Magic awaits at outdoor museum

Hand-painted slide used in a children’s Magic Lantern Show. Courtesy photo
A hand-painted slide used in a children’s Magic Lantern Show. Courtesy photo
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There are many ways to think about optics and light today. A bit of history is always intriguing. Especially when it is interpreted in a bright new way in a show that would offer a great holiday family expedition.

Once upon a time, there were no motion picture shows, but people gathered in a darkened space to be entertained or educated with projections of photos and drawings from around the world, projected through a Magic Lantern, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Illumination was first by candle or oil lamp, then by electric light bulb when it became available.

Lonnie Hanzon, “Wizard in Residence,” creative director of the Museum of Outdoor Arts in Englewood, is internationally recognized for his highly detailed maximalist art installations. The artist, inventor, philosopher and showman was naturally drawn to a collection of nearly 1,000 magic lantern slides at an archaeologist’s estate auction, an art form unfamiliar, but compelling.

“Magic Lantern,” a solo exhibit by Hanzon, is described as an installation that “celebrates obsolete media in a digital age.” He brings modern technology to the fore in designing a really fascinating showcase for his Victorian era slides, an assortment of serious-looking black magic lantern projectors, a sound gallery, “Obsolete Audibles,” with a tape of sounds we no longer hear, and some early 20th century silent movies.

Museum executive director, Cynthia Madden Leitner, explained the role of the museum: “Art reflects history. Lonnie’s application of Magic Lantern brings obsolete art into modern technology, renewing it and keeping it alive. It follows his work in discovering archaic media to interact with today’s audiences.”

Wall text is worth reading for the history buff because Hanzon’s research took him back to fifth century China and Japan, where entertainment with candlelight and polished brass disk created simple images. Documents dating to 1589 speak of a lantern built in 1420, using candle illumination.

Hanzon’s history continues through the centuries to traveling projectionists, “Galantee Showmen” or “Savoyards” in the United Kingdom, akin to traveling players. Fast forward to today’s slide lectures at your school or library.

The move to moving pictures started with photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who set up a series of 24 cameras to record a horse race in sequence, then went on to record movement of animals and humans.

Kodak camera founder George Eastman worked on film, and inventor Thomas Edison improved a motion picture camera and shot film that premiered in 1896 in New York.

“Magic Lantern,” runs through Feb. 13. Admission is free. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays. Call 303-806-0444 or visit www.moaonline.org