Sorting through old files the other day I came across a bit of computer history. I’m sharing it here because it had a bearing on me even getting interested in computers and also as a public archive since I doubt there’s much left anymore like what I’m posting here.
In 1981-82, my husband at the time and I were taken for a visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) by a friend who worked in IT so that I could see this new way of using a computer that let one draw pictures on the screen (I was a freelance graphic designer at the time). We were welcomed by one of the employees, Pavel, who did the demo above and then turned me loose to play with this cool thing called Smalltalk.
At a time when “computer” meant large rooms of very expensive machines or a small black monitor with clunky green type, Smalltalk was a mindblower. DRAW with a computer? Really? Really.
Of course, those of you who are in IT or know the history of Apple are aware of the version of events in which Smalltalk was the precursor to the Mac interface that made computers easy to use “for the rest of us”. If you want to know more about that history and connection, here’s a account. For years, the story has been that Steve Jobs “stole” the concept of Smalltalk (and a lot more) after his own visit to PARC. Whether that’s true or not is outside the purview of this post, but you can read more here and here if you’d like.
Today I have a 3rd Gen iPad with a half dozen or more apps for making images. I use it as a sketchbook, as do some of my artist colleagues. A couple are even teaching classes and workshops on how to use an iPad as an art media. But in another time and place, here’s what one artist spent a happy hour creating on the first computer which had software that let one draw….
All of these were printed out for me on a small plotter. I can’t remember what I was drawing with, but it must have been a mouse.
I was a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism at the time and much into unicorns…
I’ve never forgotten that magical afternoon at PARC when, for me, computers and art came together for the first time.