Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Button Suit of Ruby Ann Kittner, c.1935


Mrs. Ruby Ann Kittner and her husband Jake lived in Clinton, Iowa during the 1930s and 1940s. It looks as if Ruby was a button collector and seamstress, and poor Mr. Kittner was her display model. What a sweetie she must have been! This suit of clothes was in our personal collection for several years, and I must say, it was probably one of the most memorable and unique folk art pieces I have ever had the privilege to own. It was THE thing people commented on the most. The suit was too small for me to ever try on, but I will tell you, it was extremely heavy. It is very rare to find a folk art object of such quality with photo documentation like this. The story goes that this was first found in a thrift store in Iowa about 10 years ago. It changed hands twice before I acquired it.

Recently, this incredible button suit was exhibited at The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI. I no longer own this, it is now in another private collection.

An AM repost from 12/22/2008.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

ROCATERRANIA: The Imaginary Nation by Renaldo Kuhler

(Above) This is a hand drawn map of the fictional country of Rocaterrania, on the border of Canada and just north of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. Click for larger view.





THIS IS THE STORY ABOUT A TEENAGER named Renaldo Kuhler, who in 1948, first fantasied about a fictional country he called Rocaterrania. This imaginary place, born of unhappiness and boredom, was to consume his life. Here’s the story, and it begins with his father Otto.

Otto Kuhler, a German immigrant who came to this country with seven dollars in his pocket, achieved some success as an industrial designer and landscape painter. After his success, Otto moved his wife and only son from upstate New York to a remote Colorado ranch—his version of the American dream. His son, Renaldo, was a teenager at the time, and Renaldo found the isolation and remote location of his new life unbearable. He retreated to a private fantasy world by drawing in his notebooks—creating his own imaginary country called “Rocaterrania.” It became his lifelong obsession, and the notebooks revealed his secretly coded desire to escape the boredom of his life.

The short video you are about to see is the movie trailer for a full-length documentary by filmmaker Brett Ingram about Renaldo Kuhler’s imaginary country. Renaldo Kuhler envisioned a tiny nation of eastern European immigrants who purchased a tract of land along the Canadian border - just north of the Adirondack Mountains in New York - after growing restless with America’s notions of “democracy.” Over the next six decades, Rocaterrania saw two revolutions and the rise and fall of a succession of czars, dictators, and presidents among a cast of characters vaguely resembling Russian historical figures. But, as the film reveals, each change in government reflects a deeper meaning for Renaldo, an outsider who struggled to escape an emotionally abusive family and searched for freedom within a real nation threatened by forces of conformity.

About the Filmmaker Brett Ingram:

Formerly a journalist, physics teacher, and electrical engineer on the Space Shuttle Main Engine Program, Brett Ingram has been making films since 1990. His short documentaries and animated films have screened at more than 150 festivals, winning thirty awards collectively.

Ingram’s first documentary feature, Monster Road, won sixteen awards (including “Best Documentary” at the 2004 Slamdance Film Festival) and screened at more than ninety festivals and cinema venues internationally before premiering on Sundance Channel in 2005. Ingram has been awarded a Visual Artist Fellowship (1995) and a Film and Video Artist Fellowship (2002) from the North Carolina Arts Council. In 2007 he was awarded a Fellowship in Filmmaking from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Ingram teaches filmmaking in the Department of Broadcasting and Cinema at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He has also taught filmmaking at Wake Forest University and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. His current project is Rocaterrania, a documentary feature about the secret world of visionary artist Renaldo Kuhler.

Brett Ingram is the sole founder, owner, and operator of Bright Eye Pictures.

Reposted from 2/20/09

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Colonial Currency: Beautiful Chaos

(Above) In 1724 Connecticut, if you wanted to make change, you just tore off a piece of the bill. This is the front and back of a torn note.
(Above) Counterfeiting was rampant in the colonies, and the punishment was death. Printers who were authorized to print money designed as many things as possible to frustrate the counterfeiter. It was quite common for mica chips and/or blue threads to be put into the paper as additional security devices.
(Above) Front and back of a 1775 Pennsylvania 50 Shilling note. Check out the complicated engraving and overprinting.
(Above) This entire line of Pennsylvania currency was recalled due to counterfeiting. In this case, a large “X” was drawn on the face of the note when it was redeemed. Here you see the front and back of the note.
(Above) I’m including these North Carolina notes because I am digging the typography—especially the calligraphic swooshes of the words “North Carolina” in the top piece. Occasionally, printers would intentionally misspell—or slightly change the spelling of the state—from the front to the back of the note—just to mess with the heads of counterfeiters.

Every state was trying to figure it all out—attempting to standardize some method of a money system in a totally decentralized government. Each state did their own thing. Problem was, any colonist with a tiny bit of skill and a printing press would try making his own money.

There is a site on “Coloniel Currency, put together by Robert H. Gore, Jr., Numismatic Endowment, University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections. Check it out to see some beautiful notes.

An AM repost from 12/31/08

Sunday, April 3, 2011

In Touch With a Shaman: Charlie Logan


(Above) Charlie Logan’s beaded hat (turned upside down) which is very similar to an African Kuba hat. Notice the red cross on the back inside wall.
(Above left) The “Diamond Sis” coat—and a detail of the intricate sewing, embroidery and obsessive patterning.
(Above left) Charlie’s bow-tie with the letters “H” and “N,” which, according to Charlie, stood for “Heaven.” Also, rings and a watch fob, which did not hold a watch but various charm-like items.

(Above right) Close up view of two of Charlie’s many canes.
(Above) The “SAVED” jacket, with the words “Prety K” just to the upper left of the word “SAVED.” The upper portion of the jacket has the embroidered words “I never lost the sun… shine an(d) roses.”
(Above) Photograph of Charlie Logan, near his home in Alton, IL in 1979. All photographs © by Kate and Ken Anderson.


Almost 8 years ago, as the 10-year editor of ENVISION Folk Art of Missouri, I published an exciting in-depth article about what I feel was one of the most important discoveries in African American culture and studies in the last 50 years. The discovery was made by Kate and Ken Anderson, St. Louis artists who were early collectors of folk, self-taught and outsider art. The discovery occurred in 1979, when a chance encounter with an elderly man set forth a 5-year friendship and ultimately, the documentation and preservation of the clothes, canes and accoutrements of what can only be described as a modern day shaman. Charlie Logan was an enigma, a wise man who held secrets that he rarely spoke of. According to the renowned Maude Southwell Waldman, who was the author of the ENVISION article, “Logan was a conjureman, a healer and a maker of protective charms.”

At that time, the ENVISION publication (Vol. 9, Issue 1, January 2004) was published on a shoestring budget and consequently, in black and white. When I discovered (just last night) the original scans of these rare images in COLOR, I realized that I had to get them out for people to see. The entire set of clothes (28 pieces in all) were acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where they are today.

Ms. Waldman wrote that Charlie’s clothes “were similar to embroidered and sequined Haitian Ra Ra garments; Mardi Gras costumes and Kongo and Kuba colorful, patchworked, appliqu├ęd, and often beaded costumes.” Charlie often sewed coins and other money into his jacket, giving the reason for doing so as: “so that it would not be stolen.”

Waldman concluded her extensive and very complete article with this: “I conclude that Charlie Logan was probably a conjureman who came up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. I think he was a very knowledgeable man who knew many African religious traditions and encoded at least some of them in his arts.”

Reposted from 12/30/08

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