Emma Hart Willard’s visual learning, N.C. Wyeth’s trip west, and JK Rowling on what it takes to write: newsletter, October 4, 2019

October 7, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,6xx) on Friday, October 4, 2019.



The continued record-breaking heat and dry weather in East Tennessee threaten to disrupt our fall gardening plans. Last year, we had so much rain that there was never a chance to sub-soil and till our garden plots so that they can be ready for spring planting. This year it’s the opposite problem with the same results. Unless there is rain, the ground will be too hard to prepare for the spring.

On another agricultural front, our neighbor has chickens, and she had gone out of town for a couple of days and left me in charge. I was never a fan of live chickens — I prefer them on a dinner plate — and my experience this week confirms my disinclination toward them. I prefer bees.

Whatever your inclinations or disinclinations, I hope you have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,666 subscribers and had a 29.8 percent open rate; 5 people unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Emma Hart Willard and the concept of ‘visual learning’

Long before the term “visual learning” came into being, Emma Hart Willard knew what it meant and how important it was. So important, she believed, that constructing the tools to put it into effect was well worth time and effort.

In 1846, she drew a chart titled The Temple of Time (below) in which she attempted to show the various empires of history encased in the motif of a Greek temple. Willard’s purpose in constructing this visual tool was to demonstrate that historical facts, to be understood, must be related to one another. Something that happens in history happens in context, not in a vacuum.

A second purpose was to give students a framework that they could use to understand and evaluate additional knowledge as they acquired it.

She wrote:

. . . when the eye is the medium, the picture will, by frequent inspection, be formed within, and forever remain, wrought into the living texture of the mind. If this be done by a design whose beauty and grandeur naturally attract attention, then the teacher or parent who shall place it before his pupils and children will find that they will insensibly become possesses of an inner “Temple” in which they may, through life, deposite [sic], in the proper order of time, the facts of history as they shall acquire them. 

Her ideas about cartography aiding in the learning process were groundbreaking, and they were recognized as such at the time. Willard was awarded a medal for her work at the 1851 World’s Fair in London and won praise from Prince Albert himself.

Willard had been working on her ideas about visual learning for years, and her Temple of Time was just the latest iteration of it.

Willard was born in 1787, the sixteenth of seventeen children, into a family that valued education. She quickly realized that females were being short-changed in their educational opportunities, and she spent much of her life trying to remedy that. She began the Troy Female Seminary in 1821 in Troy, New York, two years after she had spoken before the New York State Legislature asking for a statewide plan to educate girls. They ignored her.

She also realized the importance of textbooks and the dearth of them available for her students. So, she set about writing them herself. Her History of the United States, published in 1828, was one of the most widely read and adapted texts of time time. She also wrote A System of Fulfillment of a Promise (1831), A Treatise on the Motive Powers which Produce the Circulation of the Blood (1846), Guide to the Temple of Time and Universal History for Schools (1849), Last Leaves of American History (1849), Astronography; or Astronomical Geography (1854), and Morals for the Young (1857).

She also co-wrote, with William Channing Woodbridge, The Woodbridge and Willard Geographies and Atlases, published in 1823, a book that gave her claim to being America’s first female cartographer.

Willard took her quest for female education across America and later to Europe. 

Willard was a remarkable 19th century woman who broke the bounds that society created for her.

Source: Visionary Maps of Time, Space, and Thought by America’s First Female Cartographer and Information Visualization Designer | Brain Pickings

The value of friendship

How valuable are friends and friendships?

They can keep us alive — literally. Shane Parrish of Farnham Street, one of my regular reads, writes:

In her book The Friendship Cure, Kate Leaver provides a convincing argument for the value of friends. They are worth it for the benefit to cardiovascular health alone! Interestingly, she writes that “social integration and close relationships are the most important predictors of mortality, well above things like alcohol consumption, exercise and diet.” With a network of reliable friends, we live longer and in better health. And good friends make us feel good. There is a reciprocity that Leaver explores in all sorts of manifestations, demonstrating just how amazing friendships can be for the quality of our lives. Source: The Evolutionary Benefit of Friendship

This article is a five-minute read and well worth it.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

N.C. Wyeth: learning by heading west

In 1903, 20-year-old Newell Convers Wyeth, an aspiring illustrator, boarded a train and headed west.

Actually, he could claim more than the adjective “aspiring.” He had just pulled off a coup in the world of illustration that had eluded artists who were two or three times his age. His illustration of a cowboy on a bucking bronco had appeared on the February 3rd Saturday Evening Post, then one of the nation’s premier magazines.

Still, he was young, inexperienced, and seeking to make his mark. The Post cover had generated another commission from the magazine: illustrate a Western story that Post wanted to run. Wyeth’s friend and teacher, the great writer/illustrator Howard Pyle, urged Wyeth to “go west” and get a first-hand look at what he was about to draw.

The trip had a profound effect on Wyeth’s career and helped vault him to the top the illustration universe — a universe that during his time with was filled people whose work we remember today: the aforementioned Pyle, Charles Dana Gibson, Reginald Birch, and the like. But when it comes to early 20th-century illustrators, the name of N.C. Wyeth is at the top of just about everyone’s list.

During his western sojourn, Wyeth joined cattle drives, delivered mail by horseback, drove a stagecoach, worked on a ranch, visited Indian tribes and villages. He listened to stories around a campfire at night. Most of all, he drew and sketched and painted. He later wrote of his experiences:

“Now when I paint a figure on horseback, a man plowing, or a woman buffeted by the wind, I have an acute sense of the muscle strain, the feel of the hickory handle, or the protective bend of the head and squint of eye that each pose involves. After painting action scenes, I have ached for hours because of having put myself in the other fellow’s shoes as I realized him on canvas.” Source: The Life and Art of N.C. Wyeth | The Saturday Evening Post

Wyeth never forgot that trip. The rugged West is evident in just about every painting he produced.

And produce he did. When he returned East for good (he took a second trip two years after the first), he began accepting commissions for magazine and book illustrations that never let up. In all, he produced more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated more than 100 books. In addition, he did posters, commercials, private commissions, murals, calendars, and patriotic scenes that supported the American cause in both World War I and World War II.

His most famous work is probably the set of illustrations he did for Charles Scribner’s edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1911. The set of 17 illustrations show scenes from the book that made it compelling to young readers and are thought to be the best set of book illustrations ever produced. They are detailed and dramatic, and readers young and old (including myself) continue to be fascinated by them. Those paintings were followed by many others that have influenced our images of pirates, knights, cowboys, Founding Fathers, and the like.

Wyeth died tragically in 1945 in an automobile accident that killed him and his grandson. Despite his success, Wyeth was never completely satisfied with his work. He always tried to do more and do it better.

Dogs like people – but so do cats!

In our highly polarized political environment, we are likely to forget another important division that crosses party, religious, and socio-economic lines: dog people vs. cat people.

You know the arguments. Dogs: friendly, high maintenance. Cats: aloof, low maintenance.

Now comes new research that will undoubtedly pour gasoline onto the flames: cats like people, too.

In the perennial battle over dogs and cats, there’s a clear public relations winner.
Dogs are man’s best friend. They’re sociable, faithful and obedient. Our relationship with cats, on the other hand, is often described as more transactional. Aloof, mysterious and independent, cats are with us only because we feed them.
Or maybe not. On Monday, researchers reported that cats are just as strongly bonded to us as dogs or infants, vindicating cat lovers across the land. Source: Cats Like People! (Some People, Anyway) – The New York Times

Not true, say dog lovers.

Of course, it’s true, say cat lovers.

How say you?

J.K. Rowling on the importance of reading to writing

The paragraph below comes from J.K. Rowling’s website, so if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll want to check out the site and especially this page.

This is especially for younger writers. You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader. Reading is the best way of analysing what makes a good book. Notice what works and what doesn’t, what you enjoyed and why. At first you’ll probably imitate your favourite writers, but that’s a good way to learn. After a while, you’ll find your own distinctive voice. Source: On Writing – J.K. Rowling

Rowling goes on to talk about the discipline of writing, as well as the courage and humility it takes to be a writer.

Good stuff.

From the archives: Charles Willson Peale and the image of the American Revolution

A big part of George Washington’s image was, well, Washington’s image.

What Washington looked like was essential — more important than we probably understand — to what we think of him and ultimately how we think of America.

The American revolutionaries of the 18th century understood that very well. It was an age well before the advent of photography, and pictures, particularly portraits, had a different meaning than they do today. At that time, a portrait was a statement, and that statement could have profound influence on the public thought of the subject and what that subject represented.

That’s why in January 1779, the Pennsylvania legislature resolved to honor those associated with the victories the Continental Army had achieved in the previous year “by preserving their resemblances in statues and painting.” This led to the commissioning of artist Charles Willson Peale to paint the first piece of public art in the history of the nation — a full-length portrait of George Washington. It was thus no accident that Washington — tall, confident, and in control — came to symbolize the emerging nation.

And Peale, who was one of many artists who would paint Washington, was the perfect man for the job.

Peale, originally from Maryland, had made himself a portrait painter of the first order in America by the time of the Revolution. He had studied in London under — and had become a full-fledged patriot on his return. Peale was a member of the New Jersey militia, which had assisted the Continental Army when it crossed the Delaware River and drove the British Army north. He had participated in the Battle of Princeton when Washington personally saved the army from collapse and scored the most important victory so far of the war.

The painting Peale produced used that very scene — the Battle of Princeton — to depict Washington as a man of stature, both physical and moral, and one who was totally in charge of any situation. As was the style of other portraits of the day, Washington is standing in a relaxed and confident manner with the Battle of Trenton as part of the background. He is leaning against a cannon with a scattering of enemy flags on the ground around him.

The symbolism of the painting is unmistakable: The American cause cannot be defeated with a man like Washington in charge. The mightiest army in the world — the British redcoats — must give way to this man and his cause.

“There was a new day in the history of America, and Peale condensed the new order of rule into a single image of Washington,” Paul Staiti writes in his excellent book Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painters’ Eyes.

“Here was the living embodiment of republican virtue, a person of wealth and standing, will to risk life and limb for a cause he believes in. One glance at Peale’s portrait was all that was necessary for citizens to grasp the clear-cut differences between Washington and the King, between America and Britain, between the values of a republic and those of a monarchy, and, above all, between the present and the past.” (p. 40)

Staiti’s book recounts the revolutionary activities of five great artists: Peale, John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, John Trumbull, and Gilbert Stuart.

These names are well-known throughout America today, more than 200 years after the Revolution. And for good reason. Then as now, they helped us see the American Revolution, and the pictures they drew have remained with us.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Miller Hall, Emory and Henry College

Miller Hall was the location of my office and a number of classrooms where I taught during the three years I was in the mass communications department of Emory and Henry College. The college is in Emory, Virginia, a beautiful campus in a scenic area of southwest Virginia.

Best quote of the week:

Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (1928-2016)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Alan Furst and ‘the death of Europe,’ readers’ reactions to Joseph Campbell and Frances Glessner Lee, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, September 27, 2019



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