Sunday, October 23, 2011

My BFF Dick!

Apparently, we baby boomers still managed to read despite the criticism heaped upon the Dick and Jane readers back in the 1950s and 60s and later. I knew their world was perfect because it sure wasn’t anything close to my family when I started first grade in 1958. In Dick and Jane’s world, daddy always had a job, mom had no need to work, the Russians weren’t aiming their nukes at them and their houses were not being foreclosed on. The myths of the American way of life were continued when we went home at night to TV shows like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. At the time, I liked Dick and Jane and all the kids in their two-dimensional fantasy world. And to be truthful, I wanted to live in their world. The Dick and Jane books were one happy little neighborhood on Prozac and I wanted in.

One early critic to the series was Rudolf Flesch, a reading expert during the 50s and 60s. Flesch was the author of numerous books on literacy, but he is probably best known for his book: Why Johnny Can’t Read. It was there that he skewered the Dick and Jane series as “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers.”

The illustrator of the books was a woman named Eleanor Campbell (1898 - 1986). She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Today, original illustrations by her are rare, as most of the original art was thrown into the trash by Ms. Campbell herself. Oops.

Still, count me in amongst the legions of nostalgic fans of Dick and Jane. We don’t really care that we were being sold a dream back in grade school. We boomers have come to terms with the fact that Jane is on her third marriage, Dick is an alcoholic and did some time for tax evasion, and that Spot was run over long ago by the milk truck.

An AM repost from 12/9/08.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Plowshare of a Post-war Germany

THERE IS SOMETHING MAGNIFICENT and poetic about this humble object. Only great words can describe it and there, I fall short with things of such raw beauty. I purchased this from my friend Joshua Lowenfels, who found it at a flea market in NYC. He purchased it from an old German fellow who was parting with a few things from his life. The handle is only about two feet long, so it appears to have been used as a sort of ladle for scooping and pouring wet concrete. I got weak-kneed when I saw it. If this isn’t the most perfect statement on the whole failed Nazi experiment, and of war in general, I don’t know of one. You can see more great things at in Josh’s online shop at:


Monday, October 10, 2011

George Widener: Calculations and Numbers in Art

(Above) Megalapolis 21 - 2005, ink on paper, 26 x 40 inches
(Above) Census Ship - 2004, ink on paper, 26 x 24 inches
(Above) Month of Sundays -- 2004, ink on paper, 10 x 7.5 inches
(Above) Sunday’s Crash - 2005, ink on paper, 36 x 52 inches
(Above) Megalapolis 2077 - 2005, ink on paper, 26 x 38 inches

WHEN I FIRST MET GEORGE WIDENER at the Outsider Art Fair some years ago, it was by happen chance. I was immediately drawn to the magnificent drawings on the walls of the Henry Boxer Gallery, drawings unlike I had seen in some time… maybe ever. Complex, complicated and filled with numbers, lists, tables and calculations of all kinds, I knew that I was looking at something fresh and different. On one wall, facing one of the main corridors, was an incredible cut-away style drawing of the HMS Titanic, the White Star Line’s greatest ship and greatest tragedy. The ship, which was drawn in profile with it’s skin peeled away, showed all the many levels of the ship and revealed the inventory of it’s contents: 2411 lbs. of flour; 12.5 lbs. of black pepper; 161 lbs. of salt; 903 lbs. of cured beef; 2023 lbs. of swordfish; and on and on. [ For reference in this example, I used bogus numbers—but George could correct me with the actual numbers at first glance. ]

Standing nearby was Henry Boxer who said “It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it?” Still wide-eyed, I agreed. He went on to tell me that the artist was sitting nearby, that his name was George Widener and that George actually knew and had memorized ALL the facts, figures, and details of the Titanic contents after having read the information only ONCE at one time in his life. This was quite jaw-dropping, seeing as I cannot remember 5 grocery store items if not written down, and even then, I have a good chance of misplacing the list before I get to the store. I eventually learned that George was a high-functioning savant, diagnosed with Asperger’s. George could tell me the zip code of any city in the United States and he knew the day of the week that I was born when I gave him my birth month, day and year. And, he knew what the weather was like across the country for that single day in 1951!

I was convinced I was looking at something phenomenal without even having met George, who was a delightful man to talk to. I actually bought a piece, right then and there, the first year his work was shown to the Outsider Art Fair public. Widener’s work stands, in my opinion, as a singular creative style on the merit’s of it’s content and vision. There is nothing else like it. And THAT is what makes a great artist.

Contact The Henry Boxer Gallery to see more of George’s work.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Early Infographics: The Path of a Jaywalker

I purchased this several years ago from photo dealer James Lampkin, who occasionally sells photographs on eBay. His store is called VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPHS, and he looks far and wide for great pictures. James has a deep understanding of the history of photography and puts each photo he lists into its historical context. This press photo, by photographer Ray Platnick, was taken in New York in 1946 for Picture Magazine. What I like about this photo is the added, painted-on arrows, showing “the path” a jaywalking woman took in her crazy path across the street. With the retouchers addition of the arrows, the photograph enters a more conceptual place—without the arrows we are looking at another busy street.

An AM repost from 11/27/08.

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