Telling Gestures:
American Illustration from the Secord Collection

August 7, 2017-May 27, 2018

What are the visual tools that illustrators use to effectively engage and direct our attention? One device is the depiction of the telling gesture. Hand-and- arm movements, postures and facial expressions are potent ingredients of non-verbal communication. Gestures and facial expressions reveal emotional states from happiness and surprise to anger, fear and shame. Often, concentrated emotional states coincide with pivotal turns in stories. The depiction of telling gestures serves as a key element of the narrative illustrator’s expressive repertoire. While some gestures such as the shoulder shrug or the furrowed scowl may be universal, others reveal the attitudes of particular times and places. We can envision a history of the telling gesture, which traces the connection between gesture, emotion, values and meanings across time. Illustration from the mid-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century is a perfect medium to explore this thesis because the illustrator’s role expanded greatly during that era. Appealing to popular audiences, American illustrators developed languages of gesture and facial expression that conveyed human emotions, narrative turns and social implications. Utilizing work from the museum’s Secord Collection of Illustration, this exhibition traces the connection between gesture, emotion, narrative, and values from the Golden Age of Illustration in the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Curated by Dr. Steven Leuthold, Professor of Art History, NMU School of Art & Design.

Background Image: James Montgomery Flagg. Untitled, 1927. Watercolor Illustration for Liberty Magazine, From the Secord Collection of Illustration, NMU/DeVos Art Museum Permanent Art Collection.