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Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay

November 13, 2004 - May 30, 2005



"For some time now, I have been encouraging people to ask themselves why things look the way they do."
-- David Macaulay
An author and artist who has helped us to understand the workings and origins of everything from simple gadgets to monumental architectural structures, David Macaulay employs pictures and words to reveal the secret lives of objects and emphasize the common sense behind the design of things. A gifted visual storyteller, he inspires discovery by demystifying an increasingly complex world while celebrating the places the imagination takes us when we least expect it.
Startling in their complexity and beauty, David Macaulay's award-winning books are beloved by readers throughout the world. Rich in content, they reveal the artist's lifelong love of history, keen sense of humor, and innate interest in all things ­ from the marvelous to the mundane. Vibrant visual experiments, his images place us in the middle of the action as well as above and below it, inviting us to experience new realities while compelling us to turn each page.
Translated into twelve languages, David Macaulay's books encourage readers to draw connections between seemingly unrelated things, transcending the boundaries of time, culture and geography. His art conjures up new worlds, defines and comments upon society, enhances our appreciation of ideas, and challenges our perspectives. We are honored to celebrate and explore David Macaulay's outstanding artistic legacy, which has profoundly enhanced and influenced our rapidly changing visual culture.


"My days were mostly spent watching things being made and being outin my own world, fueled by my own imagination. That was a priceless combination, as it has turned out."
-- David Macaulay
"History was a very important part of my educationI have always loved history, which is filled with wonderful stories."
-- David Macaulay
"My work has been shaped by the fact that I am still growing up."
-- David Macaulay

David Macaulay: The Building of an Illustrator


"As a child, I was very aware of process and how things get made, and that they do get made. I knew that things didn't just appear."
-- David Macaulay
When David Macaulay was a young boy living in Lancashire, England, he was fascinated by simple technology. Born on December 12, 1946, it was not long before he began constructing elevators with cigar boxes, tape and string, and devising intricate systems of moving cable cars with wood and yarn.
Residing with his family in small house at the end of a row of identical brick homes typical of those found in industrial Northern England, David Macaulay spent much time playing and exploring in the nearby woods, fueled by his own imagination. There, he uncovered a wealth of small treasures like animal skeletons and unusual rocks, which he collected and catalogued. If inclement weather kept him indoors, he joined his family in the kitchen, where projects were always underway. "My parents were both makers of things," the artist has said, "and we were all witness to what they were making ­ whether my mother was preparing food or my father was involved in some project ­ it was all done at the kitchen table." A television was not present in the Macaulay household until he was ten years old.
Employed in the knitting industry, David Macaulay's father was adept at repairing and improving the function of complex, clamorous textile machinery, and his skills were in high demand. After accepting a manufacturing position in fast-paced Bloomfield, New Jersey, he brought his family to America when David was eleven years old. The five-day transatlantic journey on the U.S.S. United States was an exciting one for the artist, and it was during this period of transition that he began to draw seriously.
In 1963, as his high school years were drawing to a close, David Macaulay considered his next steps. The artist's grandfather had been an architect and a surveyor, and David, too, was interested in a design education. Pursuing a career in architecture, he attended the Rhode Island School of Design from 1964 to 1968, and spent his fifth and final year of study in Rome, Italy -- a city that he has returned over and over again, both in life and in art. Though he ultimately decided against a professional career in architecture, his training had served him well, enabling him to navigate complex ideas with confidence.
After graduation, David Macaulay taught briefly on the junior and senior high school level, worked in an interior design office, and experimented with freelance illustration, when he began to explore the creative connections between words and pictures. His first book, Cathedral, was published in 1973 and was an immediate success. Since then, David Macaulay's books have been met with international acclaim and he has received many prestigious professional citations, including the Caldecott Medal and Honor Awards. The inspiration for and host of Building Big, a PBS miniseries about the world's greatest feats of engineering and ingenuity, the artist is currently at work on a book exploring the complexities of the human body.

Building Ship: Exploring the Artist's Process


"The words 'utter chaos' describe perfectly a seductive and often frustrating form of self-abuse called the creative process. The creative process, in turnsets out to bring order and extract meaning from a conglomeration of parts and elements that are without order or connection."
-- David Macaulay
David Macaulay's book Ship links the present with its past by weaving a rich tapestry of words and images that tell the tale of the Magdalena of Seville, a sixteenth century sailing vessel long-lost in the reefs of the Caribbean Sea. A vestige of the age of discovery, this small wooden ship known as a caravel was a technological triumph in its day, ideally suited to the uncertainties of coastal exploration and transatlantic travel. Though caravels changed the map of the world forever, no drawings or models exist that describe exactly what they looked like or how they were built.
An engaging work of fiction, Ship's story is based almost entirely upon fact, and is recounted by the artist in two distinct parts. We are first invited to enter the world of modern day maritime archaeologists in their underwater search for the remnants of a sunken caravel. As artifacts are recovered and interpreted, five-hundred-year-old clues from the past bring the Magdalena to life again. In the book's second half, a merchant's diary from the year 1504 offers a detailed account of the building of the Magdalena, from the choice of timbers to his reflections as the boat sets sail.
Beautifully conceived and illustrated, Ship also serves as a roadmap of David Macaulay's creative and technical process. Recreating history requires imagination, academic care, and passion. This section of the exhibition offers an in-depth look at the artist's working methods, from first idea to finished manuscript and artwork. Pieces of a whole, each fragmentary stage -- from ethnographic research, thumbnail studies, mechanical drawings, consultation with scientists, and travel to distant lands -- helps him to find his story and communicate it in a compelling way.


Journey Books: The Evolution of Ideas


"It isn't necessary to think in a straight line to make sense. While uncertainty brings with it the chance for screaming failure, it also offers the possibility of exhilarating surprise."
- David Macaulay
The always unpredictable and often frustrating nature of the evolution of ideas has been at the center of David Macaulay's thinking for more than thirty years. In contrast to the historically accurate architectural books that he is best known for, his "journey books" are flights of fantasy that explore the ways that people's lives intersect without their even knowing.
For the artist, the notion of taking a break from his established approach to bookmaking seemed like a breath of fresh air after more than a decade spent dissecting the world's most prodigious structures in Cathedral, City, Pyramid, Underground, Castle, Unbuilding and Mill. Engaging visual jaunts, his journey books reveal his love of travel and offer gentle commentary on life's ironies and complexities as time passes and stories unfold.
Sometimes built around a fragment of an idea or a single drawing that needs a home, David Macaulay's journey books have no clear-cut beginning or end at the outset, and can be challenging to write and design. Piece by piece and sequence by sequence, each book is "grown" by letting ideas have a little breathing room.

The New Way Things Work From Levers to Lasers, Windmills to Websites A Visual Guide to the World of Machines


Did you know that your dentist's drill is a direct descendant of the first windmill? Or that the principle behind the zipper and the plow also governed the building of the pyramids? David Macaulay's imaginative, accessible guide to the workings of machines shows how the concept behind one machine links to the concept of another ­ from the simplest lever to the far-reaching capabilities of the Internet.
His most successful book to date, The Way Things Work was first published in 1988, when it remained on the New York Times bestseller list for fifty weeks. A sometimes grueling four-year project, this innovative volume was the result of a close collaboration between the artist, science writer Neil Ardley, and project editor David Burnie. Though he usually devotes his energies to one book at a time, David Macaulay took a break in the process after two years to write and illustrate a lighthearted work of fiction titled Why the Chicken Crossed the Road ­ which he completed in just three weeks.
In The New Way Things Work, an updated and expanded second volume, additional illustrations, drawn from life, detail current technology and underscore the dramatic advancements that had been made in just ten years. With a touch of whimsy, the artist's bemused woolly mammoth ambles along the pages of the book, demonstrating his prehistorically simple approach to a diverse array of concepts. Rooted in the past, he tends to resist change, as we learn in the book's epilogue.
While mammoth had been impressed by much of the digital domain, there was
also plenty about it that left him feeling uncomfortable. In the end, it was just
too muchtoo fast, and too unfamiliar. Mammoths, after all, had never really
embraced the concept of progress and this one wasn't going to start now.
Each of the story sequences in Black and White is painted in a particular way to help readers make visual connections as they turn the pages of the book. The artist's style and technique is varied exquisitely from one frame to the next, creating a sense of mood and atmosphere. On each left-facing page, impressionistic watercolors trace the boy's solitary journey home and sepia-toned domestic scenes recall old family photos. On the right, a color-washed rail station teems with life and an army of lost Holsteins move in and out of abstraction.


Wall and label text from the exhibition:

Big Ideas! Looking at Architecture with David Macaulay
Building Ship: The Artist's Process
Journey Books: The Evolution of Ideas

Exhibition checklist

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