Sunday, December 28, 2008

LIFE Magazine Archives Now Available

(Above) Civil Rights leaders Floyd B. McKissick (fore, 3L), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (4R) and Stokely Carmichael (2R) participating in a voter registration march after originator James H. Meredith was shot. Location: Mississippi, 1966; Photographer: Lynn Pelham
(Above) Forlorn looking American soldier standing guard in front of some Japanese American citizens awaiting transport to relocation camps after they were rounded up from their homes all along the west coast. Location: San Francisco, CA., April 29, 1942 Photographer: Dorothea Lange 
(Above) A weary child from Oklahoma drags an empty sack into the cotton fields of California on her way to work at 7 AM. The girl is one of thousands of Oakies who fled the drought, depression and dust storms afflicting their native state in the 1930s. Location: California, 1936. Photographer: Dorothea Lange
(Above) Mrs. John Bartlett and son Lincoln in room of their farmhouse in the Dust Bowl. Location: Oklahoma, 1942. Photographer: Alfred Eisenstaedt
(Above) Barge carrying rolling stock cars for towing down the Potomac during the Civil War; system devised by Union field commander Herman Haupt; at wharf. Location: Alexandria, Virginia, 1862. Photographer: Unknown 

IT’S A BRAVE NEW WORLD. The entire LIFE Magazine Photo Archive is online. Well, not all of it right now, but soon. Read on.

As you know, Google’s mission has been to organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Never before seen images from LIFE, including etchings and drawings dating back to the 1750’s are being made available simply by using a few key search words. Over the years, only a small percentage of these images has been published. The rest have been sitting in dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings and prints. As of now, Google says only about 20% of the collection is online, but they are hard at work on the rest. Eventually, the ENTIRE LIFE archive will be digitized and available at your fingertips—about 10 million photos and images. Here’s a few to get you started, so check it out. This is going to be pretty awesome. Your children’s school reports will look fantastic!   

[ Don’t forget to click on the images above to see the true digital size they give you. ]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rare Jean Arp Sculptures Discovered in Attic


But I seriously like this very modernist collection of six c. 1950s Mueller-Ward biology models of cells and other microscopic critters. As a collection, they are really wonderful. All are on individual stands and labeled with metal numbered tags. They are made of plaster, wood and paint and measure approximately 9” tall x 8” across and 5” deep.

They are priced at $595 for the complete set at Farnsworth Antiques, 393 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94103  •  Phone 415.503.1252 or you can reach them by email at:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cabinet Card Photo of Doomsday Poster, 1905

THIS IS A 1905 CABINET CARD PHOTOGRAPH showing a poster on a wall. But this is no ordinary poster. It’s a broadside of a religious “doomsday scenario” that was to occur sometime in 1906. The language of this poster is the weird stuff of science fiction. I have searched extensively for the religious cult or individual “false prophet” who may have announced this tragic world ending. I found that Albert Einstein developed several important papers of his atomic theory of relativity in 1906, and of course, the San Francisco earthquake occurred that year. But my search for word and phrases like: “atomic particles; 1906; doomsday” and other words having to do with “end of world” or “doomsday 1906” yielded nothing definitive that I could tie to this rather pusillanimous event.

In case the words of this poster are too small to read, I will translate for you below. It’s great. I love how this photograph combines aspects of so many cultural elements: religious prophecy, doomsday cultists, vernacular photography and broadside printing. At the very least, it is a very early printed use of the word “atomic.” It appears that the first use of the word “atom” came from the ancient Greek philosopher Demokritos around 500 B.C.

Here we go:



Mewling Infants of 1906
Tremble with Palpitating Terror for the Dire, Demoniac Deviltries and Hellish Holocaust

is about to Render your Pusillanimous Impotency into a Mass of

Crushed and Mangled Corpses

Burrow Deep and Avoid Destruction
The lake is cold, the lake is wet,
And slippery is the shore.
Mendota dines on freshmen, yet
Its maw still yawns for more.
Ye puny younglings shun the light,
Nor seek with us to strive,
Else ye shall know the dreaded might,
Of haughty 1905.


The greedy vultures hover o’er the shore
Their talons dripping FILTH and GORE
When your blood-soaked souls have crossed the styx
You’ll need no tickets, 1906

BEWARE — The Day of Doom Approaches

 ——— 1905 ———

Let’s all go out today and try, at least once, to use the word “mewling” or “pusillanimous.” I will.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Electric Pencil: Part II

[ This is Part 2. If you are just starting here to read the story of The Electric Pencil, scroll down and start at Part 1 first. However, if you read books back to front, please ignore this message. ]

I FOUND MYSELF AT A LOCAL RESTAURANT IN TOWN, was given a table and took a seat. I called two people—a close friend and trusted NY art dealer; and another friend that I like to bounce ideas off of. Before I called my wife, I needed some reassurances, I had to have my act together... I wanted someone to just say: "DO IT! YOU’LL NEVER REGRET IT.” The first person I called was my friend, who said I should do it. Wow! Okay, that’s good, I thought. Then I called my NY art dealer friend who cautiously said: “I haven't seen these drawings John, so this is a tough call. Be careful, things do not always work out like one hopes. You could be paying too much to ever recoup what you paid.”  Oh great. But the last thing he said was: “On the other hand John, you know as much as I do. If you trust your own eye, if you believe in what you see—then do it.”

I called my wife, told her that I was in a position to own a great collection of drawings but that to get them was going to cost us a bit more than we had in our checking account. Her reaction? “If you think this is a good deal John, then do it.”

“Whaaaaat?” I thought? This is too easy. Why didn’t she just say: “Hell-l NO-O!! Are YOU nuts?” The fact that she didn’t say that was just another reason I married this woman 26 years ago. 

OK, I'm in! My mind was made up.

I am sure the cheeseburger and fries that I ordered were very good, but at this point they had no taste. I was chewing cardboard, simply going through the motions. I finished and headed out of there.

Before I left for the dinner from hell, I had divided the drawings into three piles, an “A” pile of what I considered to be the best drawings; a “B” pile of good ones, and a “C” pile of what I considered average. This was not an uncommon thing to do when it comes to a large body of work. All artists have their great days and good days. The task was not easy. The “A’s” and “B’s” were very close together in terms of content and quality. In a way, I considered those 2 piles as one. Fortunately, the “C” pile was thin.

After another final look at the drawings, I said “I’ll take them.” It felt good.

We worked out the financial details, and I was to pick up the drawings two days later. I was to arrive with the check, and he would give me the work. It was to be a simple exchange. I counted them one last time, twice, no three times—before I left. He was nice enough to agree to meet me half-way this time, a nice gesture. I headed home. It was 2:30 in the morning when I pulled into the driveway. The house was obviously quiet, everyone was asleep. I crawled into bed. I felt sort of like I was sneaking into the house after a crime. OMG. I have to be at work in 5 hours. Out.


Just kidding! I had to say that. As agreed, we met two days later in a crowded Cracker Barrel restaurant half way between our respective homes. Both of us were on time. He came over and sat in my car, and I handed him a check. He handed me the portfolio. I joked out loud that this “looked like a drug deal,” and thought to say “let me count these first,” but I didn’t. We had come too far not to trust each other.

I LOVED THEM. I looked at them every day. I studied them. They were rare, beautiful, and special. That they had survived at all was a story in itself. But... two months later I came to the conclusion that I had no business tying up a good chunk of our money in a portfolio of drawings. I acquire art to hang on my walls. I wanted to enjoy them, but there were too many and they belonged together. So, on a whim, and to test the waters, I placed a call to the only name I had that was a “runner-up” for the drawings, a name I had been given by the original seller. 

“Yes. He was still very interested.” I can release the name of the buyer now since the story of The Electric Pencil has gone public and the new owner allowed himself to be identified. If this hadn’t happened, no way would I have used a name. If you look at the January/February 2008 issue, Volume 12, Issue 3 of Art on Paper, in a story called “Phantasmagoria Americana: Introducing the Art of The Electric Pencil,” art critic Lyle Rexer called the discovery on par with the “recent discovery of the cache of drawings by Martin Rameriz or the discovery over ten years ago of work by James Castle.” Wow! 

The new owner is New York artist Harris Diamant. Only time will tell where The Electric Pencil will end up in art history. I can say that Harris Diamant loved them enough for me to name my price, which I did and I wish him well. Mr. Diamant is not only an exceptional artist, but a gentleman and known for his great, discerning eye. Check out his work.

For me, I was happy to have just been a part of it all. Absolutely no regrets. I was lucky. It was just another adventure.

[ If you enjoyed this story—I'd really like to have you sign up to “follow” my blog, download a little photo of yourself or anything, really. That part is located in the column on the right. I work hard at this journal—so it gives me incentive to know people are reading it. I post something every day, rain or shine. And, a side benefit about signing on—people can link back to your website or whatever. Of course, if you are in the Witness Protection Program, you may not want to. ]

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Electric Pencil, Part I

HERE’S A STORY I HAVE TOLD TO ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE. It’s a good one, I have to say. One day, a couple of years ago, I came home from lunch and decided to check eBay (a bad habit) and spotted 3 very unusual portraits on paper said to be from the State Lunatic Asylum, Nevada, Missouri, and done around 1895 - 1900. I thought the three pieces I looked at were pretty astounding. I put a relatively high bid on the items and sent the owner an email to find out if he had more. Within 20 minutes, the man called me. 

He explained that he had already pulled the three drawings from eBay, and had paid the fee to withdraw them from the auction. And yes, he had more. A lot more. Two-hundred and eighty some more, bound together in a hand-made book of rawhide and paper board of some kind. Ooo-kay, I am starting to get really interested now. Then he mentions that the reason he pulled the items from eBay was that he was getting calls from NYC and elsewhere, all desperate to see them, so “he figured they were worth quite a bit more.” He went on to say that one NY art dealer offered to buy the entire portfolio “sight unseen.” A price was given to me over the phone (for all of them), ending with a firm “and NOT A PENNY less!” My initial thought was “this is crazy.” Nevertheless, I told him that I could get in my car and be there in 5 hours if he would hold them for me. He agreed. I called in sick to the office as I was wheeling my car onto the interstate. It was a migraine, I think. In fact, my head was pounding from the stress. But my headache was mild, compared to what was to come.

Five hours later, it was dark, about 6 pm. I found the man’s house, walked to the door. He was very cordial. As I looked around, I saw that it was a simply furnished apartment, with lot’s of books, knick-knacks and “stuff.” This guy went to a lot of flea markets, I assumed. After a few pleasantries, we got right to to it. He showed me the portfolio, and started to go through each drawing with me, one at a time. I was in no mood to follow his pace. After looking at 4 or 5 drawings with him, I politely asked if I might go through them on my own. Thank goodness he agreed. I was so relieved to be on my own pace, alone with my thoughts. He retired to his computer, in another room.

Overall, the drawings were pretty incredible—some better than others, as one could expect from a large collection like this. Indeed, they were all on what appeared to be “day paper” or ledger sheets from the now defunct state mental asylum in Nevada, MO. Some of the lightly ruled paper actually had “STATE LUNATIC ASYLUM” printed on the top. 

Here I was, looking at an intact portfolio of an anonymous artist’s work from over a century ago. Was the artist a patient? Was the artist a man—or woman? Was the artist a friend of someone at the asylum— or perhaps even an employee? There was no way to tell. My host explained that he bought the set of drawings from a man who had them sitting on a shelf for the last 30-40 years, and that he had gotten them from a 14-year old boy who found them “in a trash pile” in Springfield, MO in 1970.

IT WAS THE BIG EYES that got me. The fine detail. The mixture of fantasy, documentation, narrative, history— all of it! All the right bells were going off. The present owner had given the artist a name: “The Electric Pencil,” based on one drawing labeled with a misspelled set of words “Etclectric Pencil.” Personally, I was never (and am still not) convinced this was the true name of the artist, but whatever. Electricity was new, in its infancy, and this artist had something special. 

Suddenly I realized I had a huge decision to make. I was exhausted from the drive, visually spent, mentally and physically excited but beaten down nonetheless. I was hungry and needed to get out of there—take a break, get a drink.

[ TO BE CONTINUED... ]   Check back tomorrow for 5 more drawings and the conclusion to the story.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Glory Days of Sports Photography

THAT BIFF! SUCH A SHOWBOAT! Why did they ever stop shooting sports photos like these? I would have really enjoyed being at the photo shoot for this team. Here is a move that this player never had to make in a real game, and if he did, he certainly wasn’t going very far down field.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mobile Advertising

YOU CAN’T GET BETTER THAN THIS: I found this at Mule Skinner Antiques and I just can’t believe the sublime beauty of this object. The white hand lettering is magnificent on the original blue paint, punctuated by contrasting salmon colored wheels. This is an object of a bygone era, and a reminder today of “the daily newspaper,” an industry that is struggling to survive in a digital age. This is Americana at its best.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Passport, please.


This illustration is really odd. Painted in the 1950s, when was it ever an issue to discuss how great it is that we Americans don’t need a passport to cross state lines?  This illustrator, Saul Tepper (1899 - 1987) was New Yorker, and had a very successful career as a commercial illustrator. His original illustrations, like this piece, are quite collectible. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.

Thank goodness for the person who decided it was important to take this snapshot some 70 years ago of a well-endowed robot by an anonymous sculptor. The object is great. The snapshot sold last night for $59.00 on eBay. If the original sculpture were still around, I guess the price to be in the $5K+ range, possibly more. See more great images like this at Ampersand Vintage.

Push Pin Studios, 1964

Paper Promotion from Champion Papers
Imagination Series, No. 3
Design and illustration, Push Pin Studios, 1964 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

SAVE THE DATE! Jan. 10 & 11, 2009

 A couple of candid shots from the First Vernacular Photo Fair last year.
SECOND ANNUAL VERNACULAR PHOTO FAIR, JAN. 10 & 11, 2009, in Santa Monica, CA

Hey folks, the SECOND Annual Vernacular Photo Fair is coming up in lovely, warm Santa Monica, CA this January. I attended last year, where I came home with some great snapshots for my collection. Most of the top dealers in vernacular photography will be there, where you can peruse their best stuff. Here’s where you’ll find some MITY-FINE photos all under one roof. This year, Dana Claudat is doing an outstanding job of publicity for the show. Of course, the BONUS to this event is that PHOTO LA is right next door. 

THE 2nd VERNACULAR PHOTO FAIR is open from 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and Sunday, and located at the Santa Monica Art Studios, 3026 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica. There’s plenty of free parking. If you want more information, you can email Dana at: She’ll get you all the information you need.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Here’s an anonymous color photo that I have in my collection. It is just what it is—which is to say I have no better explanation for this than you do. I think it dates to around the 1960s. I can say that is inexplicably haunting and wonderful and profound all at the same time, almost a cross between a film still by photographer Cindy Sherman and that moment one might see The Rapture... or that last flash of thousand suns at Alamagordo, NM. Some pictures are just great not knowing the real story— in fact, I’d rather not know what this was all about, to be honest. I am sure the real story behind this picture would be quite UN-interesting. 
Image © Accidental Mysteries, collection of John and Teenuh Foster

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Good and Honest Life


Here’s a wonderful example of an antique with all the right stuff. Look at the wear, how it reveals it’s past use so eloquently. This preserve cupboard has wonderful form, primitive construction and beautiful apple green paint. It has honesty.

I love how this item is described by the auction house, Jeff Bridgeman American Antiques. The words are obviously from someone who really knows furniture of this period. The words are so full of deep descriptors, and reads (in part) as follows: 

“...the piece is typical of Shenandoah Valley furniture, with high, bootjack feet and cast hinges applied to the face rather than mortised. The plank wood is yellow pine throughout. There are wooden spinners to hold the doors shut and knobs constructed of a wooden spool. The triple half-moon cutouts that form the backsplash are probably not original to the cupboard. The wood is original, as the splash is an extension of the vertical backboards, but the scalloping was probably added at some point in the history of the cupboard, maybe following damage to the original splash, which was probably squared off. The current design is visually appealing, however, and has become part of its history. Country furniture that dates to the mid-19th century, with attractive paint, is very scarce, primarily because the contents of so many structures in this area were burned during the Civil War (1861 - 1865). So surviving examples of this time period, made even before, during, or slightly after the war during reconstruction, are coveted by collectors.”

It is priced at $6,500. 
Jeff R. Bridgeman American Antiques, Historic York County, PA
Phone: 717-502-1281  Photography by Jeff R. Bridgeman

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Great Day With the Camera

Anonymous nailed it when these were taken in NYC, dated 1946. Killer b&w modernist shots. (At a recent auction.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

With a name like “Fat Lava,” it has to be good!

(Above) West & East German Pottery: Makers Marks & Form Numbers
New book by Kevin James Graham (available July 1, 2009)
174 pages, over 300 color photographs, thousands upon thousands of form numbers, over 200 companies are contained with, with year/era of introduction plus additional designer data, written in English.

(Above) From Spritzdekor to Fat Lava
New book by Kevin James Graham.
(available July 1, 2009)
262 pages, 658 full color photographs, further 282 color marks photographs (940 in all). Details of 108 West & East German pottery makers from 1930s to 1998 are contained within, including the designers, decors with dates of introduction, includes some never seen before companies. This is the first book of its kind available in English.

(Above) Book by Mark Hill.

HERE’S SOMETHING that you will either love, or absolutely hate. I haven’t made my mind up quite yet, but I am definitely leaning towards the “hate it” side. When I first saw a collection of this pottery at the home of a well-known NY art collector who has an exquisite eye, I have to admit that I was taken back a bit. “What was this collection of kitsch doing here?” I thought to myself? It was prominently displayed in a few key places in their lovely town house. So, obviously I had to inquire about it. They told me it was West German studio ceramics from the 1960s and ’70s—affectionately called “fat lava” by collectors. It was gaudy stuff, bright colors, shapes going here and there— almost verging on butt ugly to my thinking.

What I am showing you today is the more organic stuff in the pottery line. Out of all the fat lava styles, this is the line that I like best— well, I can tolerate it without getting queasy. Believe me, if you google “fat lava” you’ll see tons of it— and then you can make up your own mind. And, btw, it’s getting kinda pricey too. I'll bet that out here in the hinterlands of the midwest you can still find it cheap at garage and estate sales, flea markets, etc. (we’re the last to know what’s cool, anyway). But hey, maybe you can be the first on your block with a collection of “fat lava” ceramics.

There’s a book out on it now, by a guy named Mark Hill (see photo), and two new books by Kevin James Graham (July 1, 2009). You can probably get an of these books on Amazon. For the real pottery, you might have luck at your local Salvation Army Thrift Store or Goodwill stores.

And, there is a free forum about fat lava, pottery and glass that is on-line. Learn more by going here.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Two vernacular photos from the collection. The airplanes are German, WWI, c. 1918, never before published actual action photograph. The second image, a simple snapshot of an elegant dive by a young girl, c. 1955.


One of the things I like about writing this blog is that it gives me a place to put things that I have been carrying around in my head for a long time. Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me to think anybody out there cares what I think, or that what I have to say is even worthy of sharing. Given that, please consider this blog as an archeological site of beautiful, interesting and thoughtful things—all of which you are welcome to dig through, discover and take home if you want.

Two years ago I spent a few days in Brooklyn, NY on business. At the end of my visit, I was in a cab on my way to the airport when I spotted a simple, black and white sign for a yoga center. I wasn't able to photograph it, but I have never forgotten it for it’s simple and economical way of communicating what they do. I recreated it for you today from the font Futura, which to my recollection is closest to the font as I remember it. I really do not know if this is an original idea, or if it was ripped off from someone else’s ingenuity or from a back issue of Print Magazine, but it stuck in my brain permanently as wonderful. As the sign quickly passed my vision, I remember smiling and thinking, "Bravo!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wooly Chaps

You NEVER know when you’re gonna need a pair of wooly chaps, do you? I sure don’t. You can get these 1915 fur, leather and canvas babies this Sunday at Garth’s Auctions in Delaware, Ohio. The Randau Collection; November 28, 2008.

“Twin Peaks” guy adjusts pressure in year 2050

1950s Science Illustration ROCKS! In this illustration, the well-groomed “she-male” adjusts the water intake valve (above), allowing water to flow into the red thingy, which is then dispersed into the smaller thingy’s which, when poured into the tan, spray-painted gas can with added funnel (YOU CAN'T FOOL ME!) can be weighed by the blue scale. Oops, the green clock says it’s 11:30, time for lunch and that TV Dinner!

You might note that in the far distant future, science has reverted back to a vacuum-tube and heavy industry style of research. Who am I to question? 

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