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members. “Young, Gifted and Black” is available for purchase ($20) from the Rice University Bookstore or online through www.riceowls. com. To order through the website, click “Official Store” to find the item. The video won a 2013 Circle of Excellence Award (Silver) from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. “Young, Gifted and Black: Reflections From Black Alumni at Rice,” directed by Douglas Newman. Produced by Rice University Multicultural Community Relations and Mouth Watering Media (2012). 83 minutes.

Dellschau’s Delightful Drawings

T

his handsome coffee-table monograph features the fantastic creations of Charles August Albert Dellschau (1830–1923), a self-taught artist whose intricate drawings, watercolors and collages are recognized as some of the finest and earliest examples of American visionary art. Along with more than 250 images, the volume includes six essays and an introduction by experts on Dellschau’s work. The late Thomas McEvilley (1939–2013),

A 1912 drawing of a flying machine by the visionary artist Charles A.A. Dellschau. More than 250 images are gathered in a new book with a lead essay by the late Thomas McEvilley, a longtime lecturer in Rice’s art history department.

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a lecturer on Rice’s art history faculty for more than 35 years and an influential art critic, wrote the book’s lead essay, titled “Charles A.A. Dellschau’s Aporetic Archive.” Dellschau, an immigrant from Prussia, spent most of his life in Houston, where he worked as a butcher. In his late 60s, after experiencing a series of family tragedies, he began to handwrite and illustrate his memoirs — two volumes in English and one in German. Then he started drawing and painting on pieces of butcher paper. The subject of these drawings? Airships and fantastic flying machines — what Dellschau called “Aeros” — rendered in exquisite and whimsical detail. Dellschau’s images chronicle the history and exploits of the Sonora Aero Club, a group of men who got together in mid-1850s California to design and build flying machines. Or did they? In fact, no one knows for sure if the Sonora Aero Club ever existed. Some of the names mentioned in Dellschau’s stories can be documented, while others have escaped the historical record. And in fact, there’s no definitive proof that Dellschau was in California during the Gold Rush era at all. Does that matter? “The problem is that little if any confirmation of Dellschau’s personal history, the club and so on, has been found,” wrote McEvilley, who was not so concerned with the veracity of Dellschau’s life history as he was with the work’s aesthetic form and symbolism. Readers also will be impressed by the (mostly) documented account of the miraculous journey taken by Dellschau’s scrapbooks after his death in 1923. After Dellschau died, his drawings and possessions were placed in an attic of the home where he lived, and that’s where they moldered for 40 years. A fire in the home led to a house cleaning, and Dellschau’s work was left in the street. They were retrieved and ended up in a furniture shop near downtown Houston, where they were soon discovered by a student who happened to intern for Dominique de Menil. The Menil Collection acquired four of the scrapbooks, and a man named P.G. Navarro acquired the remaining eight surviving scrapbooks. Soon, Dellschau’s drawings had traveled from the obscurity of a sweltering Houston attic to being desired and acquired by galleries, private collectors and museums around the country. McEvilley pays tribute to Navarro’s “Books of Dellschau” for their close examination of the artist’s themes, motivations and possible connections to historical sightings of mysterious airships in the late 1890s, both in Texas and throughout the Southwest. As McEvilley points out, flight has dominated our imaginations in the last century. In a beautifully written passage, he tethers this theme to the labors of inventors and engineers, saints and angels, shamans and magicians. In Dellschau’s mandala-themed drawings, we see “a space for transformation, though it is not glimpsed at the moment of the blazing miracle — but the gentle ascent of a balloon floating silently up, up away.” Dellschau’s obsession with flight, as depicted in the thousands of surviving drawings the likes of which would make a Rice engineer proud, is contagious. The drawings invite us to ponder both the history and future of flight and the fuel of imagination. —Lynn Gosnell “Charles A.A. Dellschau,” text by James Brett, Thomas McEvilley, Tracy Baker-White, Roger Cardinal, Thomas D. Crouch, Barbara Safarova and Randall Morris (Marquand Books, 2013)

Image: The Museum of Everything, London

Rice Magazine - Summer 2013  

The Magazine of Rice University

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