Woodsy words, and then some

I was inspired by the masterfully twiggy rusticity of the lettering in my earlier post to find some (digital) bucolic beauties. Alas, this quick typographical sampler is neither all beautiful, nor strictly all pastoral— and nothing can compare to custom, hand drawn type, which is what was on that sheet music cover. Still, I'm sure readers will have some suggestions to add here?
arborette, a 19th century type digitized by Dan X Solo, had leaf ornamentation separate from the letters which could be combined to form decorative borders.

Logger by David Rakowski, 1993. Its woody but strictly knotty pine cabin and not at all rustic faux bois... Not the right tone for our Edenic idyll, but there it is.

The very elegant Restraint by Marian Bantjes, 2007, has multiple tendril ornaments that can be combined, in the manner of 19th century types, to create borders and cartouches. A bit lacy, a bit creepy.

Gretel by Sylvia Janssen, Daniel Janssen, 1962, (Published by Fountain) is not pastoral at all. It's based on cross stitching and embroidered samplers, but it has a flowery air about it if used judiciously.
 Egret by Device, 2004, is an odd hybrid—sans serif with sprigs—a sort of techno-floral. I see a lot of potential here.

Guede by David Nalle, 1993, free. I know I have seen something very much like this somewhere vintage 1950s, but I've not been able to track anything down again. It seems to spring from the scratchy, jittery line art of Ben Shahn and Saul Steinberg. Its rather fabulous but can be difficult to read.


Woodsy words

Woodland Sketches
composed for the
Piano Forte,
and dedicated [to]
Madame-la-Princesse Marcelline-Czartoryska.
(nee Radziwill)
Wm. Vincent Wallace

This amazing sheet music cover was lithographed in two colors (warm black and what I'll call a peachy maiden flesh) and then hand embellished with applied water color. There is so much going on here— so many vines, trellises, espaliered foliage, picturesque riparian groves and bosky pastorales— that the whole is absolutely less than its parts. Each vignette deserves a perusal. Then, of course, there is the magnificent rustic twig lettering: shaded, arced, and decorated with sprigs. Sheer beauty.

The music, such as it is (a sample of "Woodland Sketch No. 1— Village Maiden's Song", is in my opinion, wretched) is dedicated to pianist and teacher Marcelina Czartoryska (1817-1894), one of Chopin’s most talented pupils and a celebrated performer in her day. She was originally Radziwill, the Polish aristocratic family name I recognized from Lee Radzwill, Jackie O's sister.


That Gummy Epileptic! What a coffee-mill!

Emilie Marie Bouchaud was born May 14, 1874, in Algiers (though "of pure French stock" she was quick to add). Arriving in Paris about 1890, she styled herself Polaire and became a cabaret and stage sensation. Noted for her skittish energy and frenetic performances, she was given the nickname "la gommeuse épileptique." Google Translate renders it rather comically as "the gummy epileptic." (I'll assume we're losing a lot in English*...descriptive idioms turned hilarious crazy-talk in literal translation.) We read by way of explanation:
the gummy epileptic, she throws her head back, moving from one foot to another with clenched fists in song recitals with mocking words ... By her own admission, her feet are dancing alone in her shoes!
A petite 5 foot 3, she was celebrated for her tightly corseted wasp waist—ostensibly fourteen inches (although many promotional images seem to be retouched to alarming extremes). Decadent poet, novelist and dandy Jean Lorain evokes her mesmerizing performance as equal parts Orientalist seductress and fearsome whirling Dervish:
Polaire! The agitating and agitated Polaire! The tiny slip of a woman that you know, with the waist slender to the point of pain, of screaming out loud, of breaking in two...the phosphorus, the sulphur, the red pepper of that ghoulish, Salome-like face, the agitating and agitated Polaire!
What a devilish mimic, what a coffee-mill and what a belly-dancer! Yellow skirt tucked high, gloved in open-work stockings, Polaire skips, flutters, wriggles, arches from the hips, the back, the belly, mimes every kind of shock, twists, coils, rears, twirls... trembling like a stuck wasp, miaows, faints to what music and what words! The house, frozen with stupor, forgets to applaud.
What was performed on the stage in Paris of 1900 evidently took some time to get to America. Ten years later, after bubbling up from brothels and low dance halls, the "young set" of this country went "dance mad." (See an earlier post about the Grizzly Bear, Bunny Hug and the Turkey Trot)
Sheet music, drawing by C. Lavigne, 1900
M. DuFleuve, listed top right, is her brother
Picture from Polaire 1900
I'd love to get the back-story of this "Zippy the Pinhead" look. The intentionally grotesque character is fascinating for such a beautiful performer. Picture from Polaire 1900
My favorite image (above)— so vibrant, so kooky
Picture from Polaire 1900
postcard by Nadar, 1900
(the retouched photographer's stand, to help the subject keep still for the exposure, can still plainly be seen behind her legs) Picture from Polaire 1900
"the Female Torpedo" by Charles Leandre Picture from Polaire 1900
poster by Toulouse Lautrec, 1895. This seems to be her "gummy epileptic" dance!

Picture from Polaire 1900
Polaire was touted as having a 14-inch waist, though many of her publicity images (including this one) are noticeably retouched
As with a good many French performers, Polaire did not age well. She died in 1939.
Image above of Polaire (only) from Polaire 1900
Why is it that so many French women of a certain age seemed to shrivel into little hobgoblins? In later life, each appeared to have been issued a perennially dyspeptic expression, a slash of drawn-on brow, and an aureole of frazzled cotton-candy hair (often an unnatural shade of orange --see Jean-Claude Christo, and Sonia Rykiel).

* Michael Leddy tells me gommeuse may be "fop"—any French readers out there with additional information?

Images of Polaire are drawn from these very comprehensive French sites.


Connecticut sketches

For a brief moment I thought perhaps I should write a post about the new UK Space Agency logo or some other topical, relevant subject I've pondered recently. But then almost nothing of what I've written on this blog has ever bowed to the dictates of timeliness or relevance, so why start now. And so:
Historical Collections,
containing a
General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions,
Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, &c.
Relating to the
History and Antiquities
of Every Town in Connecticut,
Geographical Descriptions.
Illustrated by 190 Engravings.
by John Warner Barber.
 second edition.
New Haven:
Published by Durrie & Peck and J.W. Barber,Price: three dollars. *

I purchased this book for a few dollars at a local flea market not too long ago. It was gratifyingly cheap because the condition is so poor— the cover has fallen off, the fold out map is barely tethered to the spine, and virtually all the pages have foxing or are totally discolored. But every page is intact, including one at front with an inscription in brown ink ("H. P. Havens/ bo't 28 March 1838). I like the heft of the book, the substantial rustle of its 550+ cottony pages, the dark whorls of its marbled end papers. 

The numerous little engravings are of a piece: restrained, bucolic, charmingly naive. Within this engraver's earnest but narrow visual repertoire, most every town in Connecticut looks like another: white steepled churches and a few plain buildings set amidst gently rolling hills, enlivened, now and then by a coach, or a chimney belching smoke, that curious 19th century conceit that signals prosperity and purposeful diligence.

Content is a hodgepodge of pedantic identification ["South view of Fair Haven (western part.)"], colorful local lore (there's a surprisingly empathetic Indian presence), liberal use of extracts from old newspapers and town records on a seemingly random array of subjects, and curiously, transcriptions of epitaphs "copied from the monuments" in local burying grounds. This last practice appears to be de rigeur for the author, Mr. JW Barber, for imparting to his readers the true essence of each town: past highlights, if you will. An inscription found in Tolland:
Cap't Amos Fellows was captivated [sic] by ye British troops on ye Island of New York, Sept. 15, 1776, and was closely confined for several months, and there suffered repeated hardships, probably insupportable, died in captivity Feb. 16, 1777, in ye 48th year of his age. His remains are there still, and that his memory may be perpetuated, this monument is here erected by his son. A tribute of a tear is due to him who in his country's cause has lost his life.
Here's one for Molly, a young woman who died in 1792, aged 24:
Molly, tho' pleasant in her day,
was sudd'nly seiz'd and sent away.
How soon she's ripe, how soon she's rotten,
Laid in the grave and soon forgott'n.
Mr. Barber comments on the "rather unrefined" sentiment in that one.
Our author/narrator/tour guide compiled and edited this text in 1837, long ago in our past, but it isn't the 1830s that we learn much about— it's the people of his past that come most clearly into view. Barber relates or reprints many a stirring episode from the Revolution or from Colonial days, and a good number of odd and dramatic local anecdotes of fifty or a hundred years previous. When he returns to his own time, his narrative powers fail him and we're more likely to hear about the height of high tide or the situation of the local quarry.  

In Wethersfield we learn in detail about the tragic Beadle family murder-suicide: mother and five children "consigned over to better hands" by the father, who was "impatient to visit his God."

In Ridgefield we get the sad back story of Sarah Bishop, hermitess:
Her father's house was burnt by the British, and she was cruelly treated by a British officer. She then left society and wandered among the mountains near this part of the state, where she found a kind of cave near Ridgefield, where she resided till about the time of her death, which took place in 1810. She sometimes came down to Ridgefield to attend public worship on the Sabbath. It is said that the wild animals were so accustomed to see her, that they were not afraid of her presence. The following account of a visit to this hermitess, is taken from a newspaper printed at Poughkeepsie, in 1804. "She was without form. Her dress appeared little else than one confused and shapeless mass of rags, patched together without any order, which obscured all human shape, excepting her head, which was clothed with a luxuriancy of lank grey hair depending on every side, as she had formed it, without any covering or ornament. When she discovered our approach, she exhibited the appearance of a wild and timid animal, she started and hastened to her cave, which she entered, and barricadoed the entrance..."
Among the many extracts from old newspapers are several advertisements in this vein, reprinted without comment from the author :
Litchfield, Oct. 6, 1761.
Notice is hereby given, that there is now in Litchfield gaol, a mulatto fellow who calls himself Caesar Sambo, about 5 foot 10 speaks good English, well made, sprightly, about 25 years of age: says he is free... he was traveling without a pass...
A Likely Negro Wench and Child to be sold. — Inquire of the Printer. To be sold by the subscriber, of Branford, a likely Negro Wench, 18 years of age, is acquainted with all sorts of House Work; is sold for no fault. June 15, 1763.
*In 1838, this book cost $3 (or about $71 in today's money according to this site). I paid not too much more than the original price.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...