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The world as seen through cutaway illustrations

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  January 7, 2014 09:00 AM

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There's a certain magic about cutaway illustrations- those lavishly drawn, cross-sectional images that let you peer inside the hold of a ship or the inner-workings of a factory as if you had x-ray vision. The art form had its heyday in the middle of the last century and has long been surpassed by more technologically sophisticated graphics. But as a delightful post last fall on the blog Messy Nessy Chic demonstrated, cutaways haven't lost their power to tantalize.

The post displayed a number of classic cutaway illustrations, most of which were published in popular magazines between the 1920s and the 1950s. In particular, it featured seven drawings by the influential commercial artist Frank Soltesz that were published as advertisements for the Armstrong Cork Company (now Armstrong World Industries) in the Saturday Evening Post. The illustrations showed cutaway views of ordinary places like a theater, an office building, a produce terminal, and a restaurant, in order to demonstrate the many uses for Armstrong's insulation products. Today, they still offer a thrillingly omniscient perspective, inviting your eyes to hop from room-to-room, and creating a sense of orchestrated mystery about everyday activity.

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Images courtesy of Armstrong World Industries, Inc.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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