Housed at the Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection are over 600 drawings made during the Spanish Civil War by Spanish school children, both in Spain and in refugee centres in France. Made from pencil, crayon, ink, and watercolours, the drawings were collected by the Spanish Board of Education and the Carnegie Institute of Spain. Some were published for the American Friends Service Committee to raise funds for children’s relief efforts in Spain. The originals are held by the UC San Diego Library. We see many images of war, especially drawing of planes dropping bombs. Captions were written on the drawing verso.
American writer Aldous Huxley was asked to write on the drawings by the Spanish Child Welfare Association of America for the American Friends Service Committee, 1938.
He begins by taking on the role of art critic:
From an aesthetic and psychological point of view, the most startling thing about a collection of this kind is the fact that, when they are left to themselves, most children display astonishing artistic talents. (When they are interfered with and given “lessons in art,” they display little beyond docility and a chameleon-like power to imitate whatever models are set up for their admiration.)
Having spoken of the idea that most people have the art knocked out or bored out of them by adulthood, he praises there use of crayons to colour their work.
These Spanish children, I repeat, have had to work under a technical handicap; but in spite of this handicap, how well, on the whole, they have acquitted themselves. There are combinations of pale pure colours that remind one of the harmonies one meets with in the tinted sketches of the eighteenth century. In other drawings, the tones are deep, the contrasts violent.
To a sense of colour children add a feeling for form and a remarkable capacity for decorative invention. Many of these pastoral landscapes and scenes of war are composed – all unwittingly, of course, and by instinct – according to the most severely elegant classical principles. Voids and masses are beautifully balanced about the central axis. Houses, trees, figures are placed exactly where the rule of the Golden Section demands that they should be placed. No deliberate essays in formal decoration are shown in this collection; but even in landscapes and scenes of war, the children’s feeling for pattern is constantly illustrated. For example, the bullets from the machine guns of the planes will be made visible by the child artist as interlacing chains of beads, so that a drawing of an air raid becomes not only a poignant scene of slaughter, but also and simultaneously a curious and original pattern of lines and circles.
He turns to the themes and settings:
The pastoral scenes of life on the farm in time of peace, or in the temporary haven of the refugees camp, are often wonderfully expressive. Everything is shown and shown in the liveliest way. And the same is true of the scenes of war. The drawings illustrating bombardment from the air are painfully vivid and complete. The explosions, the panic rush to shelter, the bodies of the victims, the weeping mothers, upon whose faces the tears run down in bead-like chains hardly distinguishable from the rosaries of machine-gun bullets descending from the sky – these are portrayed again and again with a power of expression that evokes our admiration for the childish artists and our horror at the elaborate bestiality of modern war.
This was modern warfare. Death fell from the skies. Germany moved its army to mainland Spain in the war’s early stages, making strikes, notably the bombing of Guernica which, on 26 April 1937, killed hundreds of civilians. Germany also used the war to test new weapons, such as the Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 87 Stukas and Junkers Ju-52 transport Trimotors (used also as Bombers).
If we look at them with the eyes of historians and sociologists, we shall be struck at once by a horribly significant fact: the greater number of these drawings contain representations of aeroplanes. To the little boys and girls of Spain, the symbol of contemporary civilization, the one overwhelmingly significant fact in the world of today is the military plane – the plane that, when cities have anti-aircraft defenses, flies high and drops its load of fire and high explosives indiscriminately from the clouds; the plane that, when there is no defense, swoops low and turns its machine-guns on the panic-stricken men, women and children in the streets. For hundreds of thousands of children in Spain, as for millions of other children in China, the plane, with its bombs and its machine guns, is the thing that, in the world we live in and helped to make, is significant and important above all others. This is the dreadful fact to which the drawings in our collection bear unmistakable witness.
Finally, he considers the future. What will come?
North of the Pyrenees and west of the Great Wall, the imagination of little boys and girls is still free (I am writing in the first days of September, 1938) to wander over the whole range of childish experience. The bombing plane has not yet forced itself upon their thoughts and emotions, has not yet forced itself upon their thoughts and emotions, has not yet stamped its image upon their creative fancy. Will it be possible to spare them the experiences to which the children of Spain and China have been subjected?
He addresses his own question:
The most that individual men and women of good will can do is to work on behalf of some general solution of the problem of large-scale violence and, meanwhile to succour those who, like the child artists of this exhibition, have been made the victims of the world’s collective crime and madness.
Above on the Verso: Este dibujo he hecho para representar nuestra vida en la Colonia, ahí vemos unos niños jugando al balón, otro que soy yo tocando la campana por ya es hora de comer y una encargada llevando el caldero de la comida. Angeles Arnáíz (niña), 14 años, Colonia Infantil de Bayona (Francia) [This drawing I have done to show our life in the Camp, here we see some children playing ball, another which is me ringing the bell because it is lunchtime and another undertaking carrying the pot with the food. Angeles Arnáíz (girl), age 14, Children’s Camp of Bayonne (France)].
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