Monday, December 27, 2010

Tower of Barrels in 1924

This is an AM blast from the past from November 15, 2008.

OK, THIS is totally bizarre... and wonderful. Long before Burning Man was this... a tower of barrels that must be more than 10 stories tall. It's dated 1924, but its the only clue I have. The group of people must be mighty proud of this, how they actually constructed it, is beyond me. This is an art environment or heroic past-time that I can find nothing on, so if anyone has any clues, please let me know.

UPDATE: Thanks to my readers there are several possible reasons for this amazing tower. While I would like to think this nothing more than the whimsical efforts of the gentlemen seated below the picture, this appears to be the case of a “bonfire-to-be.” Perhaps because of alcohol prohibition (1920-1933) these beer barrels were slated to be set ablaze. Read on in the “reader comments” for more information, although, most have to do with the impending torching of the barrels.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Japanese Boro Textiles

(Above) 19th c. Japanese cotton futon cover called “Boro” made from recycled indigo dyed cloth in patches joined together. Click image for larger view.

(Above) 19th c. Japanese Boro. Click image for larger view.

(Above) Detail of above. Click image for larger view.

(Above) 19th century Boro textile. Click for larger view.

(Above) Detail. Click for larger view.

(Above) 19th century Boro textile. Click for larger view.

(Above) Detail. Click for larger view.

(Above) Boro Cotton Kimono, Yamagata Prefecture (Northern Japan) c. 1900

I OWN A SINGLE JAPANESE BORO. IT REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OBJECTS IN MY COLLECTION. Boro textiles were made in the late 19th and early 20th century by impoverished Japanese people from reused and recycled indigo-dyed, cotton rags. What we see in these examples are typical—patched and sewn, piece-by-piece, and handed down from generation-to-generation, where the tradition continued. These textiles are generational storybooks, lovingly repaired and patched with what fabric was available. Never intended to be viewed as a thing of beauty, these textiles today take on qualities of collage, objects of history, and objects with life and soul.

Objects found at, and 1stdibs.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Woman Behind Société Anonyme

(Above) Photograph of Jean Arp with one eye covered, white paint encircling his head, 1926. Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) Photograph of P.Mondrian, undated. Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) Check out this beautifully illustrated and signed letter from “Matta” Echaurren, addressed to “Miss Dreier, N.Y.C.” Note the expressive and creative use of color, circled areas of emphasis and signature. This is letter worthy of framing. Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) Typewritten letter from El Lissitzky, Nov 7, 1926, Moscow, [to] Katherine Dreier, New York. Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) Painted and postmarked postcard, to Katherine Dreier, Paris, from Paul Klee, no date. (1879-1940). Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) Stella. New York, Published by Societe Anonyme, 1923. Click for larger view.
© Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) International Exhibition of Modern Art (1926-1927: Brooklyn Museum, catalog cover, pencil and paint drawing. New York, 1926. Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) Flyer for New York 1927, Machine-Age Exposition Architecture, Engineering, Industrial Arts, Modern Art. Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(Above) Photograph of Katherine Dreier standing in the middle of exhibition hall at Yale University Art Gallery, c. 1930. Click for larger view. © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

(You are reading an Accidental Mysteries blast from the past)

ARTIST AND COLLECTOR KATHERINE DREIER JOINED MARCEL DUCHAMP and Man Ray in 1920 to found the Société Anonyme, an organization designed to support and generate awareness of modernist art; the group’s name, a French phrase meaning “incorporated,” highlighted the fact that the organization was not allied with any particular artistic school. The Société Anonyme promoted new artists by arranging exhibitions to introduce audiences to their work and develop their reputations among galleries and collectors. Critics praised the Société Anonyme for its commitment to new artists and its inclusion of their work in exhibits and catalogs. Between 1920 and 1940 they held 80 exhibitions showing mostly abstract art.

Katherine Dreier played an essential role in generating American interest in and acceptance of modern art. She ran the Société Anonyme’s small gallery, curated exhibitions, and wrote essays and gave lectures in support of modern art. Dreier was also an accomplished painter—two of her paintings hung in the legendary Armory Show of 1913.
The Katherine S. Dreier Papers / Société Anonyme Archive documents the life of Katherine S. Dreier and the activities of the Société Anonyme. The collection is part of the amazing Beinecke Library at Yale University. The collection consists of correspondence; manuscripts and notes for articles, books, fiction, and lectures; clippings; brochures; programs; press releases; advertisements; tax records; photographs and artwork; meeting minutes; and ephemera and printed material. The papers span the years 1818 to 1952, but the bulk of the material is from 1920 to 1951. Currently, only a portion of the Katherine S. Dreier Papers / Société Anonyme Archive is available in digital form.

All images copyright © Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Immortal Bettie Page

(The original “grrrrl.”)

(you’re reading a December 2008 replay)

BETTIE PAGE (1923 - 2008): There are a few people I wish I could have met in my lifetime. One was the great Bettie Page. She probably did as much to usher in the sexual revolution of the 1960s than anyone. Bettie died in Los Angeles Thursday, December 11, 2008 from complications due to pneumonia. In our local paper that day was a single paragraph article. I have to admit—I was sad.

The photos I was lucky enough to see when growing up showed this unabashed beauty who loved to frolic as the top cheesecake “calendar girl” of the 1950s. She was every man’s fantasy. Since she retired (actually was driven out of work by anti-porn legislation) Bettie has lived a quiet, anonymous life in California. She was eventually located, but stayed away from the limelight. Though her legions her fans loved her regardless of her age, Bettie felt it best to stay out of the camera’s eye. A movie was made about her in 2005, The Notorious Bettie Page, (starring Gretchen Mol, as Bettie)—and she has been the dream girl of illustrators and underground comics for years. RIP Bettie Page—you are still an icon to millions.

Photos above © by Irving Klaw.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yankee Fire King, 1834

This article, entitled Yankee Fire King caught my eye, buried on page 2 of The Sun, a very old penny daily from New York, dated January 21, 1834. The entire paper is quite interesting, except for the fact that they use 4 point Roman type for the body text. No wonder they all had bad eyes. I found this paper on eBay, and I paid $9 for it. Given the rate of inflation over 175 years, that’s not so bad.

The paper is quite revealing of a community with the same problems we have today (well, they had it good on one account: they didn’t have to be concerned with the change from analog television to digital). Some articles in the paper report the following:

— “a melancholy event” about two little boys about 7 years of age, who were crossing a frozen river and never seen again; [ very sad. ]

— a woman who sued her suitor for “for seduction.” [ She won and her virginity hopefully reinstated by the court. ]

— an accident, a child by the name of Mary Pease, age six, run over by the mail stage, “badly injured by having one wheel of the stage passing directly over the body, in a manner as will cause her death.” [ So much for hope. ]

— a police report about a chap named Edward Perkins of 31 Park Row, found drunk and clinging to a light pole in Duane Street, near Elm, singing “United We Stand, Divided I Fall.” Perkins, who described himself as "a slack rope” and a “wire dancer” was none too gracious when a passing watchman politely offered him his arm to assist him to jail. As reported, he told the peace officer to “go to the devil!” He was later fined $2 and when he announced to the judge he had “forgotten his pocketbook” was “committed to Bridewell.” [a hell hole of a prison, I assume ]

If the above article is hard to read on your screen, I will transcribe it for my readers below in a slightly bigger font. The article is about a man known as D. Devine, a Yankee doctor, who apparently performed all sorts of incredible gastric feats by swallowing objects one would normally not want to ingest. The language of people during that period was wonderfully formal— the “King’s English” you might say, tempered with a mixture of dialects from numerous other immigrants of the day. It’s great.

Yankee Fire King. —The burning feats of Mons. Chabert are all thrown into the shade by those of a Yankee doctor (D. Devine) in Hartford, Ct., who made his debut in the museum at that place last Tuesday evening, to a large and very respectable audience, and to their surprise performed the following experiments; he commenced by eating sealing wax when burning and dripping from the candle to the floor; the took from a furnace a shovel full of live coals and chewed them as deliberately as though he was supping on good oysters; he then took melted lead in his hands and mouth with a red hot spoon, and washed it with a draught of Florence oil heated boiling hot. The performance closed by baking the Salamander and a beef steak in an oven heated to 230 degrees.”

This man was just born at the wrong time. I am quite sure he could have made it on the David Letterman Show. No question.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Hidden Mother

PHOTOGRAPHY BUFFS may already know about the “hidden mother” in early photographs, but some of my readers may not. So—this is for them. Shown above are two recently auctioned tintypes, both of which are excellent examples of this 19th century phenomenon. You see, most infants during that time were photographed with their mothers holding them. The intended picture was ultimately headed for a frame or mat, so the child would sit in the mothers lap for the photo. When the picture was taken, the mother simply was cropped out to serve as the backdrop.

In the top right photo, I have shown a suggested cropping, with the mother cropped out. Without a mat, the photos are decidedly creepy—but that's the way it was (under the mat), over 100 years ago. “Hidden Mother” tintypes are highly sought after by collectors.

This is an Accidental Mysteries re-post from December 2008.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Soviet Era Space Race Graphics

ONE OF THE EARLIEST MEMORIES in my life was in the late fall of 1957. I was 6 years old and I remember my father taking me out into the “country” as he called it—to get a view of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. There, we pulled over into a field, away from the city lights, and stared at the night sky. It was late, and I remember being elated as my father pointed to a moving “star” traveling slowly across the dark night sky. Since that night, I was a fan of all the space flights, both Russian and American. I saved every newspaper (still have them), and followed the first astronauts like Alan Shepard and John Glenn.

These graphics are as fresh today as they were 50 years ago.

Enjoy this earlier post readers. And thanks for feeding the goldfish.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Accidental Mysteries is Relocating

(Above) Image © Accidental Mysteries. Click for larger view.

HELLO, READERS AND FOLLOWERS OF ACCIDENTAL MYSTERIES. Just a note to tell my readers that Accidental Mysteries has relocated to Design Observer. What this means is that I hope you will re-tune your computer bookmarks to follow AM on one of the largest and most relevant websites today featuring news and critical essays on design, urbanism, social innovation and popular culture. To be asked to join their team is an honor. Design Observer has always been one of my favorite places to visit.

As many of you know, I started this blog almost 2 years ago and it has grown significantly during that time. I thought it was fun when the site tripped the half-million mark for clicks about a month ago. For the first year, I posted 7 days a week. Feeling burnout approaching after 12 months of daily posts (I never missed a day, btw), I gave myself the weekends off, which saved me—at least for a while.

And recently, to again avoid the inevitable burnout that can happen when you focus too hard on a single project, I asked for a little more time off to focus on a few other things in my life. But secretly I wished I could post just once a week and still not disappoint my readers. (OK, I have a “caretaker” complex, I admit it!)

When the invitation came from Design Observer to bring my eye and particular visual viewpoint via Accidental Mysteries to their site, it was perfect. The esteemed Eric Baker, author and Design Director of The O Group in Manhattan had just retired his popular site there called “Today,” and I was just one of many thousands who was sad to see it go. Accidental Mysteries is not meant to replace Eric’s Today—it will simply occupy a similar but unique spot.

And whereas Accidental Mysteries took nearly 2 years to garner a half-million clicks—Design Observer enjoys hundreds of thousands of site visits a month, plus large followings on Twitter and Facebook! It’s a big lovable, open-arms monster I am joining.

So dear readers, Accidental Mysteries is not going away, it has just moved. My first post was Sunday, October 3 and will continue to post once a week every Sunday thereafter.

This site will remain where it is—an archive of A.M. posts about the odd, the unusual and the curiosities and things I find off the beaten path. New posts will continue on Design Observer with same the focus and same viewpoint—just weekly, and with an opportunity to reach a much wider audience. Don’t go away—just set your clock to ring every Sunday or Monday morning, and see what Accidental Mysteries has to offer. And I’ll bet when you are there—you will find the depth of thought and essays throughout the Design Observer site to be a wonderful added bonus.

And please make a note that I will still be maintaining my Accidental Mysteries Facebook page, located here.

See you there!

And yes, that’s me and my twin sister Nancy standing by our new television set in Winston-Salem, NC about 1956. We had 3 channels—and never hoped for more.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Weekend Random Images

(Above) A rare, carved 19th century Phrenologist’s head, used as a table top model illustrating the properties associated with various parts of the brain. Carved and painted with ink descriptions along the scalp. Sensitive rendering of the face with inlaid glass eyes. C. 1870; 10 inches high. Via One Good Eye.

(Above) Terra cotta sculpture found near Ossining, N.Y., thought perhaps to be an end-of-day piece. Via Candler Arts.

(Above) C. 1940-50: These simple silhouettes represent a virtual arsenal of ray weaponry. All were made by a single youngster to be at the disposal of his imagination. Via Joshua Lowenfels.

(Above) Brooklyn Harbor, 2007. Photogravure 28 x 20.5 inches by Lothar Osterburg.

(Above) 19th Century photograph of woman with parrots. Via eBay, private collection.

(Above) Image © Geoff Story.

HERE IS A BUCKET FULL OF IMAGES CULLED FROM the web, near and far. Enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you next week.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dr. Samuel Mudd’s Medical Kit

Click image for larger view.

JOHN WILKES BOOTH AND THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION: This medical kit, beyond its historical link to the assassination, also serves as an excellent example of what a mid-nineteenth century country doctor had with him when he made his house calls.

EMBOSSED LABEL READS: “F. Arnold & Sons, Manufacturers of Surgical Instruments, 15 S. Sharp St., Baltimore.”

DESCRIPTION OF THIS PHOTOGRAPH: Dr. Mudd’s kit is displayed open, unclasped, so the medical instruments are displayed inserted into the sewn leather loops, each designed to hold a specific instrument in the most efficient manner. Efficiency was important because in 1865 country doctors rode horseback to treat patients. These surgical instruments had to handle as many potential surgical situations as possible and still be carried on horseback in the doctor’s famous “little black bags”. In addition to a variety of scissors, scalpels, tweezers and probes, you can see at the top a rounded suture needle—pinned to a piece of paper with the number 5 on it. Next to the needle is a flat roll of suture thread with the words “Surgeon’s Pure Silk, Warranted No. 7”. On the far right flap, the name of the manufacturer is embossed and slightly to the right of it is a clasp that would have attached to the back of the opposing flap once the entire kit was folded.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: After shooting Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, Booth leapt from the President’s box to the stage, and the spur that he was wearing on his boot caught on a flag decorating the Presidential box. Booth fell to the stage and broke his leg. He then escaped on his horse, undoubtedly beginning to feel immense pain. Still, he was able to make his way to the Maryland residence of Dr Samuel Mudd, either a casual friend or co-conspirator in the assassination, depending on which side of the historical debate you are on. Dr. Mudd claimed Booth told him that he had broken his leg when his horse fell on him.

Dr. Mudd at first claimed that he did not recognize Booth and proceeded to treat him as he would any patient. The left leg had swollen badly and the Doctor cut the boot from the leg, set it and sent him on the way some 12-15 hours later. As military forces, pursuing Booth, searched the area they came upon Dr. Mudd’s house and, when questioned, he denied seeing or knowing Booth. A few days later, the military returned and arrested Mudd. Mudd was jailed and stood trial before a military tribunal. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he was released and pardoned after replacing a prison doctor who had died during a yellow fever outbreak. Many have come to doubt Dr. Mudd’s role in the conspiracy and many have tried to exonerate him.

This surgical kit was taken during the arrest of Dr. Samuel Mudd as a co-conspirator in Booth’s ill-fated scheme. Dr. Mudd received a life sentence—escaping the death penalty by just one vote.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Carol M. Highsmith.

More historical images from many categories are available to purchase here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Negative Space

HERE’S A GREAT SNAPSHOT that just sold for $55 on eBay. What I love about this image is the perfectly modernist view we are given, and the added value we get with the decorative border. This image was probably shot in the late 1930s or 1940s. Imagine the directional lines one is prone to seeing if you follow the perspectives of the buildings. It’s all quite stunningly abstract with it’s big bold white “X” in the center, the windows of the buildings echoing the fussy pattern we see in the border. Paul Strand (1890 - 1976), who some call the pioneer of the American Modernist movement in photography, would I am quite sure, have given this a photograph his seal of approval.

All done, perhaps by a tourist with a simple camera, by looking up and without seeing any of the visual clues I marvel at today— went “snap.” Thank you, oh gods of photography, for shining your light once more through the lens of an everyday Joe. And thank you, oh gods of luck, for allowing this picture not only to have survived— but to be found.

And if you have read this far, Accidental Mysteries will post here and there, and when I can— allowing me to devote some additional time to some other projects that would like to focus on. I haven’t missed a daily weekday post in nearly 2 years, so no—you are not imagining things if you do not see a fresh new post everyday. I’m just giving myself a little breather, if you will. I love my many readers and followers, so know that this author and finder of the odd and beautiful—gets up everyday, and simply tries to do his best.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Weekend Random Images

Click any image for MUCH larger view!

Click any image for MUCH larger view!

PLEASE ENJOY THESE RANDOM IMAGES found at the Bernard Becker Medical Library at the Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, Missouri. To access this amazing collection, simply click here.

All images © copyright Bernard Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 S. Euclid, Campus Box 8132, St. Louis, Missouri.

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