Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Miracle of the Sea (1953 Sea Life Illustrations by James Lewicki)

Good morning!

Well, today's clippings are a little different-- from midcentury home interiors to midcentury sea-floor illustrations! As I mentioned in my vlog tour of the den a couple months ago, I am batty about scientific illustrations from the fifties' and sixties'. The hold ye olde Childcraft illustrations still have on me from summer afternoons spent at my grandmother's, leafing through the dusty volumes, is strong, people! I will stop in my tracks for an artist's rendering, circa 1960, of what the surface of Mars may look like, or what an eagle's nest is made of. 

So you could imagine, using the search term "bubble gum" for an entirely unrelated purpose, how excited I was to see this gorgeous view of the ocean's floor on the cover of a 1953 Life magazine. The colors! The vibrant texture of the painted image! The eels! What is not to like here? The vision of undersea adventure here is SO MUCH MORE EXCITING than those murky, two-mile deep photographs I used to see in National Geographic as a kid. Do you know the kind I'm talking about? Fish the color of an upturned eyeball nosing in the silt, in total darkness and total ugliness at the seafloor is SO DIFFERENT from the technicolor party that is going on in this illustration. And hang scientific accuracy, I just like to dream on the picture itself! Elevator? Go-o-o-o-oing down:

"Jellyfish, viperfish, sea devils, sea cucumbers, [and] quill worms" are some of the creatures in this tableau. I'm looking directly into the souless eye of whatever those skull-fish looking things are, and I am still loving it. Do you see the sunken ship in the background? Again, probably not all on-board with the accuracy, but how thrilling! I was showing these pictures to my coworkers and going on about how I'd probably take months of deep sea diving classes, finally get into my tank-like suit, like the little aquarium decorations people used to get, and be totally disappointed that the bottom of the sea looks more like something underneath a rock than the Party City these pictures have me imagining. Ah, well. Maybe I could at least get a job at that restaurant at Opry Mills with my new-found proficiencies in air regulators.

Things you're seeing two miles beneath the ocean's surface? "Squids, prawns, sea spiders, ribbon worms, [and] glass sponges," according to the caption. Doesn't that just read like a poem. Sea spiders! Glass sponges! O ribbon worm, my ribbon worm. That sea spider might be more than I can handle, and how about the weird, stick thin arms on that lobster? And those Super NES looking villain fish in the background, all chomp and no nice? Still, the luscious colors call to me.

I think Lewicki must have worked in science fiction illustrations, because this image keeps coming up again and again when I google image search him, his depiction of C.S. Lewis's vision of the planet Venus, according to the blog on which it was posted. He also did some absolutely terrifying illustrations for a compendium of American folktales put out by Life publications, which you can see more of here. I'm particularly fond of the witch with the living circulatory system lit up in her body (you know you want to click through to see). Doesn't that shed light on how dreamy his undersea interpretations are? Look at the ribbon fish in the next picture, and the sea-flora that look like cotton candy maple trees to me!

This may be my favorite of the bunch. Look at those prawns!

The guy in the middle is called a ratfish, which is adorable. See the far off sea butte? See the dolphins and more crabs and pretty coral pieces? Again, I'm thinking about printing off a set of these, throwing them in a frame, and using them somewhere in the living room. LOVE. THEM.

What do you think about Lewicki's undersea adventures? Were you a little natural sciences nerd as a kid, or do you have any memories of Childcraft or similar kid-oriented vintage materials? Which little sea creature is the most interesting looking or the least appealing to wake up to one brine-encrusted morn? Let a gal know!

You can see the whole issue here if you're interested in the actual facts of the seafloor, but I'm content to see the sea fantasy! :)

That's all for today, folks! Have a happy Wednesday, and I'll see you back here tomorrow. 


  1. I love magazines like this. There is a lot of creatively and color to these illustrations. As a kid, I always loved looking at the old tattered books with the in-depth drawings.

    1. They're so detailed you feel like you could just fall into them. Not a jot of dry, detached, scientific-ness to it...they're just undersea wonderland drawings!

  2. Beautiful! I want my life to have the same color story as these images - particularly the cover!

  3. I love these. I feel like some of these fish should be playing horns or playing turtle shells like bongo drums to get the party started. To hell with realism

    1. That's probably the only thing that would make these pictures better, I can't lie.



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