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Dickens images now on display

Give a different take on the story

A painting by Dickens’ illustrator George Cruikshank titled, “A Brush with Shakespeare.” Courtesy of the Ackland Art Museum
A painting by Dickens’ illustrator George Cruikshank titled, “A Brush with Shakespeare.” Courtesy of the Ackland Art Museum

Charles Dickens is known for creating memorable literary characters through his words. But the grouchy-voiced Scrooge that comes to mind may have been created through the influence of performances and illustrations of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” not his original writings.

Likewise, “Nicholas Nickleby” is another classic that has been manifested visually on the stage and in drawings, including here at UNC.

The connections among visual, literary and performing arts in Dickens’ time are recreated and celebrated on campus this month in a showcase of art, manuscripts and a performance relating to Dickens.

“The Illustrated World of Nicholas Nickleby” is a collaboration between PlayMakers Repertory Company, the Ackland Art Museum and the Rare Book Collection in Wilson Library. The program is designed to maximize the impact of cultural events on campus.

Dickens presented the book in episodes, releasing a few chapters and illustrations at a time.

He would tell his illustrators the premise of the episode before he wrote it, and the artist would work on the drawing while he worked on the writing.

“Nicholas Nickleby,” which PlayMakers premiered Wednesday, is the biggest production in the theater’s history, with 25 actors playing more than 150 characters.

Rob Colby, coordinator of academic programs at the Ackland, said PlayMakers approached him about having joint programming through the museum.

After looking at the Ackland’s collection, Colby found 16 drawings, sketches and prints in the museum’s permanent collection from the early Victorian era, including works by Dickens’ chief illustrators and inspirers.

“We have such a rich collection,” Colby said. “It was a wonderful thing to find the connection with an artist working in collaboration with Dickens.”

Drawings by Dickens’ illustrators George Cruikshank and Hablot Knight Browne, who went by “Phiz,” and other works illuminating the print-making process comprise the Dickens installment. The exhibit, which also includes a print from the classic “Oliver Twist,” will run through Dec. 6.

Wilson Library is currently displaying a complete collection of the original serial editions of “Nicholas Nickleby” and two early theatrical adaptations of the novel. The exhibit runs through Jan. 2.

“It is rare that we identify an exact connection,” said Nic Brown, director of communications at the Ackland, of the theater’s performance and the University’s existing resources. “But we hope this can be an example.”

To further enhance the Nickleby experience, English professor Marc Napolitano will give a presentation at 1 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Ackland.

Napolitano, who did the research that led to the connections of the three art forms, will speak about the installment as a part of the Ackland’s “Lunch with One” program.

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