Original Drawings by J.R.R. Tolkien Are Coming to New York's Morgan Library

The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937
The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

A collection of British fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien's original drawings and illustrations will make a rare appearance in the U.S. this month. As AM New York reports, works from the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries will be traveling across the pond to New York City, where they'll go on display at The Morgan Library & Museum.

From January 25 to May 12, 2019, visitors to the "Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth" exhibition will have the chance to see book manuscripts, hand-drawn maps of Middle-earth, original illustrations of Smaug the dragon (from The Hobbit), Sauron's Dark Tower of Barad-dûr (described in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion), and other recognizable characters. Seldom-seen childhood photos of Tolkien, who would have celebrated his 127th birthday on January 3, will also be on view.

"The Morgan exhibition is your only opportunity in America to see the largest collection ever assembled of J.R.R. Tolkien's original drawings, manuscripts, and maps," Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan Library, says in a video promoting the exhibition.

It's not all about the art, either. Tolkien's draft manuscripts provide a window into his creative process, as well as the vivid, expansive worlds he created. "We get a glimpse into the moments in the creation of the narrative, such as when he changes the wizard's name to Gandalf or suddenly comes up with the idea of the One Ring," library curator John McQuillen tells AM New York.

In addition to items from the Bodleian Libraries, the Morgan also borrowed works from the Marquette University Libraries in Milwaukee and private lenders. In total, there are 117 items on display. The exhibit typically costs $20, but it's free on Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m.

If you aren't able to make it to New York for this exhibition, you can check out some of Tolkien's illustrations in the Bodleian Libraries' book of the same name, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. Hardcover copies are available on Amazon for $29.

[h/t AM New York]

Wish You Could ‘Shazam’ a Piece of Art? With Magnus, You Can

Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images
Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images

While museum artworks are often accompanied by tidy little placards that tell you the basics—title, artist, year, medium, dimensions, etc.—that’s not always the standard for art galleries and fairs. For people who don’t love tracking down a staff member every time they’d like to know more about a particular work, there’s Magnus, a Shazam-like app that lets you snap a photo of an artwork and will then tell you the title, artist, last price, and more.

The New York Times reports that Magnus has a primarily crowdsourced database of more than 10 million art images. Though the idea of creating Shazam for art seems fairly straightforward, the execution has been relatively complex, partially because of the sheer quantity of art in the world. As founder Magnus Resch explained to The New York Times, “There is a lot more art in the world than there are songs.”

Structural diversity in art adds another challenge to the process: it’s difficult for image recognition technology to register 3D objects like sculptures, however famous they may be. Resch also has to dodge copyright violations; he maintains that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act applies to his app, since the photos are taken and shared by users, but he still has had to remove some content. All things considered, Magnus’s approximate match rate of 70 percent is pretty impressive.

Since the process of buying and selling art often includes negotiation and prices can fluctuate drastically, Magnus gives potential purchasers the background information they need to at least decide whether they’re interested in pursuing a particular piece. Just like browsing around a boutique where prices aren’t included on the items, a lack of transparency can be a deterrent for new customers.

Such was the case for Jelena Cohen, a Colgate-Palmolive brand manager who bought her first photograph with the help of Magnus. “I used to go to these art fairs, and I felt embarrassed or shy, because nothing’s listed,” she told The New York Times. “I loved that the app could scan a piece and give you the exact history of it, when it was last sold, and the price it was sold for. That helped me negotiate.” Through Magnus, you can also keep track of artworks you’ve scanned in your digital collection, search for artworks by artist, and share images to social media.

One thing Magnus can’t do, however, is tell you whether an artwork is authentic or not. The truth is that sometimes even art experts have trouble doing that, as evidenced by the long history of notorious art forgeries.

[h/t The New York Times]

'The Far Side' May Be Making a Comeback Online

tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus
tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus

For the first time ever, it’s looking increasingly likely that cartoonist Gary Larson’s "The Far Side" will be available in a medium other than book collections or page-a-day calendars. A (slightly ambiguous) announcement on the official "Far Side" website promises that “a new online era” for the strip is coming soon.

From 1980 to 1995, "The Far Side" presented a wonderfully irreverent universe in which hunters had much to fear from armed and verbose deer, cows possessed a rich internal life, scientific experiments often went awry, and irony became a central conceit. In one of the more famous strips frequently pasted to refrigerator doors, a small child could be seen pushing on a door marked “pull.” Above him was a sign marking the building as a school for the gifted. In another strip, a woman is depicted looking nervously around a forest while cradling a vacuum cleaner. The caption: “The woods were dark and foreboding, and Alice sensed that sinister eyes were watching her every step. Worst of all, she knew that Nature abhorred a vacuum.”

Unlike most of his contemporaries, like Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County") and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Larson has resisted reproduction of his work online. He famously circulated a letter to "Far Side" fan sites asking them to stop posting the single-panel strips, writing that the idea of his work being found on random websites was bothersome. “These cartoons are my ‘children,’ of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me,” he wrote.

Many obliged Larson, though the strip could still be found here and there. That he’s seemingly embracing a new method of distribution is good news for fans, but there’s no concrete evidence the now-retired cartoonist will be following in Breathed’s footsteps and producing new strips. ("Bloom County" returned as a Facebook comic in 2015.) The only indication of Larson’s active involvement is a new piece of art on the site’s landing page depicting some familiar "Far Side" characters being unthawed in a block of ice.

Larson’s comments on a return are few and far between. In 1998, he told The New York Times that going back to a strip was unlikely. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Never say never, but there’s a sense of ‘been there, done that.’” In that same profile, it was noted that 33 million "Far Side" books had been sold.

[h/t A.V. Club]

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