Saturday, March 29, 2014

The British Guardian: "Shocking Images from America's Race War"

Gregory Fried, a professor at Boston's Suffolk University, has published an on-line exhibit of antique photographs, "Mirror of Race",  that deal with the subject of race in America.  Fried and his co-founder, musician and storyteller Derek Burrows, intend the site to be used as a teaching tool, and for that reason they encourage people to look at a photograph and decide what they think they see before clicking on several layers of information about each photograph. A few of the antique images in the exhibit are ones that Greg Fried scanned from my collection.

Some of these photographs from 19th century America are indeed shocking, bizarre and confusing.  It's often very difficult to imagine what the images MEANT to the photographer, to the people in the photos and to those who collected these photographs.

Yesterday (March 28) the British Guardian published some of the photographs from" The Mirror of Race". Among them was was my antique hand-colored glass slide of the famous image of "The Scourged Back"--used by abolitionists to illustrate the brutality of slavery-- as well as one of my cartes-de-visite of the "white slave children" from New Orleans--also taken by abolitionists to incite anti-slavery emotion.

The Guardian also published a blog post by art critic Jonathan Jones, who wrote that he was shocked, uncomfortable and bewildered by some of the photos."This is not the America of Abraham Lincoln, but that of Edgar Allan Poe -- weird and macabre.  There are so many questions in this archive of discomfiting images.  Its a spooky old mine of horrors."

 If you want to read Jonathan Jones' reaction and see more of these bizarre and disturbing images, click here.

Below is the Guardian's article.

Shocking images from America's race war – in pictures

A new project uses vintage photography to explore race in US history. From mock lynch mobs to Ku Klux Klan members and people in 'blackface', here are some of the most astonishing – and disturbing – images from America in the 1800s

A carte de visite of an amateur theatrical group presenting a mock lynching, c1880
A carte de visite of an amateur theatrical group presenting a mock lynching, c1880, by WG Thuss, Emil Kollein and Otto Giers (Nashville, Tennessee). Collection: Greg French 
A hand coloured glass slide copy of a carte de visite from 1863
A hand-coloured glass slide copy of a carte de visite from 1863 titled 'The Scourged Back', by McPherson and Oliver (New Orleans). Collection: Joan Gage
A carte de visite of anonymous men in Ku Klux Klan uniforms, 1868.
A carte de visite of anonymous men in Ku Klux Klan uniforms, 1868, by Robinson and Murphy (Huntsville, Alabama). Collection: Greg French
A carte de visite with the words 'Oh! How I Love the Old Flag! – Rebecca: A Slave Girl from New Orleans', 1864 by Charles Paxson (New York ). Collection: Joan Gage
A tintype of four men with blacked faces, 1880s.
A tintype of four men with blacked faces, 1880s. Collection: Gregory Fried
A tintype of a girl with a black doll and a woman, c1875.
A tintype of woman and a girl with a black doll, c1875. Collection: Greg French
A daguerreotype of the abolitionist campaigner Frederick Douglass c1845.
A daguerreotype of the abolitionist campaigner Frederick Douglass, c1845. Collection: Greg French
A tintype of a group of anonymous men, 1880s.
A tintype of a group of anonymous men, 1880s. Collection: Greg French
Carte de visite inscribed with “Learning is Wealth” by Charles Paxson (New York), 1864.
Carte de visite inscribed with 'Learning Is Wealth', by Charles Paxson (New York), 1864. Collection: Greg French
A tintype of a black attendant with his face obliterated holds a white child in a studio portrait, c1870   Collection: Gregory Fried.
A tintype of a black attendant, with his face obliterated, holding a white child in a studio portrait, c1870. Collection: Gregory Fried.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Billionaire's Yacht "Guilty" and the Island of Hydra--You Saw it Here First

Today's (March 23) issue of the New York Times Style Magazine--Travel--has a cover story on the Island of Hydra, Greece, and especially the famous and eccentric yacht of Dakis Joannou, who is described by the Times as a "billionaire Greek art collector" and "one of the most famous men in this part of the Aegean".

Just wanted to point out that, if you are a "Rolling Crone" reader, you read all about this wild and crazy yacht and its owner nearly four years ago on this blog.  And, unlike the Times' author of  "Beyond the Sea",  Lawrence Osborne, I got the lead on the yacht and its owner from one of the donkey drivers on Hydra's harbor, who wait around to carry visitors' suitcases up the hill because there are no motorized vehicles on the island.

Hydra is one of our favorite islands, which we visit nearly every year--On one visit we found ourselves talking to a couple who turned out to be Leonard Cohen's former in-laws!

In case you missed the original post on the yacht "Guilty" on July 5, 2010, I'm re-posting it below.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Is it a Yacht or a Floating Museum?

When we were on the Greek island of Hydra recently, I saw a very peculiar-looking yacht dock in the harbor. I had never seen a boat of that shape and certainly not one decorated with what seemed to be pop art. Painted across the stern was the name “Guilty.” I thought it might be the ill-gotten prize of some hedge-fund manager who had been convicted of a white-collar crime, a la Bernie Madoff.

So I took some photos of the mysterious yacht and then asked the nearest donkey driver whose it was. (Those donkey drivers know everything because they stand around the harbor all day waiting for people to hire them to move suitcases and baggage up the hill to their hotel or destination. There are no vehicles on Hydra, only donkeys.)

He told me that the yacht belonged to a very rich Greek who owned two side- by-side houses up above the harbor. But he didn’t know his name.

When I walked back to the Hotel Leto, I typed the words “yacht” and “Guilty” into Google and learned that the peculiar sea craft belonged to a very influential Greek art collector named Dakis Ioannou (or “Joannou” – it depends on how you translate the Greek alphabet.)

I also learned that he had launched the yacht two years earlier, in Athens, at a party attended by the most important art dealers and contemporary artists of the day. The exterior of the yacht had been decorated by Ioannou’s friend, the artist Jeff Koons.

I wrote about Koons’ life-sized statue of Michael Jackson and his chimp Bubbles a year ago, in a posting about how Michael Jackson’s death had inflated the price of Michael Jackson art.

I quoted from a New York Times article about Koons: ““His 1988 sculpture of Mr. Jackson with Bubbles was decorated with gold metallic paint and brought $5.6 million when it sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 2001. Larry Gagosian, the New York dealer who represents Mr. Koons, said on Wednesday that if one from the edition (he made three along with an artist’s proof) was to come up for sale now, it could make more than $20 million. ‘And that’s conservative,’ he added.”

Ioannou, who reportedly made his money in construction, is an extremely influential collector of works of modern art. I believe he owns 20 of Koons’ super-expensive sculptures. The masterpieces he chooses are often macabre and gory He said at the launching of his yacht, “ “These are dark times. The artists recognize that. We should, too.”

Although the exterior of the ship looks like a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon-painting, the Koons told Art Forum that it was based on a World War I camouflage pattern designed to confuse rather than hide.

The magazine reported: “The dizzying, chromatic graphics did make the unusually jutting planes of the ship, designed by architect Ivana Porfiri, hard to make out on the water. The touchy-feely interior was all mirror, silver leather, and dyed materials. ‘Isn’t it wonderful how you just want to touch everything on board?’ Koons asked, smiling. … The decor also included a lot of art… including wall paintings by David Shrigley, another by Albenda, and Guilty, an unusual text painting by Sarah Morris bought because, well, Joannou said, “I had to.” The yacht already had the name. “Guilty,” he said. “It just seemed right.”

Here is a photograph of the piece which now lives in the yacht along with a lot of other expensive works from his collection.

I have to say that, unlike Ioannou, I was not struck by an irresistible urge to buy this painting when I saw it—but then I really don’t understand much of the art that is currently fashionable.

After leaving Hydra, I picked up an airline magazine—I think it was on an Aegean plane—and learned that at the same moment, a collection of Ioannou’s art was being shown in New York at the New Museum. The exhibit was called “Skin Fruit” and was curated by—guess who?-- Jeff Koons. It included 100 works by “50 world-famous artists” from Ioannou’s private collection. According to the magazine, “It’s an exciting exploration of archetype symbols of genesis, evolution and human sexuality. …The exhibition tells the story of humanity’s beginnings. It’s like a fantastic universe imagined by Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton and David Lynch, filled with twin towers of white chocolate, warped playground swings, androids and demons. Murals, paintings, installations, performance pieces, 3D pieces and live dramatized scenes of human passion make up a stunning display.”

Unfortunately, the exhibit in New York finished on June 20, so I won’t be able to see all the drama, but in the meantime I and the donkeys of Hydra enjoyed our accidental encounter with Mr. Ioannou’s yacht-as-modern art.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Faces of Civil War Vets

I'm re-posting this essay--originally posted two years ago--- because  it was very popular--drawing nearly 1400 "hits", and because we have added the expert commentary of  Mark W. Savolis, Head of Archives and Special Collections at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. to help us interpret this wonderful photo.  All additional comments and information are welcome!

 Favorite Photograph Friday.

Since Memorial Day has just passed and flags are flying all over town in tribute to our country’s  military defenders, it seemed appropriate to share with you this photograph of a group of Civil War veterans assembled in Reading, Massachusetts in 1894 on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the town. 

I love this photo because of the faces—especially of the older men.  Each one is worth a portrait.  And you can see how proud they are of their uniforms and accomplishments.  Some of the younger men, like the boy who’s second from the left in the back row, clearly are too young to have fought in the Civil War.  Perhaps only the front row are the Civil War vets.

This photograph, which is a large albumen print mounted on cardboard, is approximately 8 by 10 inches in size.  On the back someone has written, “Reading 250 Anniversary, Commander Harley Prentiss and staff, 1894.”

(Every time I find an identification like that on the back of any old photograph, I breathe a little prayer of thanks and vow that I, like my mother, will always identify photos before I stash them away.  Of course I don’t, especially because most of my photos exist only in my computer.)

A little Googling got me this information:  “Harley Prentiss served in the 50th Regiment of infantry of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in the late war of the rebellion.”  

And in a listing of soldiers I found: “Sergt. Clerk Harley Prentiss. Age 18 – Reading. Enl. Aug. 11, 1862.  Mustered Sept. 19, 1862. Mustered out Aug. 24, 1863.  Subsequent service Co. E – lst Battery heavy artillery.  Died in Reading MA.”

Now I am not one of those photo collectors who specialize in the Civil War.  I know these collectors (who are mostly men)  could tell me everything about these medals and uniforms and insignia.  If someone would like to fill me in by leaving a comment below, I’d really appreciate it.

I’m guessing that the man  seated in the center  of the first row is  Harley Prentiss, with the feathers (cockade?) on his hat.  If he enlisted at age 18 in 1862, he would be 50 in this photo in 1894.

But this guy, with his dashing hat labeled “194, G.A.R.” also looks pretty important.  (I do know that G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic.)

And this man on the far right—what’s that stick he’s holding?  I notice that some of the belt buckles have stars on them and others have eagles but what’s on this buckle, I’m not sure.

I’m hoping some of you Civil War experts out there will fill me in.  But in the meantime, let’s all raise a glass to honor the men and women who have been risking their lives in defense of our country since 1776.

1 comment:

by Joan Gage said...
The first Civil War expert has been heard from and he is Mark W. Savolis, Head of Archives and Special Collections at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Here's what he wrote:

"Here are some of the things that I can tell you about your image.

"The fellow in the first row center wears a GAR belt, which makes him CW vet. The other regalia and bicorn hat appears to be from some fraternal organization. The fellow on his right wears a hat with post 194 GAR insignia (Reading Mass). Above his GAR badge is a corps badge for the 19th Army corps, a CW unit. His GAR badge indicates that he is an officer in the post, but I can't tell what his rank is. The fellow on the right end of the 1st row wears a belt buckle with a fraternal symbol. I dont recognize his medals. It is possible that he is a member of the Sons of Union veterans, by the look of the hat insignia and the uniform jacket. The buckles on the men with the white helmets are militia buckles of the period or earlier. I don't recognize the batons. It is possible that this may be a band posing without instruments."

Thanks, Mark!!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Amalia Sails to Stiltsville

 Last Sunday, while visiting Miami with her Mommy and Papi,  Amalia  took a cruise by catamaran to visit Stiltsville, a group of seven houses built on stilts on sand banks on the edge of Biscayne Bay. 

She was wearing her new shocking pink bathing suit with butterflies on the chest for the first time.

But to ride in the rented catarmaran, she had to put on a life vest, and Mommy added sun screen and a hat.  Safety first!

With Papi,  who was going to be the captain of the ship, she examined their catamaran—number seven.

Crew member Amalia didn’t know what she was supposed to do with all the ropes, but Papi would explain.

We’re off!.  Those dots on the horizon are some of the houses of Stiltsville.

The first stilt shack was built in the early 1930’s—some say to use for selling liquor during  Prohibition, others say for gambling clubs, which was legal at one mile off shore.

Crawfish Eddie Walker built a shack on stilts in 1933 where visitors could get beer, gambling games and a chowder made with crawfish he caught  under his shack. 

More shacks were built by his buddies.  Eddie’s shack was destroyed by a hurricane in 1950. Social clubs like the Calvert Club opened with membership dues.  Politicians and wealthy Miamians flocked to them, but many of the structures were destroyed by Hurricane Donna in 1960.  Some of the structures were created out of a sunken barge and a 150-foot yacht. The yacht housed the “Bikini Club”, where women wearing bikinis got free drinks.

Hurricane Betsy in 1965 ended the “wild west” era of Stiltsville.  Florida began requiring annual payments for owners to lease their “campsites”. No permits for new construction were allowed. The state said all the shacks would be removed on July 1, 1999, but Congress expanded the boundaries of the Biscayne National Park taking in Stiltsville.

 Life Magazine featured the place in an article in 1998, and  more than 75,000 people signed a petition to save the structures.  In 2003 a non-profit organization called the Stiltsville Trust was established to protect the seven remaining structures and now the National Parks Service owns the buildings, while their “caretakers” (leaseholders)  perform maintenance.

Meanwhile, on every nice day,  the partying continues—and people passing by on boats are often invited to join in.

Stiltsville has been the setting for movies, many novels, several episodes of Miami Vice and other TV programs. The Sessions and Shaw House was featured in a national ad campaign for Pittsburgh Paints.

Papi did a masterful job of sailing the catamaran, but Amalia was so exhausted being first mate that she took a power nap as they returned to shore, with Miami in the distance.

But the promise of seafood and key lime pie at the nearby Light House Café in Bill Baggs State Park  brought her wide awake

And she ate a whole loaf of Cuban bread dipped in olive oil.

Then it was on to the beach where the Cape Florida light house overlooked the scene—the oldest standing structure in Greater Miami.

Mommy did a head stand.

Meanwhile Papi created a masterful sand castle

Which Amalia demolished with glee.

Sailing to Stlltsville was fun, Amalia decided

But the most fun of all was stomping on sandcastles.