I’ve always felt that beautiful boxes should hold beautiful things, and that is the case for one small, graceful box stored in the Audio Visual Library at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Made of a dark, lustrous wood and elegant enough to be exhibited on its own, the box immediately caught my eye when I first came upon it. With a squeal of excitement, I gently pulled off the lid and inside was a small collection of lovely glass lantern slides. The box and lantern slides spoke instantly of a century past when traveling slides shows were essential to a museum’s exhibition program.
Lantern slides were introduced in 1849 and allowed for an image to be projected on a wall or a screen and viewed by a wide audience. The image was developed onto a piece of glass and another piece of glass was carefully taped over the first to seal in the image. Then the slides, typically the size of a small photograph (3.5 x 4 inches), were placed into a simple projector with a light burning behind it.
The lantern slides in this box likely were produced for educational lectures held at the old Milwaukee Art Institute (formerly located near the intersection of Mason and Jefferson Streets in Milwaukee). The Milwaukee Art Institute joined with Milwaukee’s Layton Art Center to form the Milwaukee Art Center (now Milwaukee Art Museum) in 1958.
The slide subjects in the box run the gamut from simple interior shots to installation images of the various exhibitions held at the Institute.
Lantern slides were produced in black and white and a lucky few were chosen to be hand-painted to help give the viewer a better sense of the image. Such is the case for several beautiful lantern slides in this box including a brilliant example found in two lantern slides depicting the exhibition Official Persian Exhibition From Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, held at the Milwaukee Art Institute in January of 1916. You can visit this website for more information and many period photographs of the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915.
As you can see in the photos above, each textile and carpet captured in the slide was given individual attention by the artist, as well as the overall décor of the gallery. From the classically-styled furniture and display cabinets to the skylights above, the artist had free reign to interpret the color in the scene.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the luminous jewels found in this beautiful little box, so keep an eye on this blog for more colorful stories to come!