Signatures, Rare Books, American Art

Signatures: Original and Electronic

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Submitted by Christine Edmonson on

It is, without a doubt, the close connection we library staffers have with curators, educators and conservators, that bring those eureka moments to our orderly lives. A discovery now and then in the book collection bridges the human connection to those dusty old volumes, and might justify the purchase of new technology as well. Just this week curator Mark Cole alerted us to two signatures in an old journal that might have significant value. If they could be verified as the artist's hand, he wrote, we should move them into our rare book stacks.

Our Library Director, Betsy Lantz, asked Jane Kirkland, our Serials and Electronic Resources Librarian, to check it out. And so she did, using our newly purchased subscription of Artists' Signatures, an electronic listing that verifies all known signatures of artists. Our two bound volumes of L'Esprit Nouveau, are clearly signed in pencil on the flyleaf: S. Macdonald-Wright and Macdonald-Wright. Jane carefully compared them, letter by letter, using the Stanton Macdonald-Wright entry. Clearly a match! And so processed from the regular stacks into the rare ones, joining Warhol, Sloan, Steichen, Rauschenberg and Rosetti, among others.

Stanton Macdonald-Wright, California artist and teacher, was born in 1890 and began his career studying in New York and Paris. By the time our bound volumes were published in 1925, he was in California directing the Art Students League of Los Angeles. His collaboration with fellow artist Morgan Russell led to their theory of color abstraction that was analogous to that of musical harmonies. Called Synchromism, its emphasis lay in color rhythms.

I looked into the journal history of L'Esprit Nouveau. Known as L'EN, the revue was founded and edited by Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant. Only six volumes, L'EN: Revue Internationale d'Esthétique Expérimentale reviewed all arts considered modern, including cinema and dance (the photos of barefooted dancers caught leaping mid-air are marvelous). Various parts of the journal were republished in 1924 as Le Corbusier's Vers Une Architecture: Collection de "L'Esprit Nouveau. Its contents have lots of cool photographs of artists, and the listings of expositions are quite detailed.

When and how Macdonald-Wright and these two leather-bound books of revolution made connection we will never know. One can imagine our American flâneur at the Café du Dôme after browsing at the bouquinistes on the banks of the Seine and plucking out of those green boxes our two volumes. I did so myself, finding a rare set of Emile Zola's L'Oeuvre, a Flammarion edition with dramatically illustrated covers. One never knows what treasure a browse in the stacks might find!