Monday, April 30, 2012

Found Art: A Walk to Central Park

I’m just back home from a week spent babysitting the adorable #1 granddaughter in Manhattan, and once again I’m reminded why New York is my favorite city in the world (especially in Spring).  Every block  holds surprise glimpses of beauty and art, if you just look.  (Look up for sculptural and architectural surprises that might be missed.

Below are some of the sights I passed every day on the Upper East Side while pushing the stroller the three short cross-town blocks to Central Park, where three playgrounds, all a stone’s throw from the Metropolitan Museum, awaited. You may not count all of these as found art, but I do.  This is why I heart New York (now more than ever.)
 Cookies at Eli’s on Third Ave.

 Flowers outside our front door.

 Pansies in a restaurant window.

Tulips on Park Avenue. (Now they’ve finished. )

Window boxes & a sculpted head next to the garbage pails of a brownstone.

Artists selling their work outside the Metropolitan Museum.

“Woman on Horseback” on 79th  Street

Terra Cotta Warriors—All the way from China to Times Square.

A dry fountain in one playground.

Three bears outside a second playground, on the south side of the Metropolitan Museum.

The bears are irresistible to young and old. Everyone wants to climb and take a photo.

Okay, this rat, slightly larger than the ones in Central Park, is not really art.  He turns up whenever union members want to complain that a store is not hiring union labor.  While the rat could not be called artistic, he always makes me smile, because he’s a true New Yorker.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Men Looking Silly: Favorite Photos Friday

During photography’s infancy – from 1839 up to the Civil War – having your photograph taken was a serious matter that probably occurred only once in your lifetime  You would put on your best clothes, go to the photographer’s studio on a sunny day, sit very still for the long exposure time, often with your head in a brace to keep from moving.  No wonder so many early subjects look terrified.
 But toward the end of the 19th century, exposure times were shorter, photographer’s studios were everywhere and the cost was lower, so people started joking in their photos.  Victorians thought it was hilarious to cross-dress for the photographer—men wearing large flowered hats, women in derbys and cutaways.
A while back I did a series of tinted cards called “Vintage Fashion Victims” and "More Vintage Fashion Victims",  based on photos of Victorian women in outrageous or funny garb.  But men could look even more ridiculous for the photographer, as you can see here.
 The four men above are, I think, all actors recreating their best roles.    The two cabinet cards by W. L. Shoemaker, of Phoenixville, Pa. showing men dressed as royalty? or courtiers? , were probably used to advertise the thespians, the way headshots are today, or they were collected by their fans. In pencil on the back of the guy with the mustache is “George Leister.”   The man without the mustache is identified in pencil on the back as “Walter Shoemaker” –which I realized is also the last name of the photographer. Could it be a photograph he took of himself in fancy dress?

The “clown” photo, taken by “The Popular Studio” in Haverhill, MA., has no ID on the back, but his ragged clothes suggest he is playing a hobo/clown role—probably in vaudeville.

The long, skinny cabinet card of a man dressed in velvet clothing, big lace collar, flower over his ear, lost in a book—is the cliché of a poet, undoubtedly another theatrical role.
 While the men above are dressed for the theater, I think this skater, photographed in Boston, may be seriously trying to commemorate his skill on the ice.  (Remember that all these photos are taken inside a photographer’s studio,  with props and painted background to suggest they’re outdoors.)

This carefully posed gentleman, with his rifle and faithful dog, photographed in Dresden by a photographer named Otto Mayer, is definitely not being funny.  With his cigar in his mouth and his hunting clothes, he knows he is the picture of the intrepid hunter.
 Now this guy, whom I call “The Leaning Man” is definitely trying to be funny with the props he found in the photographer’s studio.  This is a “real photo” post card, which may be later-- into the 1900’s-- than the cabinet cards. 

The leaning man looks a lot to me like this fellow,  jauntily wearing a lady’s hat for his calling-card-sized tintype.   They’re probably not the same person, but  they have a similar sense of humor, and probably both could be counted on to be the life of the party, even if it meant wearing a lampshade on their head. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lost Bird: Survivor of Wounded Knee, Betrayed by the White Man

The Story Behind the Photograph

This antique photo is the most expensive and I think the most interesting one in my collection.  It’s an Imperial—which means a giant version of the cabinet card-- and measures  about 7 by 10 inches;  an albumen print mounted on decorative board.  It was taken in Beatrice, Nebraska by a photographer named Taylor.

As you can see, the photograph shows a handsome, stern-looking military officer in a general’s uniform holding an adorable Native American baby.  The officer is Gen. Leonard Colby who adopted this baby and had the photograph taken—as a public relations gesture.

This baby girl was found alive beneath the frozen body of her mother four days after the killing of hundreds of Lakota men, women and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Dec. 29, 1890, in what came to be known as the Massacre of Wounded Knee.

She was named “Zintkala Nuni” -- “The Lost Bird” by the tribe’s survivors, who tried to get custody of her, but she was adopted –also as a public relations move -- by  Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby, whose men came to the killing field after the massacre was over.

Over the protests of the Lakotas, he adopted the child, claiming that he was a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  He promised to bring food to the surviving tribe members if they’d give him this living souvenir of Wounded Knee. Then he had this photograph taken.  On the back Colby wrote in lead pencil on the black cardboard, words which are now nearly indecipherable:   “… girl found on the field of Wounded Knee…mother’s back on the fourth day after the battle, was found by me.  She was about 4 or 5 months old and was frozen on her head and feet, but entirely recovered.  The battle occurred Dec. 29, 1890, about fifteen miles walking from Pine Ridge, South Dakota.” 

Gen. Colby adopted the baby without even consulting his wife, Clara Bewick Colby, who was in Washington D.C. at the time, working as a suffragette activist, lecturer, publisher and writer.   The well-meaning adoptive mother brought the infant to Washington where Zintka, as they called her, grew up, buffeted by all the current social trends of the time—women’s suffrage, rejection by her own people, exploitation of her background by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, early silent films and vaudeville. 

As an adolescent, longing to return to the West to learn more about her origins.  Zintka went to Beatrice, Neb., to live with Colby, who by then had left his wife and daughter and married her former nanny.  The girl may have been sexually abused by her adoptive father, because she became pregnant under his care and was shipped off to a prison-like home for pregnant women.  Her infant son was stillborn but the girl was confined to the reformatory for another year.

Zintka returned eventually to her mother in Washington, then married a man who infected her with syphilis.  She tried different careers, including working with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which exploited her Native American background.    She tried to work in vaudeville and the early movie business—dressed as an Indian, of course-- and reportedly may have worked as a prostitute as well.

Zintka had two more children—one died and she gave the other to an Indian woman who, she felt, could take care of him better, because she and her ailing husband were desperately poor.

She fell ill in February of 1920 during an influenza epidemic, and on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, “Lost Bird” died at the age of 29 of the Spanish flu complicated by syphilis.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave in California.

The only bright light in Zintka’s story is that her bones were exhumed in 1991, seventy-one years after her death, by the Wounded Knee Survivor’s Association, to be returned to the battlefield and buried with great ceremony while news media and hundreds of Native American descendents watched.  A Lakota woman said, “Lost Bird has returned today to the same place she was taken from.  This means a new beginning, a process of healing is completed.  We can be proud to be a Lakota.  To our sacred children, this means a beginning.”

The story of Lost Bird is so steeped in irony that it reads as a fable of the exploitation and torture of the Native Americans by the white invaders.  On her own trail of tears, during her short life, Zintka was robbed of her name and her mother and any opportunity to learn about her own culture.  Despite her adoptive mother’s love and good intentions, she was terribly unhappy—prevented from going back to the West to find her kin and then sexually abused when she did return to the West. She was exploited and stereotyped by the film and entertainment world, eventually to die before she reached 30.

Lost Bird’s story has been told by Renee Sansom Flood in the 1998 book “Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota”, and Ms. Flood also spurred the effort to find Zintka’s grave and bring her home.  The author was a social worker in South Dakota when a colleague showed her a faded photograph that set her out on her years of research and writing.  That photo, found by the woman working with Renee Flood in an old trunk in her late father’s attic, was the same photo I own today—with Colby’s writing on the back.  Renee Flood became so obsessed with telling Lost Bird’s story and bringing her home to be buried with her people that she had recurring dreams of the little girl until she fulfilled her obsession.
I know that owning this historic photograph is a serious responsibility. I, too,  would like to  spread the story of Zintka’s  sad life.  The story of Lost Bird is a vivid illustration of how a faded old photograph, over a century old, can have the power to move people to make discoveries long after the subject and the photographer are dead.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Found Art: Angels Beneath the Volcano

 Last week, when I read that the volcano of Popocatepetl, known fondly in Mexico as “El Popo”, was producing fire, smoke, lava, ash and loud underground groans, 40 miles southeast of Mexico City, I began to worry about the angels in the churches of Cholula, right below the volcano.

The alert level near the volcano is now at the fifth step on a seven-level warning scale.  The area is closed to visitors and the next stage of alert would prompt evacuations.  I’m sure the populace would be evacuated in time, but what will happen to the churches, the most stunning display of religious art that I’ve ever seen? For someone who loves folk art, and especially angels, the two churches I visited in Cholula two years ago, decorated by the local indigenous people, seemed as close to heaven as I would get in this life.
 Cholula is famous for its views of the volcanoes, especially from Nuestra Senora de los Remedios—the imposing church perched atop the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest in Mexico. The décor in Remedios is typical of the Spanish baroque style seen everywhere.
But the next church I visited, lower down the hill—San Martin Texmelucan—blew my mind--both the exterior, covered with the famous Talavera tiles of the region (which were being cleaned by workmen with no safety belts), but even more so the interior, where the local Indians had incorporated so much of their culture into the portrayal of angels that fill the dome and every inch of space; some holding ears of corn or wearing feathered headdresses.  This style is what they call indigenous baroque, and baroque it was.

Another native-designed church, Santa Maria Tonantzintla, also covered with tiles, is even more of a whirlwind of angels everywhere.  You weren’t supposed to take photos inside, but I took these anyway.
 Tonantzintla, which means “place of our little mother” in the Nahuatl language, comes from the Aztec earth mother who evolved into the Virgin Mary when the Spaniards conquered the area.  So perhaps this church is protected by both Christian and pagan spirits.
 I hope that the wrath of “El Popo” does not fall on these exquisite churches, so expressive of the religious fervor of the people of Cholula, but these angels have survived earthquakes in the past and hopefully will be shielded by their divine protectors from “El Popo” as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Favorite Photos—Behind the Wheel of the Great Race

When I scanned these two vintage photos from my collection for my “Favorite Photo Friday” post, I thought they were just two amusing scenes of Victorians posing proudly in photographers’ studios behind the wheel of one of those those new-fangled horseless carriages.

That’s pretty much the story of these two ladies.  Don’t you love their elaborately flowered hats?  They are in front of a painted background, which is meant to give the impression that they are traveling down a country road, but in fact these ladies probably never actually had the opportunity to drive a car in their lifetimes.

Their photo is a small tintype, 2 ½ by 3 ½ inches in size that was enclosed in a paper folder with an oval opening.  Tintypes first became popular during the Civil War and continued into the 1900’s—usually, in the later years, sold as a souvenir of an outing to somewhere like Coney Island or the Boardwalk at Atlantic City.
 But this photo of two rather foreign-looking men in hats turned out to have a much more interesting story once I started looking at the clues within the photo.

First of all, this is a “real photo” postcard.  It was a process created by Kodak in the early 1900’s that allowed a photograph to be printed on a postcard backing.

These men are sitting in an impressive-looking automobile against a painted background which includes two signs saying “San Francisco 24 miles.”

If you turn the card over, you see that it was postmarked “San Francisco, Nov. 24, 3:30 p.m. 1908” and mailed to  Maria Bruner at 12 Denison , New London Connecticut.  The message part—written in a very pale and faded green pencil, cannot be deciphered but it’s clearly in Italian.  Also written on the back is the price I paid for the card: $7.50.

You can see that the driver’s steering wheel is on the right and that just below it is the name “ZUST.”

Since I know less than nothing about automobiles, I thought this might be part of an automotive brand name, but when I googled those four letters I learned a whole lot:  Zust was an Italian car manufacturing company operating from 1905 to 1917, and the most famous Zust car was the red 1906 Zust which took third place in the 1908 Race Around the World, also called The Great Race.

Now I never saw the 1965 comedy "The Great Race" starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood, but I found the description of the Great Race of 1908 absolutely fascinating.  The plan was to drive from New York City, USA to Paris France with a 150-mile ship passage from Nome across the Bering Strait to East Cape, Siberia.  It began on Feb. 12, 1908 in Times Square. The six cars represented four nations:  Germany, France, Italy and the United States.  The Zust represented Italy.  The American Thomas Flyer car, in the lead, crossed the United States, arriving in San Francisco in 41 days, 8 hours and 15 minutes.

Only three of six competitors completed the race: and the Italian Zust came in third.  The Germans got to Paris four days ahead, but they were penalized a total of 30 days for not going to Alaska and for shipping their car part of the way by rail car, so the Americans, namely George Schuster, won by 26 days.  The Italians arrived in September 1908. (Throughout much of the race there were no roads, and  “Often,” according to Wikipedia, “the teams resorted to straddling the locomotive rails with their cars riding tie to tie on balloon tires for hundreds of miles when no roads could be found….The race was of international interest with daily front page coverage by the New York Times.”)

No wonder these two Italian men look so proud to be photographed sitting in an automobile which bears the name of the famous winning Italian car, the Zust.  This is clearly not the exact car that participated in the race, (photo below) but it seems to be an authentic model. This  souvenir real-photo postcard was mailed only two months after the Italian car arrived triumphantly in Paris, so this little postcard was no doubt a treasured souvenir of patriotic pride.

(P.S. I’m a day late in this “Friday” post because yesterday I drove back to Massachusetts after a week in New York hanging out with number-one granddaughter Amalía.  Good times!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Amalía Fashionista – the Easter Parade

Granddaughter Amalía, the self-appointed fashion guru to the pre-potty-trained set, just as Suri Cruise is to the pre-school set, knew that she would have to pull out all the fashion stops during this past Easter season, especially since she celebrated two Easters in two different cities.

(Speaking of Suri Cruise, let us pause to wish her a happy sixth birthday today and say that we’re frantic to find out how the Cruises are celebrating—especially since they spent over $100,000 on Suri’s second birthday bash, threw a lavish tea party in their Beverly Hills mansion last year for her fifth, and this year have arrived in Manhattan by helicopter to prepare for today’s festivities.  The whole fashion world is in a frenzy of anticipation to learn how Suri, who already wears high heels, celebrates and what she wears.)

Back to Amalía, who is now seven and a half MONTHS old.  She celebrated her first (Catholic) Easter on April 8 in Manhattan with her Mommy, Papi and Abuelita Carmen, who had come all the way from Nicaragua bearing the lovely hand-smocked pink dress (above) with blue embroidery and a matching pink straw hat.  (Amalía did put on shoes and socks for church.)  After church and lunch at Fulton resturant on the upper East Side, Amalia and her entourage joined the Easter Parade in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and had their photos taken at Rockefeller Center against a background of giant flowered eggs and topiary bunnies.
 And in a moment of pre-Easter silliness, Amalia donned bunny ears and showed off her first two teeth.
 Then Amalia and her parents and Abuela drove to Yiayia and Papou’s house in Grafton MA in time for the many rituals celebrating Orthodox Easter, which this year was on April 15.

Holy Saturday begins, for the Orthodox, with Communion after seven weeks of fasting (or at least one week of fasting for the less observant.)  The early morning Communion service at St. Spridon Cathedral in Worcester is followed by a rush to the Pancake House to indulge in the eggs and dairy that had been forbidden for so long.  Only meat is still verboten until the midnight Resurrection service. Of course Amalía didn’t fast or take communion, because she hasn’t yet been baptised.
 For Holy Saturday services, Amalia chose to wear this classic white dress with black trim accessorized with a white cardigan and a cloche hat, both in white with lavender trim
For casual wear she rocked this kimono-style onesie decorated with anime-style mermaids.
 Or this little pink frock for a trip to the park with Abuelita Carmen,
 A highlight of Easter breakfast is the sweet braided Tsoureki bread with a red egg on top.  It was Amalía’s introduction to this Easter tradition, and it became a favorite of hers at first taste.
 On Orthodox Easter Sunday, Amalía chose to make an entrance in this flowery dress with a yellow straw hat. She sat at the head of a table of 10, laden with roasted lamb, moussaka,  spinach- and cheese pies and even lobster-filled crepes  But she fell asleep before the  dessert course.
 In retrospect, Amalía decided that the only fashion faux pas she committed was this dress which she wore  while counting the eggs in her Easter Basket.   She made a mental note:  horizontal stripes are not her best fashion choice because  she’s short and they tend to make her look fat.
 On the next day, Monday April 16, Amalía headed back to New York City, mentally regretting that she’d left most of her summer sundresses hanging in the closet of their South Beach apartment in Miami.  How was she going to deal with all the social obligations that lie ahead during this freakishly warm New York weather?
 Back in New York
(For a further report on Amalía’s cross-cultural Pascal experiences, see her mommy’s blog post “Amalía has two Easters.”)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Found Art: The Diners of Worcester

The city of Worcester (where I live) takes great pride in the city’s architectural landmarks and its contributions to modern civilization. Worcester boasts a number of “famous firsts”, including barbed wire, shredded wheat, the monkey wrench, the first commercial Valentines, the birth control pill, the first perfect game in major league baseball and the yellow Smiley Face icon.
 We have Coney Island Hotdogs with its famous neon sign, and the Boulevard Diner where Madonna ate spaghetti after a concert at the Centrum.  We have Table Talk Pies and Sir Morgan’s Cove (now Lucky Dog) where the Rolling Stones in 1981 gave an impromptu free concert. We have Mechanics Hall, where Henry Thoreau, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt,  Susan B. Anthony and Hillary Clinton have  orated and Auburn Park, where Robert Goddard sent the first liquid fuel rocket into space.
Worcester takes special pride in the  diners that  can still be found throughout New England and as far as Florida, because most of them were originally built  by the Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Company which produced over 600 diners between 1906 and 1957.  The Miss Worcester Diner still stands in its original location across the street from the former factory.

Every year the Family Health Center of Worcester asks artists to donate examples of their work to the Art in the City Auction.  This year’s auction will take place on Friday, May 4, 2012 at Worcester’s famous Mechanics Hall.
I like to donate paintings or photographs to Art in the City every year, because the  Family Health Center provides health services to over 33,000 patients from greater Worcester, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.
Last year I donated four matted and framed photographs of Worcester landmarks which I had originally taken for an exhibit called “Welcome to Worcester” in  2010.  The show was put together by Elizabeth Hughes of the Futon Company on Highland Street. The photographs I donated last year featured the Owl Shop, the famous sign of Coney Island Hot Dogs, and photographs of the Miss Worcester Diner and the Boulevard Diner.  All the photos sold, and the diner photos were especially popular, so this year I’m donating  embellished digital photos of Ralph’s Diner (where the owner, Ralph Moberly’s ashes are buried beneath a tombstone in front) and a different shot of the Boulevard Diner at night.  I also contributed a photo of the Owl Shop’s neon sign against the bell tower of City Hall, and the clock tower of the Worcester State Hospital, long condemned and in danger  of being torn down until it was decided to replace it with a copy of the original building.

If the photos continue to prove popular with the public, I hope to photograph a half dozen more of the classic dining cars that still survive in Worcester and its environs, because the lovingly maintained, art deco details of these neighborhood restaurants, both inside and outside, are certainly found art.