Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vilet Lester: A Slave Letter from 1857

(Above is actual letter, below is translation): Click for larger view.

Georgia Bullock Co August 29th 1857
My Loving Miss Patsy

I hav long bin wishing to imbrace this presant and pleasant opertunity of unfolding my Seans and fealings Since I was constrained to leav my Long Loved home and friends which I cannot never gave my Self the Least promis of returning to. I am well and this is Injoying good hlth and has ever Since I Left Randolph. whend I left Randolf I went to Rockingham and Stad there five weaks and then I left there and went to Richmon virgina to be Sold and I Stade there three days and was bought by a man by the name of Groover and braught to Georgia and he kept me about Nine months and he being a trader Sold me to a man by the name of Rimes and he Sold me to a man by the name of Lester and he has owned me four years and Says that he will keep me til death Siperates us without Some of my old north Caroliner friends wants to buy me again. my Dear Mistress I cannot tell my fealings nor how bad I wish to See you and old Boss and Mss Rahol and Mother. I do not [k]now which I want to See the worst Miss Rahol or mother I have thaugh[t] that I wanted to See mother but never befour did I [k]no[w] what it was to want to See a parent and could not. I wish you to gave my love to old Boss Miss Rahol and bailum and gave my manafold love to mother brothers and sister and pleas to tell them to Right to me So I may here... (continued)
(Above is actual letter, below is translation): Click for larger view.

... from them if I cannot See them and also I wish you to right to me and Right me all the nuse. I do want to now whether old Boss is Still Living or now and all the rest of them and I want to [k]now whether balium is maried or no. I wish to [k]now what has Ever become of my Presus little girl. I left her in goldsborough with Mr. Walker and I have not herd from her Since and Walker Said that he was going to Carry her to Rockingham and gave her to his Sister and I want to [k]no[w] whether he did or no as I do wish to See her very mutch and Boss Says he wishes to [k]now whether he will Sell her or now and the least that can buy her and that he wishes a answer as Soon as he can get one as I wis him to buy her an my Boss being a man of Reason and fealing wishes to grant my trubled breast that mutch gratification and wishes to [k]now whether he will Sell her now. So I must come to a close by Escribing my Self you long loved and well wishing play mate as a Servant until death
Vilet Lester
of Georgia
to Miss Patsey Padison
of North Caroliner
My Bosses Name is James B Lester and if you Should think a nuff of me to right me which I do beg the faver of you as a Sevant direct your letter to Millray Bullock County Georgia. Pleas to right me So fare you well in love.

WHAT YOU JUST READ ABOVE IS AN EXTREMELY RARE LETTER FROM A SLAVE BY THE NAME OF VILET LESTER in the Special Collections Library at Duke University. It’s not every day that we get to actually read a letter by an African while enslaved in these United States during the period up to their Emancipation by President Lincoln in 1863. That is why, when I stumbled upon this—I figured it was too good not to share. Obviously, the digitizing of old documents is bringing research to our fingertips. I feel so fortunate to read this, and especially love the cadence and dialect—which we can get a good sense of by the particular spellings—published here as it read in the letter. According to historians there, this letter “is one of less than a dozen such letters that the Duke Special Collections Library has been able to identify among the vast amount of plantation records held at the Special Collections Library.”

This letter and others were showcased in a wonderful book about letter writing entitled “More than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Archives of the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art” by Liza Kirwin. It was published by the renowned Princeton Architectural Press and you can order it by clicking here. The
ISBN number is: 9781568985237.

Note: A transcription of this letter has also been published in the 2nd edition of Roots of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women published by Northeastern University Press, 1996.

The Vilet Lester letter © Special Collections Library at Duke University. Learn more about this letter and other unique collections at Duke by clicking here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Sideshow Banners of Fred Johnson

(click any image for larger view)

(click any image for larger view)

Fred G. Johnson was considered to be one of the finest side show banner painters in the history of the circus and sideshow world. He had a 65-year career of banner painting, creating many works that are still prized by collectors and museums around the world. He worked for the O. Henry Tent and Awning Company in Chicago for 40 years from 1934 - 1974. His ingenious, old school techniques for painting banners inspired generations of younger painters.

These objects are huge, sometimes 10 to 15 feet in size (and some much larger!), a slight drawback to those who like to exhibit their art. But the cool thing is that many of these banners are for sale (and some are sold) by a private collector in Westfield, Indiana. You can learn more by e-mailing the collector: See more banners and prices here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Clowns Are Evil

(Above) Does this child look happy? I think not.

COULROPHOBIA IS AN ABNORMAL OR EXAGGERATED fear of clowns. I can understand how someone has such a phobia, especially with photographs like these. Psycho killer John Wayne Gacy was a clown by day at kid’s birthday parties. In the evening, he killed young boys and buried them under his house. Let’s face it—clowns are creepy.

These snapshots are from my personal collection.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Handmade Flash Cards

LAST WEEK I DID A POST ABOUT THE BEAUTY OF THE SILHOUETTE IN PHOTOGRAPHY. Based on that, folk art and extraordinary objects dealer Joshua Lowenfels of NYC sent me these incredible vintage flash cards, made to teach a child to recognize animals by their form.

What you see here are small handmade flash cards, probably from the first part of the 20th century. There are 21 in total that he has, all made from black cut paper lightly glued on these wonderful speckled cards. They are each about 5 x 8 inches in size, and each one is signed on the back. Josh says they are each signed by a woman on the back, and she was from the rural Midwest.

What I like about these besides their complete charm as part of Americana, but that the maker took some unique artistic liberties as she cut the paper. Take the goat, for example. His head is bent down, so we can only see one ear and have to imagine the other. Sweet.

Joshua Lowenfels has some of the best, most extraordinary stuff in the country. Ahhh-h, if only I were a rich man....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hot Town, Summer in the City

Crime Scene, NYC. Image © Weegee Estate. Click for larger view.

Crime Scene, NYC. Image © Weegee Estate. Click for larger view.
Map pinpointing murder locations in N.Y.C. See below for link to interactive map. Click for larger view.

OK, CHECK THIS OUT. THE CITY OF NEW YORK HAS BEEN PINPOINTING THE EXACT LOCATION OF MURDERS IN THEIR 5 BOROUGHS since 2003. The map above shows all the murders since that time, and what is even more informational is that they have posted an interactive map online. There, you can mouse over any dot and see:

(1) Month and time of day of murder (2) Race and ethnicity of victim (3) Race and ethnicity of perpetrator (4) Sex of victim (5) Sex of perpetrator (6) Age of victim (7) Age of perpetrator (8) Weapon used

Since 2003, 3,402 murders have occurred in the five boroughs of Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island. And since this is powered by Google Earth, you can zoom into to the very streets where the crimes occurred. Interestingly, but not unexpected— most murders occur at night and the summer months record the most murders.

Click here to see the interactive map.

For a little morbid fun, I have posted some vintage crime scene photos by the great Weegee, who shot his photos in New York City during the 1940s and 50s.

All photos by Weegee (Arthur Fellig) are © The Weegee Estate.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Newspaper Blackout Poems

(Above) The poet Austin Kleon.

(You REALLY have to click on these images to read them!)

(Click on image to read!)

FROM HIS PHOTOGRAPH AND ESPECIALLY HIS ART, AUSTIN KLEON LOOKS LIKE THE KIND OF GUY I’D LIKE TO KNOW. And why not? He is incredibly creative, has a sense of humor and is an American original.

What you are looking at here are examples of his “blackout poetry,” his way of creating prose by finding the words he wishes to keep within a story or article in the newspaper— and blacking out the rest with a permanent marker. Like a stone carver, Kleon “cuts away” the parts he doesn’t need and keeps the parts that are essential to his “found” poem. I think it is great. The final words Austin “keeps” have to fall within a readable order—giving us newly “discovered” poems that are poignant, funny, right-on and right for our times.

Austin lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Meg and his book: Newspaper Blackout Poems, was published by Harper Collins in February 2010. Learn more about Austin Kleon by visiting his Web site here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Kris Kuksi: Beauty in the Macabre

(Above) Saravati Destroyer
72” w 33” h x 12” d
Mixed Media Assemblage
Click on image for larger view
(Above) Saravati Destroyer (detail)Click on image for larger view

(Above) Saravati Destroyer (detail)
Click on image for larger view

(Above) Saravati Destroyer (detail)
Click on image for larger view

(Above) Plague Parade: Opus 1
38” h x 13” w 29” d
Mixed Media Assemblage
2007 Click on image for larger view

(Above) Churchtank Type 6.6F with Mine RollersMixed Media
9.75” h x 4.25” w x 14” L Click on image for larger view

(Above) Churchtank Type One
Mixed Media, 11” x 5” x 11”, 2003Click on image for larger view
(Above) Caravan Assault Apparatus
Mixed Media Assemblage, 39” x 28”, 2008
Click on image for larger view

(Above) Afterworld Transporter
Mixed Media Assemblage, 26” x 12”, 2008
Click on image for larger view

BORN MARCH 2, 1973 IN SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI AND GROWING UP IN NEIGHBORING KANSAS, Kris spent his youth in rural seclusion and isolation along with a blue-collar, working mother, two much-older brothers and an absent father. Open country, sparse trees, and alcoholic stepfather, perhaps paved the way for an individual saturated in imagination and introversion. His fascination with the unusual lent to his macabre art later in life. The grotesque to him, as it seemed, was beautiful.

Reaching adulthood his art blossomed and created a breakthrough of personal freedom from the negative environment experienced during his youth. He soon discovered his distaste for the typical American life and pop culture, feeling that he has always belonged to the ‘Old World’. Yet, Kris’ work is about a new wilderness, refined and elevated, visualized as a cultivation emerging from the corrupt and demoralized fall of modern-day society. A place where new beginnings, new wars, new philosophies, and new endings exist.
In personal reflection, he feels that in the world today much of mankind is oftentimes frivolous and fragile, being driven primarily by greed and materialism. He hopes that his art exposes the fallacies of Man, unveiling a new level of awareness to the viewer.

ACCIDENTAL MYSTERIES interviewed Kris about his art, digging into the psyche of this incredible artist whose art is entirely relevant for these troubled days.

AM: Hey Kris! From the moment I saw your work, I knew I was looking at a special artist—one that you see oh, once every hundred years or so. I am serious. You’re more than an artist and I want to know more about you.

So, let me ask: do you have any kind of formal art education after high school?

Yes, I did, from a small mid-western college in Hays, Kansas called Fort Hays State University. It was not a major art school but from what I came out of from high school, I was at least lucky enough to go to college. The program wasn’t strict by any means so I just grew at my own pace, and I probably would have wound up the same had I been on an island in the Pacific.
AM: OK, I’d like to follow with this basic philosophical question: do you believe in any higher power in the universe, or do you feel that mankind is simply a brilliant but failed organism heading to his eventual and ultimate destruction?
KK: Ha! That is a very good question and I’d have to say that I really have a lot of doubt that man will follow through in saving the planet and himself from peril. I’m not so sure about a higher power. Maybe it is just a situation where humans need to come up with the idea that something has to be greater than them to help explain things. I just wonder if humans are smart enough to let reason rule and give up religious fanaticism and political differences. I suppose we might go down in history as the dinosaurs did and, eventually, be engulfed by the next ice age or cataclysmic event even if we did find a way to save the ecology and balance of the planet.

AM: I get from your work the collision of good and evil, the trappings of war, lost technologies, monuments to lost causes and failed leaders—all rendered in excruciatingly three-dimensional detail. Tell me more about this, please?

To continue with what you have already noted, I believe time becomes blended together as history consistently repeats itself. Countries rise and fall, wars are fought and won or lost, human behavior lives through emotions and passion over and over again. One thing humans can do is to learn from history, however, from what I see in what humans are doing today, is that they are more focused on their current state of the moment and seek answers through their emotional reactions rather than logic and knowledge as example from the past. There are very few visionaries that are leading us to a point of transformation. And so the story goes, the rise and fall of hero’s and nations and religions, etc., etc.
AM: It looks as if you embed found objects in your pieces and yet other parts appear to be individually sculpted? What is your sculpting material?

Just like what you said, mostly found objects but nearly everything is manipulated in some way. A thick filler sort of paste is use to add more form that isn’t provided in an object and is also used to help blend in gaps between forms.

AM: Tell me, what sorts of things do you collect apart from what you use in your work?

I’m not really a fanatical collector for the sake of collecting. But I do randomly collect odd things such as a bird fetuses, old wooden legs, art books, music, movies and art from a few fellow artist friends.
AM: Bird fetuses? Old wooden legs? Gee… that’s boring—everybody collects those. (Just kidding!) Finally, who— or what inspires you, Kris?

The Baroque, classical art, Art Nouveau, Bosch, Giger, design, symmetry, space travel, war, nature, architecture, death, life, passion, love, hate, emotions, and peace.
AM: Kris, thanks so much for taking the time to let us know more about you and your art. I’m a huge fan. Good luck with everything.

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