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Ground-breaking graphic design to explain science to children goes on display – University of Reading

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Ground-breaking graphic design to explain science to children goes on display

Release Date 02 July 2019

The exhibition features artwork by Marie Neurath from the University of Reading archives

Children’s book illustrations that helped explain scientific ideas to youngsters 70 years ago are going on display at a new London exhibition.

The exhibition at House of Illustration is dedicated to pioneering graphic designer and science educator Marie Neurath, who led a team of researchers, artists and writers to produce more than 80 illustrated children’s books, more than half of which focused on teaching science, between the 1940s and 1970s. The illustrations in these books, in series such as the 'Wonder World of Nature' and 'Wonders of the Modern World', were innovative in their approach to the design of complex information.

The exhibition – the first solely dedicated to Neurath’s work – is part of an AHRC-funded project for impact and engagement, led by Professors Sue Walker and Eric Kindel. Marie Neurath: Picturing Science, aims create new audiences for the approach to science communication taken by Marie Neurath in her books for children, produced in the 1940s and 1950s.

Marie Neurath: Picturing Science will display items from the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection at the University of Reading – the most comprehensive archive of the work of Isotype.

Sue Walker said: “Marie Neurath made an inspired contribution to science education for young people. Her approach to book design involved collaboration and teamwork, with scientists, illustrators and writers. She was involved in all stages of the work, as demonstrated by the remarkable materials in the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection here at Reading.

“This collection contains source materials, correspondence, drawings, and specifications for print that together show how the books were made. The archive also contains evidence of the books’ reception, including from a young reader who remarked: ‘These are wizard books’. They certainly are, and we are pleased to be working with House of Illustration and Design Science to bring them to a wider audience.”

German-born Neurath moved to Austria in 1925 to work as a designer at Otto Neurath’s Social and Economic Museum of Vienna. It was there that they developed the Isotype (International system of typographic picture education) method of representing information and statistics through simplified pictures of people or objects.

After the February Uprising in Austria in 1934, they moved to The Hague, but were forced to flee again in 1940 when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Marie and Otto Neurath came to England where they founded the Isotype Institute. She gifted the archive of her work to the University of Reading upon her retirement in 1971 and died in 1986.

The public will get a rare chance to see initial sketches for picture books and finished books and covers from the University of Reading archive, alongside information on how they were created. Among these are original designs for The Wonder World of Land and Water as well as a newly digitised film strip created by the Isotype Institute for use in schools.

Marie Neurath: Picturing Science is produced in partnership with House of Illustration and Design Science, and supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

It is also part of Insiders/ Outsiders, a nationwide arts festival taking place from March 2019 to March 2020 to celebrate refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.

It is co-curated and designed by Professor Sue Walker, Professor Eric Kindel and Dr Emma Minns at the University of Reading, Katie Nairne at House of Illustration and Anne Odling-Smee from Design Science

House of Illustration co-curator, Katie Nairne, says: Marie Neurath’s ground-breaking approach to communicating complex information through pictures has had a huge impact on contemporary design and infographics and deserves much greater acclaim than it currently receives. We are delighted to be able to share some of the University of Reading’s extensive archive in order to celebrate this pioneering woman and shed light on her innovative methods.

On 16 September, House of Illustration and Women in Print will also hold an informal study day, shining a light on mid-century classroom picture books and the women who created them. Leading experts in the field will consider the ways in which Marie Neurath, Marion Richardson, Gwen White and Barbara Jones utilised illustration in the classroom to promote a more egalitarian and creative educational agenda.

This event and the exhibition are both part of London Design Festival and Insiders/Outsiders, a nationwide arts festival taking place from March 2019 to March 2020 to celebrate refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.


Exhibition details:

Marie Neurath: Picturing Science
South Gallery, House of Illustration, 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, N1C 4BH
19 July - 3 November 2019
6.30pm - 8.30pm

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