Victorian Britain in the Mile High City

Today’s guest blogger is Jennifer R. Henneman, who holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Washington, and is Assistant Curator of Western American Art at the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum. Jennifer’s interdisciplinary transatlantic research, which has taken her from the wilds of the American West to the cosmopolitan streets of London, reflects her own upbringing on a cattle ranch in Montana and her interest in the dominant cultural and artistic spheres of the late Victorian era. In addition to creating exhibitions for the Denver Art Museum, Jennifer currently pursues a book project on the 1887 American Exhibition in London.

My daily walk to work at the Denver Art Museum includes a southward view down Broadway, one of Denver, Colorado’s primary north-south thoroughfares. Above the westward skyline rises “Jonas Bros / Furs” in red neon letters. A legacy of the city’s 1920s urban landscape, the sign towers over the art deco building out of which the Denver branch of the Jonas Brothers’ taxidermy and fur company operated for much of the 20th century.[1]

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Photo courtesy of the author.

The success of the Jonas Brothers’ firm was built on a 19th century tradition of big game hunting in the Colorado Rockies and its associated industry, taxidermy, which reached highest popularity during the latter part of that century. Lately, taxidermy is much on my mind as I consider the ramifications of North American hunting trophies exhibited within the Fine Arts Galleries of the American Exhibition in London of 1887, an event best known for hosting Buffalo Bill’s Wild West on its first tour abroad. I am interested in the strangeness of the Fine Art Galleries, in which the moulded forms of animal bodies held court adjacent to over a thousand works of American art. Hunted by British sportsmen in North America, these trophies reinforced active British participation in America’s westward expansion, and remind me of the imperial footprints left by such hunters in my current Colorado vicinity.

Continue reading “Victorian Britain in the Mile High City”

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NAVSA 2014

Banner for NAVSA 2014, "Classes and Classifications, showing butterflies
The banner for NAVSA 2014, http://navsa2014.com/.

Along with other Floating Academy bloggers, including Daniel Martin, I’ve just returned from NAVSA 2014 in London, Ontario.  It was a wonderful conference as always, and we all owe a huge thanks to Chris Keep and the conference organizers at Western.  I realized that I have now been attending NAVSA for ten years.  Where did that time go?  I attended my first NAVSA as a graduate student and observer back in 2004, when it was at the University of Toronto.  As a Canadian, I have to say that it’s great that NAVSA, the North American Victorian Studies Association, is in Canada every three years or so.  Little did I know in 2004 that NAVSA was a young organization at the time, founded in 2002.  This year, the presidency was handed over from the inimitable Dino Felluga to Marlene Tromp.  As I remarked to a grad school friend, we pretty much came of age in the profession as NAVSA did.  Now that I’m a few years out of grad school I value NAVSA not only for the intellectual exchange but also as an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and scholars I’ve met throughout the years.  Though, as I noted back in 2012, it’s a big conference, and if you want to make sure you see people it pays to make plans for coffee or dinner in advance!

A few trends that I noticed at this year’s NAVSA were many papers touching on animal studies (including Gillian Beer’s keynote), the great popularity of Dickens (even more so than George Eliot) and the increased presence of social media.  But, rather than trying to summarize the whole conference myself, I thought I’d do something different and make a Storify of all the tweets.  Enjoy!

VSAWC

VSAWCThe Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, Victorian Humanity and its Others, has come to a close. It was held at Coast Hotel in Vancouver, a location that has, ladies and gents, left me feeling a little nostalgic. I attended my first VSAWC meeting at the Coast in 2009 — my first visit to Vancouver. Fellow Floating Academician Daniel Martin gave me a tour of Stanley Park over a lunch hour and was kind enough to introduce me to the Victorian Studies who’s who of Western Canada.

Since then Daniel has moved east and I’ve moved west. It was great to have mini FA reunion at the conference: Daniel, Jennifer Esmail, and I Continue reading “VSAWC”

Alice in Wonderland

Even if the Disney Film isn't out of copyright--the Tenniel surely is!

I’ve just seen the new Alice in Wonderland (And got caught in a thunderstorm on the way home.  I feel like the dormouse in the teapot! Or something like that.)  The new movie is sort of an Alice-meets-The Wizard of Oz action-fantasy, with the Red Queen pitted against the White Queen and Alice as Jabberwock-slayer.  Not what I was expecting, but I had fun seeing it over Spring Break anyway, and it’s generated a few random questions for me: Continue reading “Alice in Wonderland”

The Relevance of Edison’s Ear?

Readers, you may be interested in a new website that features Canadian documentary films, many of which were screened at one time or another at the wonderful Hotdocs Documentary film festival that takes place annually in Toronto. There are a few films that may be particularly relevant to scholars of the nineteenth century including Seeking Salvation, which is a history of Black churches in Canada including their role in the underground railroad, and The Jolifou Inn, a short film from 1955 about the art of Cornelius Krieghoff.

I was particularly excited to see Francisca Duran’s interesting film Mr. Edison’s Ear, which I missed at the 2008 Hotdocs festival, included in the on-line documentary library. Continue reading “The Relevance of Edison’s Ear?”

Victorian Freak Show Posters

"Krao" poster from the British Library's Online Gallery of Victorian Freak Show Posters

Kristan Tetens at The Victorian Peeper points us to an interesting online collection of Victorian Freak show posters at the British Library’s website. Noting the importance of “titillating publicity” to the success of these shows, the BL website emphasizes how the  invariably “exaggerated and stylised illustrations” of the posters graphically framed and pathologized the performers’ physical difference. Continue reading “Victorian Freak Show Posters”

Animals in the City: Wilkie Collins’s Heart and Science

I have just finished reading Wilkie Collins’s novel Heart and Science (1883). One of the things I was most struck by was the presence of animals in the world of the novel. In its exploration – and dichotomizing – of “heart and science,” the novel focuses on the issue of vivisection so animals obviously play an important thematic role. But in setting the stage for the horrific experiments happening behind closed laboratory doors, Collins populates London itself with animals, both domestic and captive. Continue reading “Animals in the City: Wilkie Collins’s Heart and Science”