Archive for February 27th, 2015

This year will mark the 175th anniversary of the death of the legendary violinist Nicoló Paganini. Regarded as the most famous violinist of all time, Paganini is remembered in history for his supreme virtuosity and technique, but his life is also shadowed in mystery and lore.


Born in 1782, Paganini spent most of his childhood in Genoa, Italy, where he was taught music by his father, an amateur musician, and later by Giovanni Cervetto and Giacomo Costa. At age of 13 he was able to raise money to study for a year in Parma, where he studied composition — for, he had already mastered the violin. Later, Paganini found success in Lucca, though audiences criticized his unorthodox behavior on stage (playing jokes, such as animal sounds). Here he also found stable income playing alongside his brother, Carlo, in the republican orchestra. From 1810 onward Paganini toured Europe, playing and composing. More notable events include a series of romantic liaisons (with one he eloped; another gave him his only child, Achille Ciro Alessandro), the publications of his biography by Julius Schottky and a treatise on his technique by Carl Guhr, a late exploration of the solo viola, his appointment by Napoleon’s second wife as advisor to the ducal orchestra in Parma, and the founding of the “Casino Paganini” – a music venue in Paris where he was contracted to give two concerts a week. Throughout his life, Paganini was plagued by ill health, of which his relentless concert schedule was undoubtedly a factor.


Schottky bio

Julius Schottky, “Paganini’s leben und treiben als künstler und als mensch” (1830)


His legacy includes works of all kinds for violin, viola, guitar, voice, orchestra, and chamber groups. Similarly to other virtuoso-composers, his music echoed his own style and abilities. His 24 Caprices are now not only standard repertoire for advanced violinists but violist and cellists as well, but when first published they were deemed “unplayable”. Overall, Paganini’s compositions make heavy use of harmonics, double-stops, left-hand pizzicato, ricochet bowing, and scordatura (tuning strings to other pitches).


The reasons for Paganini’s virtuosity have been speculated upon since he was still living. Most famously, he was fabled to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for such prowess. More modern explanations cite his unique posture as an advantage. Many have also posthumously diagnosed the violinist with Marfan Syndrome or another genetic disorder that would affect his anatomy, making his tricks with the violin easier. Whatever the reason for his talent, he has nonetheless been the subject of a number of stage and screen productions in the last century and countless written works.


Guhr treatise

Carl Guhr, “Ueber Paganini’s Kunst die Violine zu Spielen” (1830)


The Mahoney Music Collection is home to 248 items relating to Paganini, making him one of our largest subjects. Of that number are the first editions of the Guhr treatise and Schottky biography, both from 1830 (pictured), a couple of the earliest publications we have on Paganini. Though most of the items in the collection are biographies, there are also many journal and magazine articles, fiction works, and anecdotes regarding Paganini. Probably the most interesting find is a not-yet-cataloged, privately-published, personal collection of “Paganiniana” from author Geraldine de Courcy, apparently made up of items used when writing her book, “Paganini, the Genoese,” (1957) — which is, itself, in the Mahoney Music Collection.


Information from Grove Music Online, “Paganini, Nicolo,” biography entry by Edward Neill.

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Wilber Stilwell, professor of art at USD from 1941-1973, and his wife Gladys experimented with different materials to create simplified printing processes that could be used in elementary and secondary classrooms. Their desire was to produce printing processes that were cost effective (utilizing readily available classroom materials), easy to employ, and preserved the feel of a professional artist. One of their creations, the blottergraph process, reflects the printmaking method of lithography. Lithography, as well as the blottergraph process, relies on the principle of oil and water and their natural inclination to repel one another. “Plates” of blotter paper are prepared using a wax crayon to draw on the paper followed by the application of watercolor. While the watercolor is still wet, contact is made with another piece of paper to make the final print.

The USD Photograph Collection holds a series of photographs taken by John Wicks and Bill Slattery for use in various publications such as Art News (S.D. Art Education Association), School Arts magazine, and the S.D.E.A. Journal illustrating their blottergraph process.

Preparing the printing plate (drawing with wax crayon on blotter paper)

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Left: Wilber and Elizabeth Stilwell. Right: Mary Stilwell.

Printing plates showing wax crayon drawings on blotter paper

PRINTING PLATE using crayon on blotter PRINTING PLATE Printing plate

Plates saturated with watercolor

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Mary and Elizabeth Stilwell.

Blotter paper applied to printing plate

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Elizabeth and Mary Stilwell.

Finished prints

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Joan Stilwell and Gladys Stilwell with Mary.

Blotter forms cemented to wax cardboard for an alternative printing process

One variation of this printing process is the tearing or cutting of a number of small and varied shapes from a blotter. These are arranged in an interesting design with open areas of varying sizes surrounding the small blotter shapes. These small blotter shapes are then rubber cemented to wax paper or preferably to the flat factory-waxed side of a butter, oleo or milk carton. After the rubber cement dries,  watercolor is applied to the blotter shapes and a clean white blotter is pressed against this printing plate to obtain a print. — Gladys and Wilber Stilwell, SDEA Journal


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Elizabeth Stilwell.

In a letter dated March 8, 1957, Wilber writes to Dr. Warren M. Lee, dean of the College of Fine Arts,

I believe I mentioned that we have now invented simplified versions of both the intaglio printing process and the relief printing process for use in teaching artistic printing in the elementary and high schools. These processes are currently being tested on a preliminary basis with various age groups. We hope to be able to report on them in a national magazine this next school year.

Wilber Stilwell and Claudia Alta Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson from the University of South Dakota Bulletin, series LXVI no. 10, May 1, 1966.

— Stilwell, Gladys Feree and Wilber Moore. Blottergraph Printing. SDEA Journal, May 1956.

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