A few years ago, I tried out a summer “looking” challenge in an attempt to parallel the clever ideas my local public library uses to encourage summer book club participants to pick out volumes they might not have otherwise sampled (“Summer Looking Challenge–Touring the Collections with Azure Allure“). It’s getting to be that time of year again, so I decided to try sampling for the season itself. I started by doing a search in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for the word, “summer.” I was soon off swinging from link to link on a chain of visual and word associations.
My initial “summer” search had me touring a variety of summer houses, visiting locations with “summer” in their place names and gazing at group portraits of child laborers who seemed anything but the picture of carefree summer (the captions identified the ages they had attained “last summer”).
But I soon became intrigued by the focus in our Popular Graphic Art collection of historical prints on the fruits of the season, because they were, for the most part, wholly unsatisfying. Although chromolithographs — lithographs printed in color often made to look like an oil painting or watercolor — are plentiful in the Popular Graphic Art collection, the summer fruits were largely devoid of color.
Of the seven I counted, only one was in color. (It must be the Californian in me that fails to associate what looks like an orange with the summer season–we always got them in our Christmas stockings!)
A majority of the prints came to the Library of Congress as copyright deposits when the publishers registered their intellectual property rights. Maybe the publishers decided to send those to which they had not gone to the added labor of applying color? Whatever the explanation, I couldn’t resist the ultimate personification of Summer, whose curly locks are composed entirely of summer fruits!
But by that time, I had also had plums on my mind, as the smooth, juicy (and sticky!) fruits graced many a summer afternoon snack in my childhood. So I went seeking color pictures of plums, by searching “color” and “plums.”
I was immediately greeted by the tempting sight of yellow plums that hung on a tree in the Russian Empire in 1910, courtesy of Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich Prokudin-Gorskiĭ’s early 20th century innovations in producing color photographs.And these Marianna plums completely hit the spot.
Satisfying many tastes, a Popular Graphic Arts print that catalogers had thoughtfully summarized provided not only a dark red plum, but other fruits, and a flute of champagne, to boot!
Traveling from the representational to the fanciful, this comic card from 1887 visually attests to how well a plum shape can be re-envisioned as the upper half of a man’s body.But my search results reinforced verbal associations, as well as visual ones. The comic weekly, Puck, offered political commentary on ducking for “plums,” where the fruit implies something very desirable. In the political context of 1913 New York City, sought-after plums included “contracts,” “appointments,” “jobs,” and “control.”
Plums apparently repeatedly offered a ready visual for the publication’s satirical barbs. In 1905, with the monopolistic practices of Standard Oil under intensifying scrutiny, Puck had John D. Rockefeller serving up “rebate plums.”
I was delighted by the literal and figurative plums my search turned up–just as satisfying a combination of tart and sweet as the fruit itself. And my search results reminded me that plum associations belong to many seasons: delicate spring blossoms, plum pudding (which doesn’t actually contain plums–apparently “plum” used to refer to raisins and other fruit), and sugar plums (which bear even less relationship to the fruit, being sugar hardened around a hard center).
See how far a simple word search can take you? Apple anyone? Or how about going bananas?
- Have a look at the images and descriptions that turn up in the “summer” search.
- Pick out your favorite images in this search result for records containing the word “plum” that have digitized images that enlarge anywhere.
- You can get to the fruitier pictures more quickly by using “NOT” to screen out some collections that are rife with place names.
- Using the Advanced search feature, “No variants,” enables you to eliminate longer words that happen to include the letters “p-l-u-m” (though I say good-bye to Christopher Plummer with some regret…).
- Add “color” to the search if black-and-white plums don’t whet your appetite.
- How did Prokudin-Gorskii’s glass negatives produce a yellow plum? Read about his color photography method.
- Review our earlier color search challenge and see what new results may turn up since we tried it last.
- LC Labs has hosted some experiments with enabling serendipitous encounters with the Library of Congress collections. You can sample some: “Innovator-in-Residence Jer Thorpe” and “#Serendipity Run.” For more, have a look at the LABS Experiments Gallery.