Archive for Thursday, September 23, 1999

September 23, 1999


The Kansas University's research library has opened an exhibition of zoological illustrations.

When James Helyar was looking for a way to set up his latest exhibit, he drew inspiration from children's books.

Helyar, who is the curator of graphics for the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at Kansas University, had thousands of zoological illustrations to choose from, so he selected 27 of his best and arranged them in tidy alphabetical order.

The end result is "An Alphabet of Animals: 200 Years of Zoological Illustrations," which will show through October.

"Using the alphabet was a very attractive choice. Illustrations in the field of children's books are often done this way, and we liked the idea of this," he said.

Helyar has arranged an eclectic mix of mostly mammals, with 26 examples in ABC format from "A is for Anteater" to "Z is for Zebra." The 27th display is a title illustration.

The exhibit offers a variety of artwork including copper engravings, etchings, lithographs and modern four-color photography. Contained in the show are works by such notables as John James Audubon and John Gould.

The ABC arrangement makes it easy to arrange the artwork, but Helyar pointed out the exhibit is not a children's exhibit.

"It's not primarily a children's exhibit, though it would be very attractive to children," Helyar said. "Our first patrons are likely to be members of the university."

Taking a scholarly display and arranging it in a family-friendly way makes the library more accessible, Helyar added.

"The library is not only available to scholars, but anyone can use it, and we want to tell them what exists in the library," he said.

Helyar researched the exhibit and put it together himself, and he likened the work to an illustrated lecture, an equivalent of a published research paper. Members of the library staff usually work on shows individually.

"Exhibits tend to be one-person shows," he said. "It's difficult to maintain a singular voice if you're sharing your work."

All of the displayed material comes from the Ralph Nicholson Ellis collection. Though he only lived to be 37, Ellis collected more than 65,000 items for his personal library of natural history.

Ellis was a friend of Raymond Hall, a former director of the KU Natural History Museum, and when Hall offered Ellis a place for his collection, Ellis accepted. The collection was so massive that it arrived by freight train and filled two railroad cars.

"It just rolled into Lawrence, and the university gave it space. When Ellis died, he left it to the university," he said.

Though he is quite familiar with all the illustrations, Helyar admitted that a few letters of the alphabet gave him trouble when he tried to pair them with animals.

One letter proved to be the trickiest, so Heylar got creative and selected the yellow-footed rock-wallaby for his "X" display.

"I cheated a little bit," Heylar said. "But its scientific name starts with an 'X'."

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What: "An Alphabet of Animals: 200 Years of Zoological Illustration."

When: Through the end of October.

Where: Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Kansas University campus.

Library hours: From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

For more information: Call 864-4334.

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