Northeast Alabama Community College invites the public to attend an exhibit on loan from the Birmingham Public Library entitled “Alabama Illustrated: Engravings from 19th-Century Newspapers.” In the nineteenth century many Americans received news and learned about the world beyond their home towns by readings illustrated newspapers. Prior to the 1890s, the technology did not exist to economically publish photographs in newspapers, so some publishers employed artists to draw and engrave images. From the 1850s to the 1890s, more than 250 engraved images of Alabama were published in national and international illustrated newspapers.

Newspaper engravings provide a valuable but imperfect view of the past. An artist in the field made a preliminary sketch and often added notes. Sometimes that artist would finish the drawing later from notes or memory, or it was completed by a different artist at the newspaper's offices. Other engravings were copied faithfully from photographs while some were drawn from the artist's imagination based on eyewitness accounts or news reports. Once the paper sketch was completed, another artist copied the paper drawing in reverse onto an engraving plate, usually made of wood or copper. For wood engraving, artisans cut away the blank spaces with a knife or other tool, leaving a raised image. Wood plates worked well in the printing presses of the time and one plate could be used to print thousands of images. For copper plates, an artist incised the image into the surface of the copper using a steel tool called a burin. For large or complex engravings, several engravers divided the printing block into sections with each working on a different part.

The exhibit will be on display from September 2 through 30 in the Archives and Special Collections Room (Room 206) on the 2nd floor of the Cecil B. Word Learning Resources Center on the NACC campus. The Archives and Special Collections Room is open Monday through Thursday from 12:00 noon until 5:00 p.m. and on Fridays from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon, as well as other times by appointment.

For more information, contact Blake Wilhelm at wilhelmb@nacc.edu or 256-638-4418, extension 2288.

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