11.20.2014

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

 
photo by keridiana chez 
2 photos above by keridiana chez
A few friends and I made a trip up to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery near White Plains. The first cemetery of its kind in the US, Hartsdale, also called The Peaceable Kingdom, was established in 1896 by a New York City veterinarian. Its five acres are home to 80,000 pets (rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and a lion cub among the vast numbers of cats and dogs) and quite a few humans as well. The rambling, hilly terrain is packed with so many tiny stories: laconic grave markers, floridly effusive epitaphs, bronze and granite bombast, the kitschy pathos of makeshift memorials, the discomfit of shared graves—owner and beloved friends. What really impressed itself upon me was how fervent and true the sentiments were. Unlike human cemeteries, where the epitaphs are often stilted and tradition-bound, laced with religious boilerplate, Hartsdale was filled with colorful outpourings of love, of yearning and grief, of disbelief and the hope that “gone” was not forever.
The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks, 1826

10.05.2014

King Charles's Head, Caesar's Wife, and Shared Knowledge

In reading 19th century primary sources—diaries, poetry, essays, etc—I'm struck by how allusive the writing is. References to Milton, Chaucer, biblical parables, mythology, ancient historical figures, military history, and of course Latin and Greek phrases are frequent and typically without explanation. There was a seemingly vast store of what was considered common, shared knowledge. This knowledge was expected of all those who had attained a certain level of education and who shared a particular socio-economic status. I wonder, how much of that is left? Judging by me—a supposedly well-educated member of a certain class— not that much.

The image above shows part of a test my mother took in about 1951. It was the Language Arts section of the supervisory license for New York City. In other words this was part of what was expected of those hoping to become a New York City public school principal.

Of a total of 75, there were about 46 I could eke by with, and several more that I'd heard of but was vague about. Here are a few of the 18 or so of which I had no definitive knowledge, along with my first association:
Areopagus "Areopagitica". But what was that? Milton? What?
Golconda sounds vaguely decadent, like it might be around the corner from Gomorrah.
Barmecide feast  killing something? No, I've got nothing. 
Caesar's wife —Great Caesar's Ghost! Never heard this and it's really quite useful...
King Charles's Head perhaps some jolly English Protectorate gallows humor? (I especially liked learning this one)
Ananias   Nothing.
piling Pelion on Ossa  Complete news to me, this belongs with other Sisyphaean labors
Savoyard—  no idea --the French Revolution or Paris Commune?
to come a cropper —Again, never heard this and it's quite useful, rather like a dusty, antiquated "epic fail"
Ephebic Oath I should have known this but I didnt. I really came a cropper.

[Now I'm going to make a pitch for the invaluable Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, first published in 1870. I picked it up by chance for $2.50 at a book sale on Shelter Island and wrote about it in an early post. It is one of the most quirky, varied, fascinating and delightful repositories of knowledge, both eminently useful and absurdly obscure.]

9.29.2014

Loaded Guns

A Derringer engraved with Aesthetic Movement ornament by Otto Carter
Images from The Handy Book of Artistic Printing
 Aesthetic ornament came out of the British design reform movement of the early to mid-19th century. Aesthetic design is eclectic, features exotic motifs (especially Japanese), and geometricized natural elements. Later in the century "artistic" became the shorthand, often commercial shorthand, for any design even remotely Aesthetic.
These are specimens of artistic printing—commercial letterpress printing's foray into Aestheticism

Recently, my business partner Doug received a phone call from a man in Abilene, Texas, named Otto Carter. Carter had stumbled upon our book, The Handy Book of Artistic Printing, in his online research for ornament. After finding us through our ornament style guide on the Vectorian site (Vectorian offers collections of historical ornament in clean digital vector form) he became a big fan of Handy and of Aesthetic ornament in particular. So much so, he wanted us to know, he was using it in his work engraving guns. Yes engraving guns. Carter also works on other "bro"-centric items, like knives, vapor e-cigarettes, motorcycle parts, even golf clubs—virtually everything I know nothing about—but his concentration appears to be guns. While I dont agree with gun culture and hunting, which Carter also embraces, I got over that fairly quickly in the name of design*. I was so taken with the fact that we'd made a dent in this completely foreign niche industry I decided to find out a little more about Otto Carter and custom-engraved guns.

First I must tell you Carter is damn good at what he does, which is to work metal by hand with a graver. No machine templates, no laser etching, this is all hand work. Carter has a background in art and specialized in decorative sign making and gold leafing for many years. In 2002 he took a week-long course in engraving and found an entirely new calling. It was slow going at first, "Engraving has a huge learning curve," he said, "I don't care if you're Michaelangelo, your work in the beginning is not going to look good." Well past that stage now, his gun commissions—working, shooting, guns— each take about 2 weeks on average to complete and cost several thousand dollars. Each is virtually encased in ornament.

"I have always been a student of style," Carter says, "and sort of bounce from one to the other.” On his site traditional scroll work, tribal and quasi-Celtic geometrics, Renaissance Revival foliage, religious scenes, even Aztec motifs are all in evidence. “I also did a lot of pin-striping on cars and motorcycles,” he explained, “and was really influenced by the Kounter Kulture types like Ed Big Daddy Roth.... So some of my engraving has a lowbrow look to it.” (I'm assuming he's referring to the odd skull and crossbones hidden amidst the gems). "The planets aligned" when he tried out Aesthetic ornamentation on an e-cig and then a derringer. “When people see the derringer they react to it like nothing else.” A derringer, I found out, is a remarkably cool, vintage-looking "palm pistol." The erroneous spelling of 19th century arms manufacturer Henry Deringer's name has come to stand for any small pocket pistol. Put artistic ornament on the derringer and you've automatically got a piece straight from Gangs of New York.

I asked why he thought the Aesthetic ornament seemed to be so popular. “I think people like it because it is full of surprises. It is rich with unexpected elements. Traditional scroll work is rhythmical and predictable. Also, all the unique cuts of the Aesthetic motifs lend themselves so well to chisel work. It is truly the engravers style.” Which is apt since the ornament in artistic printing was all cast or carved in metal to begin with. “Right now I'm doing a traditional scroll piece and I'm not very excited about it.” he lamented. “I'm hooked on Victorian!”

Watch a wonderful little video on Carter created by an e-cig company.
All gun images © Otto Carter
Renaissance Revival foliate scroll work
Aztec
tribal-Celtic geometricized scroll work

*(I couldnt quite get over the gun he engraved for Rick Perry)

8.15.2014

Sexiest Men (no longer) Alive (UPDATE)


Baron von Richthofen, c 1917
80 direct hits. Need I say more?
Early aviator Harry Atwood, c 1910
Not exactly my type but flyboy's got something, too.

 Reverand Rollin Heber Neale, 1850
That is one nasty preacherman.
William Sydney Mount, 1853
A dastardly lout, a cad, a rogue. Tell me more.
Julius Caesar
Proving that sexy is ageless even at 2000+. Vici indeed.
Walter Sickert, about 1918
Walter Sickert is bad news in the best possible way.
Commander in Armor, Anthony van Dyck, c. 1625
Long lush hair, beautiful features, armor. Winning!
Vsevolod Garshin, Ilya Repin, 1884
Ok he seems like a mess but you know you'd want to help him edit his work, get him some new clothes and cook for him.
Adrien Brody would play him in the movie.
Theodore Gericault, Horace Vernet, 1822-23
He painted severed limbs, ship wrecks and the insane and he had tuberculosis. Quite a handful. Then again he looked like this.

Three Men and a Boy, le Nain brothers, 1647-8
Dark, sketchy, satiny long-haired fellows—lets have a beer and discuss.

self portrait?, Michael Sweerts, 1656
Sensitive, moony, he'd leave you love notes and give back rubs. They dont all have to be bad boys.
Portrait of a man against flames, Isaac Oliver, about 1600
The flames, the shirt down to there, the jewelry, this guy is almost too showy for his own good.
Were women throwing their farthingales and drawers at him?
first cousins, the future Tsar Nicholas and King George V
Sporting fellows if ever there were! Double date!
Albert of Belgium, about 1917
Impeccably turned out for trench warfare; he can carry me to safety anytime.
Anton Chekhov, 1890s
Weasly, but then again...
a tailor, Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1565-70
Turbulence beneath the calm, no mere shopkeeper, he.
The heart of an artist strains beneath that finicky, micro-slashed doublet.

I see Jeremy Irons in the movie.

William Hogarth, Louis-Fran├žois Roubiliac, c 1740
Hogarth is more of a runner-up but I do love this bust. 
He's got a laddish humor and pugilistic intensity that wouldnt be out of place in a Guy Ritchie film.
NEW! Daniel Trembly MacDougal (1865-1958), botanist and tree ring expert.
He'd go to the green market to get you flowers and fill you in on the taxonomical nomenclature

UPDATE! We have a new historical dead boyfriend! Thanks to Mia:
A lady could do worse than Daniel Trembly MacDougal!
MacDougal (1865-1958) began working at the New York Botanical Garden in 1899 as Director of the Laboratories and was promoted in 1904 to an Assistant Directorship. He was recognized as the leading American authority on desert ecology and one of the earliest botanists to research chlorophyll. He is also known as the inventor of the MacDougal dendrograph, an instrument used for recording changes in the volume of tree trunks.
I've been collecting them on and off, images of men that seem incredibly appealing to me despite the century or two (or several) that might separate us. It started with that photo of Chekhov. Something about the greatcoat and the reed slim cane and that cocky, short man sensibility...  You may remember the electrifying Reverend Neale and the darkly dangerous Mr. William Sydney Mount from my Sartorialist, 1850s Edition post.


This is merely a trifling survey and part of on-going research... A good Regency-era Romantic is a must and I am certainly forgetting some entrancing 18th century fellow so please do let me know who should be on this list.

Where is William Powell you might ask? Or Kurt Cobain? or any number of too-recent, too-recognized, or too-well-publicized men who could surely otherwise be on a list of Sexiest Dead Men? Well, this is an inexact science but I'd say they need to have been in their sexy heyday the better part of a century ago to make it to my list.


PS: Someone asked why I skipped Lord Byron. I have to report that his reputation always seemed more attractive to me than he did.

8.08.2014

Letter Perfect

above and below, two dramatically different Journal covers by the (Brooklyn!) master penman William E. Dennis (1860-1924).
Volumetric, constructed lettering with elaborate shadowing had its heyday in the 1890s to early 1900s.
Beautiful examples were found on stock certificates and maps (see BibliOdyssey for a collection of Sanborn map details)

No Bezier curves here!
 
Charles Paxton Zaner
A Journal cover created by a lesser hand (in my opinion) employing the ubiquitous
calligraphic bird flourish, a common practice device.
The penmen all too often literally "put a bird on it."
Much of what penman were hired for were business documents like these checks and vouchers.
This has hand written directions for the engraver and electrotyper.
Rules for drawing drop shadows
Commemorative cartouche for Ulysses S Grant, and "President" detail by Daniel T. Ames, 1868.
I believe Ames created the large ornament-choked plaque that still exists in the lobby of
the original Cooper Union building. Mid-nineteenth century lettering is usually fussier than later examples,
and typically employed more flourishes and scrollwork.
The Zaner-Bloser Collection at the University of Scranton is one of the largest collections of American ornamental penmanship of the later 19th and early 20th centuries.

The company was founded in 1888 by Charles Paxton Zaner as the Zanerian School of Penmanship. Elmer W. Bloser purchased a share of the company in 1891 and in 1895 the school changed its name to the Zaner-Bloser Company. They began publishing their own penmanship manuals. The school prepared students for careers as penmen. Penmen were essential to business, preparing legal vouchers, monetary notes, ledgers, writing correspondence and creating documents before the invention of the typewriter. They also created most advertising display lettering. Zaner-Bloser also taught students to become illustrators, engravers, and engrossers. Engrossing is the type of ornamental lettering used on diplomas, commemorative documents, and certificates. To my astonishment, Zaner-Bloser is still in business and--swimming against the proverbial tide--continues penmanship instruction today.



The Scranton collection is incredible and includes professional journals, hand writing manuals, instructional material for children, photographs of children learning to write, scrapbooks containing examples of ornamental penmanship done by master penmen and more. A good portion of this is digitized and downloadable in large sizes!

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