Thursday evening we attended the opening of the Toulouse Lautrec show at the Columbus Museum of Art. As well as drawings and posters by Toulouse Lautrec, there were interesting pieces by avant-garde artists in Paris around the turn of the twentieth century. . . “paintings, watercolors and drawings; rare zinc shadow puppet silhouettes; illustrated programs for the famous Chat Noir cabaret shadow theater; and key ephemera for Parisian theaters, circuses, cabarets and café-concerts which document the activities of artists during this rich period.”
This painting of trees along a canal reminded me of a painting I’d learned about in elementary school. The next day I dug around in my bookshelves and found “My Own Picture Book” book 4 and 5, by Theodora Pottle.
Forreston was a very small town and we didn’t have art instruction, however, looking through these two books—there are eight in the series—if the teacher followed the instructions and plans, children would get a good overview of “interpretations of masterpieces.”
Each book had 36 pages, and they were published by Johnson-Randolph Company of Champaign, Illinois. Although I can remember working in the books, I don’t believe we were graded, and the excellent art instruction in the back of each book probably wasn’t used. By fifth grade, we cut the color reproductions with our scissors, but for the earlier grades they were included in an envelope in the back of the book.
The page on the left (black and white) includes some historical background about Holland, then describes what are the most important features of the painting, then a discussion of perspective, and finally a paragraph about the artist, Meindert Hobbema. The other nine masterpieces in book 5 have similar layouts. Then the page on the right has a color representation to paste in place, with questions and activities. There is a referral to p. 36 where one point perspective is explained. Looking through the two books I have, I became curious about the person who put together such a delightful set of learning tools—although I didn’t appreciate it in 1949 like I do in 2014.
Her name is Theodora Pottle, and she taught art at Macomb State Teachers College (now Western Illinois University). According to the website, she “received both her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Chicago; however, she also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia University, the University of Colorado, the University of Arizona, and even the Ransom Studios in Paris, France. By the time she came to Western Illinois University in 1928, . . . as an instructor and head of the art department, she had already taught music and art in Duluth, Tucson, Ludington, Traverse City in Michigan, and the University High School in Chicago. She had also traveled to forty-eight states, Canada, Mexico, and had made frequent trips to Europe .
During her career, she published a number of children’s art textbooks called “My Own Picture Book Series.” These were designed to be used in elementary schools to generate an enthusiasm for the arts in young children.”
She retired in 1958 and never married or had any children, although certainly she must have influenced thousands of children over the years as well as the many students in her art classes who went on to teach others.
When Ms. Pottle was a child, her parents had a theater company and she also performed with them. (Find a grave, Adelaide Eunice Goodrich Pottle)