Helena Modjeska, illustration of Titi, Nunu, and their little sister riding with the “sacred maidens” in an airship powered by an aluminum bird, from Titi, Nunu, and Klembolo, c. 1895–96. Ink and watercolor, 7 3/4 x 10 1/2 in., UC Irvine Special Collections and Archives


What's it all about?

The great Polish actress Helena Modjeska (1840–1909), best known for her performances in the plays of Shakespeare, was a star of the American stage in the 1880s and 90s. In 1888 she and her husband built a country home, Arden, in what is now Modjeska Canyon in Orange County. Among her many other talents, Modjeska was a gifted storyteller and artist. During breaks in her acting schedule she spent time at Arden writing and illustrating a fairy tale for her grandson, Felix Modjeski, presenting the 147-page bound manuscript to him as a Christmas gift in 1896. With handwritten parallel texts in English and Polish, and ink-and-watercolor illustrations that show Modjeska’s flair for both fantasy and natural observation, it tells the story of a pair of brothers, Titi and Nunu, who live on Mars. They run away from home, accompanied by their six-legged blue dog, Klembolo, but after some scary adventures return to their family and friends for Christmas.

The original manuscript of Modjeska’s fairy tale was recently acquired by the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Libraries as a generous gift from the Museum of the City of New York. It was in need of conservation, and the UCI Special Collections and Archives department called upon the UCLA Library Conservation Center to undertake an extensive treatment, also digitizing the manuscript to provide future online access for students, researchers, and the public. The exhibition will take place immediately after the conservation treatment and before the separate sheets of the manuscript are re-bound, allowing Modjeska’s amazing flight of the imagination to be displayed as never before.

Laguna Art Museum is grateful to UCI Libraries for graciously agreeing to lend the Modjeska manuscript and for various kindnesses during the planning of the exhibition. Major support for the exhibition was generously provided by UCI Illuminations: The Chancellor’s Arts & Culture Initiative, UCI Special Collections and Archives, and the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles.

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