What kind of books might an animation artist have kept on their bookshelf sixty years ago? They certainly wouldn’t have owned many animation books. In the 1950s, there was no Illusion of Life or Animator’s Survival Kit, and the entire number of books published about animation could be counted on one hand. Inspiration for the classic animation artist lay beyond the world of cartoons and animated film.
I was reminded of this when I found a photo of Jules Engel, a background painter who started at Disney prior to joining the Modernist studio United Productions of America (UPA). The shot below was taken at UPA circa 1954-’55. Engel later made his own independent shorts and created the CalArts Experimental Animation program, which he ran until his death in 2003.
After examining the image (and a similar photo taken from a slightly different angle), I was able to identify many of the books on Engel’s shelf. (Click HERE for a larger view of the image.) Engel’s books span the spectrum of visual arts from photography to painting to dance and theater. His collection confirms much of what we already know about the artists who worked at UPA, and their commitment to exploring the possibilities of the animation medium. Far from working in a vacuum, they were fully aware of the latest trends and ideas in the contemporary art world.
Below is an inventory of the books that are identifiable in the photo of Engel’s bookshelf. I’ve tried to include the covers of the specific editions that Engel owned:
British Circus Life by Lady Eleanor Smith and John Hinde
New Theatres for Old by Mordecai Gorelik
The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein
The Poems and Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde
The Golden Basket by Ludwig Bemelmans
What Makes an Orchestra by Jan Balet
Songs to Grow On: A Collection of American Folk Songs for Children by Beatrice Landeck, illustrated by David Stone Martin
The Dance: The Story of the Dance in Pictures and Text by John Martin
Paul Klee by Will Grohmann
A Manual of Historic Ornament Treating Upon the Evolution, Tradition and Development of Architecture and The Applied Arts by Richard Glazier. (Note: The book is now in the public domain and is available for free on Google Books.)
Pet of the Met by Lydia and Don Freeman
Ballet Alphabet: A Primer for Laymen by Lincoln Kirstein, illustrated by Paul Cadmus
A monograph (Ambassador Editions) of British painter Graham Sutherland, including this painting:
The Playwright As Thinker–A Study of the Modern Theatre by Eric Bentley
A MoMA catalog for an exhibit on 20th century Italian art, as well as the catalog for MoMA’s seminal 1937 show “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism.”