Al Jarnow — an absolute gem restored from the original 16mm prints, featuring remastered sound, a 30-minute documentary about Jarnow’s work, and a beautiful 60-page book.

For a taste, here are five of my favorite Jarnow films:

COSMIC CLOCK

Cosmic Clock compresses a billion years of time into two delightfully vintage animated minutes.

FACE FILM

Face Film explores human behavior through the computational operations of a typewriter, using a large canvas to tease our inability to recognize an image using incomplete data.

ARCHITECTURE

Architecture was one of Jarnow’s most elaborate and labor-intensive shoots — which makes this photo of the set getting destroyed upon completion all the more mischievously delightful.

TONDO

In Tondo, Jarnow places rectangles on grids made of meticulously measured horizon lines, then moves the camera or leaves each rectangle still for a near-impossible to achieve 3D effect. In fact, this technique is rarely used in animation precisely due to its tedious and time-consuming nature — doing away with the familiar shortcuts of cell animation, Jarnow had to come up with an entirely new kind of shortcut to fill out the 24 frames per second of traditionally projected films … in 1973.

CUBITS

In 1978, Jarnow created one of his most ambitious and groundbreaking films. Far from a mere mesmerizing meditation on the craft of animation itself, Cubits was also essentially a paper model of a computer — the cube sheet on which the film is based consists of a horizontal cubic rotation and a diagonal pan for diagonal rotation, combining these primary moves into complex rotations to explore the relationship between animation procedure and logical numerical operations.

A time-capsule of incredible visual and conceptual innovation, Celestial Navigations is the kind of cultural treasure that makes you sigh with appreciation.

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