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Joss Marsh
Indiana University Bloomington

Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010

IU to host Magic Lantern Society conference May 20-23

May 17, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- America's only "magic lanternist" will be among the performers, scholars, artists and collectors at the 14th annual convention of the Magic Lantern Society of the USA and Canada.

David and Joss Marsh

David Francis and Joss Marsh are helping to host the annual convention of the Magic Lantern Society of the U.S.A. and Canada. This is the first time the event is taking place in Indiana.

Indiana University Bloomington will host the May 20-23 convention, which is sponsored by the IU Department of English and the Department of Communication and Culture in conjunction with the Magic Lantern Society of the USA and Canada.

The Magic Lantern Society collects, preserves and shares information on the early lantern devices that were invented in 1659 and were used to entertain and educate audiences prior to the advent of film. Lantern slides were hand-painted in vivid colors on glass and projected on walls and cloth screens. By the mid-19th century, black-and-white lantern slides were produced photographically; popular images included travel scenes, dramatic story slides, moral tales, song slides, religious and patriotic themes and comic pictures.

In its 19th-century heyday, there was a lantern in every public institution, and most middle-class households had at least a "toy" lantern. The magic lantern has been referenced by writers such as Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley, as well as revered by pioneers and masters of the cinema screen such as Georges Méliès and Ingmar Bergman.

Because of the scarcity of lantern materials in universities, museums, archives or libraries in the United States, the devices have largely passed out of public memory, but private collectors have ensured that the lanterns are still remembered and celebrated.

Members of the public are invited to attend the free or low-cost public sessions of the Bloomington conference, which includes an exhibit at the Lilly Library, two shows at the Fine Arts Auditorium, a silent film screening with live piano in Whittenberger Auditorium and a "Magic Lantern Spectacular" at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Terry Borton, a fourth-generation lanternist and the only professional lanternist in America, will take part in the performances.

The Bottle

"The Bottle" is the first image in George Cruikshank's famous Temperance series.

"The program is quite exceptional, and its like will probably never be seen in Bloomington again," said Joss Marsh, associate professor of English and a Victorian Studies and Fellow of IU's new Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities.

"We'll have an internationally renowned pianist, America's only professional magic lanternist, performers whose credits include venues like the Royal Opera House in London and a cornucopia of extraordinary, rare, luminous magic lantern images, projected on vintage machines and seen as they were seen in the 19th century," said Marsh. "This will literally be the 'biggest show in town' and worldwide in regard to the projected images and the screen experience."

To register for the conference and to view a complete schedule, see 2010.html.

Magic Lantern public events schedule

Thursday, May 20

  • Opening of exhibition, "The Magic Lantern and 19th-Century Culture," Lilly Library. This glimpse into magic lantern culture will remain on display through May 29.
  • "Nickel Madness" Nickelodeon show, c. 1910, Fine Arts Auditorium, 8 p.m. Presented by Russell Merritt with vocalists Sean Sharp and Shari Speer and pianist Philip Carli. Features M. Georges Melies' A Trip to the Moon with live vocals, The Assassination of President McKinley and D.W. Griffith's The Girl and Her Trust.

Friday, May 21

  • "19th-Century Multimedia Extravaganza and Magic Lantern Spectacular," Buskirk-Chumley Theater, downtown Bloomington. Doors open at 7 p.m. for 7:30 p.m. performance. $9 general admission and $7 for seniors, students and children. Tickets are available at the BCT box office. Chief lanternist Terry Borton will be assisted by Debbie Borton, sharing original, hand-made slides of images that include the eclipse of the moon and images from America's first screen artist, Joseph Boggs Beale, with live piano accompaniment by renowned film accompanist and IU alum Philip Carli and a sing-along of favorite variety songs.

Saturday, May 22

  • Margaret Bergh presents a Ragtime-era show, "Picture the Songs: Victoriana meets Americana," at Fine Arts Auditorium, 8 p.m. Bergh introduces her songs accompanied by a projectionist whose "magic lantern" fills the screen with a series of colored slides that help illustrate the stories expressed in the music. On display will be rare, hand-tinted photographic images from life at the turn of the 20th century. With vocalists Sean Sharp, Shari Speer and Gart Westerhout, pianist Donald Livingston, and percussionist Michael Holland and guest piano appearance by Philip Carli.

Sunday, May 23

  • Silent film screening of Steamboat Bill Jr. (Keaton, 1928), Whittenberger Auditorium on campus, 7 p.m., with Philip Carli at the piano. One of "Buster" Keaton's last features, Steamboat Bill Jr. tells the story of Buster's return to his lazy riverside hometown after college. He battles parental disparagement and the elements to save the day--and win the girl, all without once cracking his famed "great stone face."