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our earliest beginnings we have been drawing: on cave walls, stone, papyrus,
paper-virtually anything at hand-in an effort to convey information to
one another. Drawing is a universal language because it communicates information
faster and more clearly than the spoken word. This property of drawing
is at the very foundation of engineering. Without it, it is hard to imagine
that the technological advances of the nineteenth century could have occurred.
Prophets and Messengers
Most of the exhibit pieces are presentation drawings. Their high level of detail typifies drawings presented to clients for project approval. They were also used after project completion for publication, presentation at lectures, or as references for maintenance and modifications. By the mid-nineteenth century an entire typology of engineering drawings had evolved, ranging from small sketches scribbled on pieces of paper to elaborate and meticulously colored presentation drawings. Engineering drawings were, and are, relevant to the entire cycle of design, construction, and evaluation of a project.
But there is much more to these drawings than their practical applications. They are exciting because they are a medium for creation. They are about possibilities. They give form to uncertainties and struggle with what might be. They are prophets and messengers bearing tidings of new events and ideas. And they are very beautiful.
The Center of Victorian Industrial Enterprise
"The techniques of engineering drawing made it possible for the engineer to create and organize a man-made world in unprecedented and Promethean ways, but they were also the means for controlling work and introducing factory discipline on a scale previously unknown. They were at the center of Victorian industrial enterprise." The Art of the Engineer.
The Power of Making Mechanical Drawings
Watt developed the simple and meticulously finished style found in engineering drawings until the mid-nineteeth century. The refined finish appears in both large presentation drawings and in ordinary working drawings. Until the appearance well into the nineteenth century of color engravings and chromolithography, drawings or prints of drawings were colored by hand.
The Lowell Draftsmen
By the middle of the century many men were trained strictly as draftsmen. Some had engineering or production skills, but many more were copyists. This was prior to the appearance of blue-prints, and engineering had expanded to the stage where copies of drawings were often necessary. Lowell was known for its large cadre of well trained delineators.
These drawings are an invaluable record of the staggering engineering achievements of nineteenth century Lowell. They document in a more direct and immediate way than written records can, a vitally important time in our nation's history. They are spare and graceful testimony to the development of a powerful industrial society.
Unity of Thought and Feeling
The drawings are engaging because, unlike their contemporary counterparts, they are not reduced to a system of lines and measurements. Many of the objects are shaded to give a sense of solidity. Yet, because they are isolated from their normal surroundings, they also seem to float, accompanied by their plans and sections, generating a simple, surreal power. They depict machines, parts of machines and structures simple enough to be explained with realism. Their aesthetic appeal is a function of their large scale and balanced coloring. Although these old objects appear clean-cut and precise, the artist often couldn't resist adding a man working at a desk or waves angrily roiling in the Merrimack River. These flashes of sentiment in relief of rational expression underline the fact that the unity of thought and feeling was not yet broken.
Engineering drawing was an expression of the ideals, interests and aesthetic sensibility of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This close cultural connection explains the excellence of mechanical design between 1820 and 1850 and the compulsive perfection of many of the drawings that were produced. The drawings truly embody "the reconcilability of elegance of form with bare utility." The Art of the Engineer.
Proprietors of Locks and Canals
The exhibit pieces were chosen from a total of approximately 8,000 architectural and engineering drawings. The majority of the pieces in the collections are working and presentation drawings from the nineteenth century. They include prints, pencil and ink drawings on paper and linen, many of which are colored. They document Lowell's major engineering endeavors, with projects involving turbines, canals and hydraulic engineering heavily represented. Most of the works are unsigned. However, a few are attributed to Lowell engineers and entrepreneurs James B. Francis, Kirk Boott, Patrick Tracy Jackson and Uriah A. Boyden.
We hope engineers, artists and other researchers will be excited by the rich and valuable resources available at the Center for Lowell History and the Lowell National Historical Park.
This exhibit is funded through The University of Massachusetts Lowell: Public Service Grants; US Department of the Interior, Lowell Historic Preservation Commission: Cultural Grants; and Lowell National Historical Park: Exhibit Funds.
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