Better known for his realist paintings of New York City street life, Ashcan School artist John Sloan was also a master of visual mind-bending. The Puzzling World of John Sloan at the Delaware Art Museum features 25 of his newspaper puzzles created for the Sunday supplement of the Philadelphia Press between 1900 and 1910.
“Each puzzle has a set of ‘Conditions,’ which basically lays out the challenge for the reader, usually it’s near the top of the page,” Heather Campbell Coyle, curator of American art at the museum, explained to Hyperallergic. “Depending on the puzzle, the reader might need to find a hidden image or solve a maze or fold the paper to create another image.”
For example, in the “Bang-Up Puzzle” a car crash from a wild driving Uncle Silas can be folded back to its assembled self, while the “Halloween Puzzle” has an illustration of an apple paring that can be divided to reveal a woman’s suitor’s name. Others have secret images, like the “Snake Charmer Puzzle” where a flute player is hidden against the body of a voluptuous snake charming lady. Much of the illustrations have an Art Nouveau feel, with influences from French illustration and Japanese woodblocks. Sometimes the long tresses of the hourglass-shaped women flow into ocean waves or flowers, and the full-page color printing allowed for decorative elements to spill into the text.
“These are a big contrast to his typical Ashcan School images of city life, but I think you can see some of the humor as well as the strong compositional sensibility that structures his best paintings,” Coyle stated.
The museum holds the largest collection of Sloan’s art, although this is the first time the puzzles are on public view. The Puzzling World of John Sloan is based on research by Curatorial Fellow Margarita Karasoulas, who delved into the 100 newspaper pages saved in the archives, retrieving selections for gallery visitors to attempt to decipher.
At the beginning of the 20th century, puzzles were all the rage as newspapers competed for readers, and the Philadelphia-raised Sloan found an engaged audience who would compete for $10 prizes. But are sharp-eyed solvers still up to the task over a century later? The Delaware Art Museum shared a few of the puzzles below, where we have the instructions and the image. Some require folding that, unless you print them out, you’ll have to imagine digitally, and all the answers are at the end of the post. Good luck!
1. Blackbird Puzzle (1901) (at top of page)
“To-day’s puzzle is an adaptation of the old ‘four-and-twenty-blackbird’ rhyme. The object is to cut all of the blackbirds out and fit them all into the inside oval of the pie without letting them overlap.”
2. Halloween Puzzle (1901)
“Here we have a lady giving herself a Halloween party. She has just thrown an apple paring over her shoulder. Its meaning is not apparent until she finds that she can cut it into six letters that spell the name of her future husband. Can you show how she cut the paring?”
3. Sherlock Holmes Puzzle (1901)
“Sherlock Holmes is trying to solve the problem of the paper on the floor. He cannot do it. Can you?”
4. The Bang-Up Puzzle (1902)
“The chaotic picture of Uncle Silas and his ‘Auto’ in mid air can be folded so that the machine will appear in its original condition with Uncle at the wheel.”
5. The Football Puzzle (1901)
“Here is the Varsity Girl with ten little football players around here. There is still another one near her who cannot be seen at first glance. Can you find the eleventh little football player?”
6. The Hidden Hans Puzzle (1901)
“The lady is looking for Hans. Hans is hiding from the lady. Can you find him? He is in two pieces and you will have to cut them out and paste them together before you can recognize him.”
7. The Snake Charmer Puzzle (1901)
“Here you have a snake charmer and a man who is playing the flute for her. Can you find the man?”
8. What Are the Wild Waves Saying? (1900)
“What are the wild waves saying? If you examine them closely you will soon discover words hidden in the sea. Put them together in a sentence.”
2. The apple paring can be sliced to spell the name “Oliver.”
3. If held in front of a mirror (or held up to a light and reversed if using the original newspaper), the figures on the paper are reversed to say: “Stop note, then it depends on Jones to postpone the deposition.”
5. The missing player is upside down, secreted along the woman’s torso with his head at the end of her boa.
6. Half of Hans’s face is in profile on the right side of the puzzle, the other with his hat and nose is on the bottom edge.
7. The flute player is resting at right angles to the woman, best seen if the picture is held upside down, showing his head partly made up by a flower petal.
8. The words from the wild waves form this sentence: “Beneath my never-resting bosom many sleep forever.” What fun!
The Puzzling World of John Sloan continues at the Delaware Art Museum (2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, Delaware) through September 6.
The copyright notices on all these images are just wrong. Anything published in the United States before 1923 is automatically in the public domain by age due to expired copyrights. Physically owning a copy of an item does not give someone a copyright on it. Scanning / taking a photo of a two dimensional public domain item does not give a new copyright. If the museum is telling you they have copyrights on these, then they are incorrect. A lot of museums do this out of ignorance of the law and in an effort to try to raise funds.
They own the photographs of the items, Dan. The copyright notice is correct. If you take your own photo then it’s out of copyright, but not if you’re using someone else’s image that was taken post-1923.
Sorry, but that’s not correct. Copyrights are granted only for artistic expression. Making a copy of a 2-D work is not a new work of art, just a reproduction, and is thus ineligible for copyright. This was always well known, but it was explicitly confirmed in the decision Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.
Good luck arguing that in court. If the photographer and the person who commissioned it consider it an art work, it is an artwork. You can argue your point in court — which I actually agree with in concept — but the reality of how that is enforced is different.
It already HAS been argued in court: Bridgeman v. Corel. It won, and became widely accepted case law, as further cited in other cases afterwards. There is no dispute at all about this in the legal community. If you aren’t familiar with actual reality (I wouldn’t expect most people to be aware of this case or the ins and outs of copyrights — though anyone involved with publishing, online or otherwise, should be) you can always go read about it. Making up stuff as you go along doesn’t help anyone..
Theory and practice aren’t the same thing. I’ve asked many lawyers (we’ve had to) and there are differing opinions — which does not inspire confidence. Copyright is sadly a rich person’s game. And, of course, there are many factors, including the fact it seems to apply to 2D work.
Run a publication and see what dumb things people sue or threaten to sue about. The time and effort is never worth it and suing for for damages takes a long time and hardly worth it.
Any lawyer who doesn’t know about Bridgeman v. Corel and its implications is not one you should be consulting.
I actually have run a publication, by the way. That’s one of the reasons I decided to learn about copyrights.
Anyway, this has gone from an attempt to give some friendly advice to unhelpful back and forth discussion, so I’ll give it a rest now. You can follow up on the information provided or ignore as you see fit. Congratulations on getting an article on the top page of Google News under the search term “puzzles”. The content itself was very good.
Thanks, Dan. I’m just expressing frustration and the issues we face. You are probably aware then how irritating this all is.
Wikipedia follows Bridgeman v. Corel, and has, for over a decade, treated all photos and scans of out-of-copyright items as public domain. Once, the National Portrait Gallery (UK) threatened to sue them. Wikipedia’s lawyers sent them a letter and the Gallery backed down. High-resolution copies of National Portrait Gallery paintings remain on Wikimedia Foundation sites.
This is a settled issue. There’s some whining and huffing and puffing from museums, but nobody actually sues. They’d lose.
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