Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Carnival Man

CARNIVAL KNOCK-DOWNS, OR “PUNKS,” AS THEY ARE OFTEN CALLED, were originally made by the carnival workers themselves. Made of wood, cotton duck canvas and other materials, these dolls were painted and very often named. Unfortunately, by the late 1950s, these “punks” were being manufactured by carnival supply houses and silk screened—not handmade with the unique hand painted features of the early ones.

In all my years of looking at photographs, often those of carnival workers and sideshow acts, I have never seen a photo of a person I could say was an actual “maker” of these highly collected folk art objects. In this photograph, we see a proud man with two carnival punks, sitting for his picture against a painted backdrop. To me, there is no question this is the artist, which makes this photograph a special and unique piece of the American story.

Photo collection © of Accidental Mysteries and may not be used or reproduced in any fashion without permission.


Dull Tool Dim Bulb said...

Ooh. Nice. You should watermark that photo John. A brief story? Once many years ago, while visiting Herbert Hemphill, I brought down three large carnival punks of Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini to show him (and hopefully to trade him for a little carved cane he had) I pulled them out of a laundry bag saying "here's the punks" and he said "why do you call them that?" He had never heard the term used to describe carnival knockdown targets and told me it was an old expression for a young homosexual prostitute. I never followed up on it, but the term has come into general use. A good project for a grad student one day!
Jim Linderman
Dull Tool Dim Bulb

John Foster said...

Thanks Jim. This photo was originally found by Josh Lowenfels, and I just had to have it. Love your story and yes, I thought about watermarking then—and just didn't because I hate to mess with the integrity of the image. I want my readers to see it pristine. But... if you say so! ;)

Robert said...

A really rare image and an exciting addition to your collection!

Joey said...

What an amazing image!

Dull Tool Dim Bulb said...

Good work. I usually let things post without a watermark if the original is handmade and can't be stolen. But with a real photo post card like this, i would be afraid someone would copy it and print it on ebay. I've taken to marking the photos I post if i think anyone would have a notion...My Rudolph Rossi pictures in particular, and the nudes.

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