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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study: St. Nicholas Magazine : a Portable Art Museum


September 26, 2013

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In November 1873, American publisher Scribner and Company published the first issue of a new illustrated monthly magazine for children, St. Nicholas Magazine : Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys. Contributing to its success was the editorial vision of its first and most influential editor, Mary Mapes Dodge, who was to create a new kind of magazine for children, one in which illustration and art education were important foci. The greatest expression of St. Nicholas’ art education program is seen in its many reproductions of fine art and architecture from Antiquity, the Old Masters, and contemporary academic artists. These reproductions accompanied art historical information, illustrated fictional stories, or stood alone for the reader to contemplate. St. Nicholas also contained the work of trade illustrators who would become famous through the distribution of illustrated magazines, including Howard Pyle, Jessie McDermott and Reginald Birch. Contained between the two heavy, matte paper covers were innovative and artistic layouts, typography, and decorative designs that consciously paralleled the styles of the predominate artistic movements, such as those associated with the American Renaissance and English Aestheticism, that were popular among elite, genteel Victorian Americas. The art and aesthetic editorial program as defined by Dodge and carried out by the magazine’s art department and printer was a complicated and premeditated agenda for the cultural education and visual training of its readership. St. Nicholas must be considered an art magazine, taking its place within the art and aesthetic education movement of the late nineteenth-century in America. 
Mary F. Zawadzi, a writer in residence in the Library’s Wertheim Study, is currently completing her PhD in nineteenth-century American art history at The Graduate Center, CUNY.  Her dissertation focuses on the art and aesthetic education program of the nineteenth-century children’s illustrated magazine, St. Nicholas Magazine.  She has presented extensively on St. Nicholas and illustration in America, and has been published in the Mid-Atlantic Almanack. She is currently teaching art history at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY and has taught the History of Illustration at Parson: The New School for Design.