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Printing Technology and the Role of Illustration

America's Introduction to Aesthetics


Architectural Pattern Books

Architectural Advice Books: The A.J.s

Architectural Advice Books: Other Writers

Art Instruction and Leisure Pursuit Manuals

Exposition Catalogs


Further Information

  Art Instruction and Leisure Pursuit Manuals

During the mid-19th century, the title list of instructional manuals in the applied arts grew by leaps and bounds. Creators of painting and graining manuals, in particular, exploited recently developed illustrative capabilities to attract a readership. The subject matter covered in these volumes included the imitation of marble and woods, various historical styles of interior decoration; drawing and perspective; furniture, window shade, and sign painting; and sometimes the production of stained glass. In the most expensive volumes, professional painters created full-page samples, allowing students to refer to expert examples of faux finishes.

Plate II, Berlin-Work, color engraving,
Matilda Marian Chesney Pullan, The Lady’s Manual of Fancy-Work, 1859.

On a parallel track, the softening of religious attitudes towards relaxation and play, along with greater access to art supplies and instruction manuals, encouraged the upper and middle classes to pursue hobbies and other recreational pastimes. Early arts and crafts manuals arose to meet the needs of serious amateurs.

Sea Weeds & Mosses
Sea Weeds & Mosses, hand-colored lithograph, Leaf & Flower Pictures & How to Make Them, 1857. Gift of J. Dennis Delafield.

Indoor gardening and floral arrangement also counted as artistic hobbies. Books highlighted the movement of gardening and floral array into the home via potted plants, elaborate sets of vases and pedestals for dining table display, and even mini-hothouses on legs for the care of tender plants. During the 19th century, Americans trusted in the value of a natural experience for all, city and suburban dwellers included, and the separation between outdoors and indoors grew less distinct.
Deer, photoengraving, Golden Gems of Penmanship and Self Instructor, 1884.
Grain Painting Demonstration