About the Current Exhibition

Creatures, Real and Imagined: A Showcase of Illustrations from the Rare Book Collections of the Colgate University Libraries

This exhibit presents illustrations featuring creatures, real and imagined, as found in scientific, religious, and literary texts from the rare book collections in the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) department of the Colgate University Libraries. The content dates from around 1480 to 1984. This selected overview gives a sense of the evolution of the production of images for books, beginning with the hand-drawn images in the Book of Hours, and continuing through familiar half-tone printing. It also demonstrates the persistence of traditional printing; the fine arts press small edition of The Jabberwocky as Explained to Alice (1975) was made using the same basic method of wood engraving as A General History of Quadrupeds (1792).

The basic purpose for this showcase is to highlight the rare book holdings of the library and display the variety of texts held by SCUA. The illustrations were created both by artists who are or were well-known, and by artists whose identities remain unknown. The higher purpose of the exhibit is to inspire its viewers. What avenues of inquiry are prompted by the texts and images? What content surprises or intrigues you?Portions of three images from the exhibit. An ocelot looking at a fish in the water; St. Mark with a lion; a man looking at a fish in a lake.

Science (third floor): These images demonstrate the evolution of scientific knowledge and methods as the means of study and communication changed. Some of the works are very clearly interconnected, with authors and illustrators explicitly building on the investigative scientific work, and illustration, of those who came before them.

Religion (second floor, east): The religious texts included in this exhibit span nearly 500 hundred years from around 1480 to 1977. Reflecting the institution’s origins as a Baptist seminary and its many years of collecting texts to serve that purpose, the religious texts all derive from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Literature (second floor, west): As printing processes evolved, artists could utilize color in their printed works without the need for laborious and expensive hand-coloring. By the early twentieth century, images could be reproduced faithfully through photographic processes rather than relying on an intermediary to engrave them onto a printing surface. The creatures in these works are bound only by the limits of the imaginations of their creators.


Curated by Sarah Keen, University Archivist and Head of Special Collections and University Archives

Curatorial and production support by Alli Grim, Lara Scott, Erin Patterson, Emily Jeffres, and Wendy Canfield. Additional thanks to Mike Murray (Facilities), Garrett Mutz (Print Shop), and The Image Press of Syracuse, NY.