By Nicole O’Connell
In this column, Nicole deciphers Victorian cursive and explores old class diaries to see what students were up to in the early days of Worcester State. “Much and Nothing” refers one diarist’s account of a day’s happenings in 1877, but perhaps the sentiment applies more aptly to a multitude of entries.
The class diaries are part of the Apprenticeship Materials in the WSU Archives.
While I usually focus on the text of the diary entries, there are drawings present in the apprenticeship materials. The diarists often mention drawing classes and in 1880 it was recorded that drawing was one of the “most-exacting studies.”
Also in 1880, J. Abelardo Nuñez, the Commissioner of Education from Chile, visited the school. A diarist wrote, “The Commissioner was introduced to the school, and made a few remarks concerning the schools of Chili and spoke of the pleasure he had had in what he had seen in our school, especially the work in drawing.”
After reading all these mentions of artistic efforts in the entries, one really starts to wonder what drawings in the Normal School looked like.
While the majority of the diaries are bereft of drawings, the 1879 and apprenticeship diary both include two images. The apprenticeship diary has a small drawing of a baseball and a diagram of an anthill. These drawings are fairly simple, but the 1879 diary drawings show much more effort.
The diarist on April 3 drew a pussy willow branch. Underneath, it is inscribed: “These are seen in nature before this date. If they should not be recognized here, it will cause no grief, the attempt has been made and that is often better than success.” It is signed L.N.J., Grad.
This piece, titled “spring workman,” is from April 15 and is initialed A.P.S.
Out of all the pages used in the class diaries, why are two days in April 1879 the only ones with drawings? Was the process considered too laborious by most diarists?
Perhaps drawing was discouraged as a proper reflection upon the day’s events. Yet, many entries consist of passages written by well-known authors; these would also seem to lack that same sense of reflection.
Whatever reason the students didn’t include more drawings, we should be glad they included these. This branch and “spring workman” show us their style of artwork and give us a sense of what they were capable of creating.
Although many of us are not commissioners of education like Mr. Nuñez, we, too, should appreciate and be impressed by the Normal School students’ work in drawing.