Summer Looking Challenge–Touring the Collections with Azure Allure

As summer gets into full swing, I’m recalling how much I enjoyed my public library’s summer reading club challenges when my children were younger (shout-out to all the public libraries that run summer reading clubs for children and adults!). One thing I loved about the challenge was the “randomizer” techniques library staff designed to inspire participating readers to venture into new literary territories–for instance: read any book with a red cover.

It occurred to me that I could stage my own summer “looking” challenge along the same lines. The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog is, of course, designed for serious research, with its descriptions of 95% of Prints and Photographs Division holdings, from single items to large groups, digitized and undigitized. But it can also be a source of incidental encounters and surprise pleasures.

For my first challenge, I decided I’d search for a color word and see what turns up. Why stick to a routine “green,” “blue” or “yellow,” I thought, when a descriptive word like “azure” can hold such allure?

Prints & Photographs Online Catalog search for "azure"

Prints & Photographs Online Catalog search for “azure”

Sure enough, “azure” brought up quite the variety of images, although not necessarily in living color. And perhaps I should have anticipated that such a literary word would lead me back to literature! Two of the images are connected by virtue of the poem by Joseph Rodman Drake, “The American Flag.”

The first, a color lithograph copyrighted at the start of the Civil War in 1861, is a pro-Union patriotic print from our Popular Graphic Arts Collection.  Apparently based on an oil painting by Frederic Edwin Church’s, “Our Banner in the Sky,” the painting was, in turn, a reaction to the attack on Fort Sumter and a response to a sermon Henry Ward Beecher published shortly thereafter.

Our heaven born banner. Lithograph by Sarony, Major & Knapp Lith., copyrighted 1861. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g12417

Our heaven born banner. Lithograph by Sarony, Major & Knapp Lith., copyrighted 1861. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g12417

Eight lines of Drake’s verse appear below the image, whose lone Zouave sentry seems to survey the scene the words evoke: “When Freedom from her mountain height / Unfurled her standard to the air, / She tore the azure robe of night / And set the stars of glory there.”

A stereograph card capturing a spectacular night view of fireworks at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 also pays homage to Drake’s “azure robe of night.” View this one through a stereo viewer in all its 3-dimensional splendor, and it does, indeed, “set the stars of glory there”!

She tore the azure robe of night and set the stars of "glory there" - Fireworks. Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Stereograph copyrighted by C. L. Wasson, 1904. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s03523

She tore the azure robe of night and set the stars of “glory there” – Fireworks. Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Stereograph copyrighted by C. L. Wasson, 1904. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s03523

Our design collections also offer an “azure” entry. Sky-like azure fills in the background of this intricate drawing for a stained glass window designed by J. & R. Lamb Studios for a chapel in Fort Lyon, Colorado.

Design drawing for stained glass window showing seated Christ surrounded by disciples in mandorla on azure ground with text "Christ the Friend" for Hospital Chapel in Fort Lyon, Colorado. Designed by J. & R. Lamb Studios. between 1857 and 1975. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/lambdc.08186

Design drawing for stained glass window showing seated Christ surrounded by disciples in mandorla on azure ground with text “Christ the Friend” for Hospital Chapel in Fort Lyon, Colorado. Designed by J. & R. Lamb Studios. between 1857 and 1975. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/lambdc.08186

What I truly hadn’t anticipated was that “Azure” would make such a great name for a fictional character. Our Cabinet of American Illustration collection provides, through original illustration drawings, a wonderful window on the styles and techniques of American book, magazine, and newspaper illustrators, primarily between 1880 and 1910. And, indirectly, it also provides quite a sampling of articles and stories of the era. Three drawings by George Hand Wright in the Cabinet of American Illustration depict scenes from a story by Joseph C. Lincoln entitled, “The Aristocratic Miss Brewster,” published in the Pictorial Review, in the summer of 1927.

"Nonsense, Azure, I'm not sick and I'm not insane. I know I am doing exactly the right thing and I'm going to do it ." Drawing by George Hand Wright, 1927? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cai.2a15412

“Nonsense, Azure, I’m not sick and I’m not insane….” Drawing by George Hand Wright, 1927? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cai.2a15412

"My glory's land," Azure exclaimed. "I'm so glad you've got here." Drawing by George Hand Wright, 1927? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cai.2a15414

“My glory’s land,” Azure exclaimed. “I’m so glad you’ve got here.” Drawing by George Hand Wright, 1927? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cai.2a15414

"Nothin' ever done my Obed so much good when he had a spell as cherry rum," declared Azure. Drawing by George Hand Wright, 1927? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cai.2a15415

“Nothin’ ever done my Obed so much good when he had a spell as cherry rum,” declared Azure. Drawing by George Hand Wright, 1927? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cai.2a15415

What I value about this looking game is the winding tour it provides through our multi-faceted collections—and the enticing detours it offers to explore the creative output of centuries of artists and writers. Go ahead, take the challenge, and see what you turn up!

Learn More

  • Looking tip: Type in a color word of your choice. Once you get your search results, select the “Larger image available anywhere” check-box at the top of your search results to focus on images you can view larger. Not all of the items you retrieve may be digitized, and some digitized items may show only as thumbnail size images outside Library of Congress buildings because of rights considerations.  The “larger image available anywhere” filter allows you to zero in on those images that are digitized and display larger-than-thumbnail images no matter where you are. Did you find something great? You can share your search term and best find in a comment!

    Prints & Photographs Online Catalog filter for my "azure" search results--"Larger image available anywhere" is the best choice to focus on pictures that expand to larger digital files no matter where you are searching from.

    Prints & Photographs Online Catalog filter for my “azure” search results–“Larger image available anywhere” is the best choice to focus on pictures that expand to larger digital files no matter where you are searching from.

  • Read up on the collections my “azure” search tour took me to:
  • Looking games are not just the stuff of summer. Revisit our earlier blog post celebrating a mid-winter anniversary a couple of years ago: Come to Our Party: The 7th Birthday of the Flickr Commons , which suggests several games that invite exploration of the photos multiple institutions have shared through the Flickr Commons.
  • Explore poetry connections in some of our previous blog posts.
  • View an illustrated version of Joseph Drake Rodman’s poem, “The American Flag” via Hathitrust.org: Drake, Joseph Rodman. The American Flag. New York, J.G. Gregory, 1861.

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