From the creation of the first magic lantern in 1658 to the present time, audiences have been drawn into fantastic settings through the use of illuminants, such as sun, candles, and oil lamps. During the 18th century, there was great use of light and shadow to deceive audiences and surround them with mystery. Enthusiasm grew and the 19th century was marked by ubiquitous enjoyment of magic lantern performances. So popular were these shows that some were performed in large venues such as London’s Royal Polytechnic. By the mid-20th century, the magic lantern as visual aid had been replaced by the slide projector, and entertainment was provided through film and TV. Sadly, imagination was no longer stimulated through the magic of the lantern.
Now, because the San Diego State University Library has a strong collection of antique lanterns and slides, a delightful selection is displayed in the Donor Hall of the library’s dome through June 29. The Homer and Betty Peabody Magic Lantern Collection features 30 professional, toy, and domestic lanterns, and a large sampling from more than 4,000 thematic slides. Instructional, entertaining, magical, scary, and funny magic lantern effects tap in to the gamut of human experience. (619/594-6791, library.sdsu.edu) DARLENE G. DAVIES