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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study: How American and British Artists Captured the Excitement and Trauma of Living in a Rapidly-Mechanizing Society


December 4, 2013

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Dr. Julie Wosk will present a talk about her book Breaking Frame: Technology, Art, and Design in the Nineteenth Century—a groundbreaking view of how British and American artists pictured the widespread hopes and fears about new industries and mechanical inventions that were transforming human life.  Artists captured the dramatic and sometimes traumatic impact of the Industrial Revolution and new transportation machines--factories spewing smoke, trains speeding and sometimes crashing, and satirical views of people-turned-automatons as they walk along on their steam-powered legs and ride in their fanciful steam-powered flying machines. 

Meanwhile, American and British designers produced ornamented steam engine frames and sewing machines that looked like classical Greek architecture, and produced cast-iron furniture and building facades that imitated the look of costly hand-carved stone. Many of the images in Breaking Frame tellingly presaged the issues that still intrigue and haunt us today.  We continue in our quest for electronic speed, we try to avert technological catastrophes, and we develop new human-like robots to help us and do our work.

Dr. Julie Wosk, a writer in residence in the Library’s Wertheim Study, is a professor of art history, English, and studio painting at the State University of New York, Maritime College.  She has published widely on technology, art, film, and literature, and her books include Women and the Machine: Representations From the Spinning Wheel to the Electronic Age (Johns Hopkins University Press) and Alluring Androids, Robot Women, and Electronic Eves based on the museum exhibit she curated at the New York Hall of Science.  Her lecture on Alluring Androids was taped by New York television’s PBS Channel Thirteen.  Dr. Wosk is also a mixed-media painter and photographer whose works have been exhibited in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania galleries and museums.  She is a member of the Speakers Program of the New York Council for the Humanities and has also presented guest lectures throughout the country including at Princeton, Columbia University, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design, and the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.  She is a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.