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‘Queen Victoria of Hearts’ wins Wonderland Award

Dean Quinlan and first-prize winner Andrew Woodham
USC Libraries Dean Catherine Quinlan and first-prize winner Andrew Woodham

USC graduate student Andrew Woodham won first prize in the eighth annual USC Libraries Wonderland Award competition for “Queen Victoria of Hearts” on April 19. Judges chose the 4-foot sculpture, made from 744 Bicycle playing cards, from a field of creative and scholarly submissions by students from USC and other participating institutions.

The Wonderland Award is an annual multidisciplinary competition that encourages new scholarship and creative work related to Lewis Carroll, the English author, photographer, logician and mathematician. The submissions become a permanent part of the USC Libraries’ Special Collections.

Woodham, a PhD candidate at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, accepted the award at a ceremony in Doheny Memorial Library.

“Queen Victoria, I think, would have loved this piece,” said USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences professor Jim Kincaid, who has helped judge the event since its inception in 2004. “Her most famous, if apocryphal line, was ‘we are not amused,’ but she would have been amused — and honored.”

Inspired by the ubiquitous statues of Queen Victoria that gaze over the former realms of the British Empire, Woodham’s sculpture speculates about a connection between the British monarch and Carroll’s furious Queen of Hearts.

“I played with the notion that the dominant Queen of Hearts, though fictional, is in part a reference to Queen Victoria, who ruled as Carroll’s monarch for nearly the entirety of his life,” Woodham wrote in his artist’s statement. “This premise suggests that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a roman á clef, in which personas such as the Queen of Hearts are allusions to the influential figures in Carroll’s real realm.”

“Queen Victoria of Hearts” also integrates the work of mathematician Charles Dodgson with the fictional universe his alter ego, Carroll, created in his famous Wonderland stories. The four-sided base of the sculpture reproduces — with playing cards — a method for solving a matrix that Dodgson described in his 1867 book, An Elementary Treatise on Determinants.

“The entire statue is hence ‘grounded’ by real numbers and logical thinking just as this may have been the basis for Carroll’s outlandish artistry,” Woodham wrote.

Other winners were Lindsey Jones — a Master of Liberal Studies student at USC Dornsife — who won second prize for “Alice’s Scrapbook,” and Stylés Akira — a doctoral student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism — who won third prize for “Portraits From the Gallery of the Royal Palace of Hearts at Wonderland.”

USC Libraries Dean Catherine Quinlan welcomed the crowd to the ceremony, noting that students from the Art Center College of Design, the California Institute of the Arts and San Diego State University joined USC students in entering the contest.

“Through our annual Wonderland Award competition, we seek to encourage students to explore the entirety of Lewis Carroll’s life and work,” Quinlan said.

Wonderland, Alice and the Cheshire Cat may be among the most familiar of Lewis Carroll’s creations, but his imaginative realm is not limited to the landscapes on the other side of the looking glass and beneath the rabbit hole.”

The Wonderland Award welcomed several new judges this year. Joining Kincaid and Linda Cassady, the contest’s sponsor, were Margaret Wertheim, a science communicator and the current USC Libraries Discovery Fellow; Angelica Carpenter, an author and curator of the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at California State University, Fresno; Kent Baxter, professor of English at California State University, Northridge; and Veronique Van Pelt, first-prize winner in the seventh annual Wonderland Award competition.

Cassady, who founded the award in 2004, explained the judging process. Judges first review the submissions individually, then come together to discuss their impressions. Although the paintings, music and other objects that students submit weigh heavily in the judges’ decisions, the accompanying artists’ statements also are taken into consideration.

“They have really enhanced and enriched the pieces,” Cassady said of the artists’ statements, in which students explain how they were inspired by the USC Libraries’ G. Edward Cassady, M.D., and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady, R.N., Lewis Carroll Collection. “They’ve been very important in helping us decide the winners, actually, because it’s very difficult to make the decisions.”

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