Tuesday with Mori

Oh sorry, that title's a really bad pun.

I came across the
Farber Gravestone Collection, a photographic resource
of 13,500 images documenting the carving on old gravestones and my heart did a leap. Oh so long ago I made a little book about gravestone carving for my senior project. It was mainly a graphic design exercise on the changing iconography of gravestones, but the text came out of a paper I wrote for a history class. What a help this collection would have been! The photos existed (most images the Farbers, a husband and wife team, took were from the 1970s and 80s) but they were on a shelf somewhere in the American Antiquarian Society and without the power of the internets, I was Farberless.
I knew that formally, Colonial graves had headstones and footstones, like a bed for the occupants' everlasting repose. This idea also lent the markers their distinctive headboard shape. What I learned was that they typically had carving on the outer sides of the stones, so the visitor-reader would not tread on the grave. Also, graves were positioned with occupants' feet to the East, so that come Judgment they would stand to face the rising sun.

Skulls, Death's heads, cherubs, hourglasses-- the symbols were often copied directly from engravings that came over from England. These were then copied again and again by dedicated stonemasons or itinerant carvers, mostly without the benefit of reference to the original design. Changed, embellished, streamlined and mutated by skilled intent or by lesser hands, the imagery is at once repetitive and wildly divergent. Truly bizarre figures emerge. Wings become decorative swirls, collars, mustaches. Leering Death's heads become benign cyphers, cherubs morph into strange stupefied-looking sexless trophy heads. Once the Puritan ethic loosens its grip, attempts at portraiture get added into the mix and things got really interesting. When the fashion for Neo-classicism trickled down to the gravemarker, winged messengers were supplanted by urns, willows, swags and often, a disembodied hand pointing skyward.
The inscriptions, too, can be fascinating in all their mangled phonetics and "ye Olde"-iness. Sometimes creepily elliptical ("RB. di'd 1712"), or filled with florid religious boilerplate, they can sometimes stop your heart with personal, real, specificity. At top, little Aaron Bowers, aged 2 years 10 months, was "instantly kill'd by a stack of boards" on September 12, 1791. And there he is, splayed out behind two planks.

My Trembling Heart with Grief overflows,
While I Record the death of Those;
Who died by Thunder Sent from Heaven,
In Seventeen hundred and Seventy Seven

Abraham Rice
struck by lightening

Framingham, Massachusetts


can you hear me now?

Oh, it's taking me forever to write my next post!
In the mean time
, a repost, with updates:
Recently I said to a friend that I found the recorded subway stop voices disappointing. Granted, the announcements are audible and intelligible but still. The hyper-enunciating, the shaky emphasis: these are not New York voices! Each time the "Q" and "B" woman in Brooklyn swallows "'DEE-kulb' Avenue" I grit my teeth. (It's "de-KALB" or "DEE-KALB" for emphasis.) Its like the staff of some mid-West hotel got into the control room. Keep local color in NYC!

Does anyone remember when taxis started playing announcements in the mid-nineties? The very first debut recording of these was in circulation for only a few months but it was a doozy. It
incorporated a voice of such stupendous color, such unaffected Outer Boroughness, such unintended hilarity that it is seared into my brain. (I regret there isnt an audio file I could find):

"Please make shoo-aw ta take awl of yaw belawngings, and dohn fuget to get a receipt frum tha dry-vuh.

The woman behind the voice (a secretary at the place that made
taxi meters) was pressed into service in a move of stunning naivete and sheer serendipitous brilliance. She became a brief pre-social media celebrity. If that happened today she'd have fan pages, followers and a reality series contract. //

I was barely reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about cell phone problems when, in a section about sound quality, I came across the intriguing term “Harvard sentences.” Evidently cellular systems engineers actually travel around the country testing signal quality-- somewhat like the familiar Verizon "can you hear me now" guy-- by sending out aural snippets known as Harvard sentences:

a collection of phonetically balanced sentences that measure a large range of different qualities in the human voice. These were originally published in 1969 as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers recommended practice for speech quality measurements.
The sentences go a little something like this (in random selection):
"She has a smart way of wearing clothing. These days a leg of chicken is a rare dish. Cars and buses stalled in snow drifts. Both lost their lives in the raging storm. The pencils have all been used. The stale smell of old beer lingers. The beetle droned in the hot June sun. A gold ring will please most any girl. When the frost has come it is time for turkey..."
Sort of open-mic beatnik free verse, no? I have the mental image of someone in a fluorescent-lit cubicle reciting all 200 sentences with overly precise diction into a large reel to reel tape recorder. No indication as to how they were named but I would guess Harvard is the stand-in for the concept of a precise ideal.

So I started thinking about pronunciation and the classic tone and phrasing found in movies and newsreels of the 1930s and 40s. Listen to
Katherine Hepburn, William Powell, Cary Grant, and notably, FDR whose "fear" was rendered as "fee-ah." Where did that manner came from, and more importantly, where did it go? I've found that what I've been talking about here is called "Mid-Atlantic English" according to wikipedia:
a style of speech formerly cultivated by actors for use in theatre, and by news announcers...institutions cultivated a norm influenced by the Received Pronunciation of southern England as an international norm of English pronunciation. According to William Labov, the teaching of this pronunciation declined sharply after the end of World War II.
It's a little New England, a little gin & tonic at the yacht races, with a dash of "thee-ay-tuh."

Little Edie Beale in Grey Gardens and any appearance by William F Buckley were
probably the last times I heard a version of this pronunciation. And what about its socio-economic and narrative opposite, the Toity-toid an' Toid /James Cagney New York Gangsterese? Hearing them creates as much a sense of temporal distance ("This is not now, I'm listening and watching something from the past") as the b/w of old footage or the style of period clothes...///

Amazing sound resource here

A civil war soldier remembers his experience on the morning Abraham Lincoln died.


recent acquisitions*

Saranac Lake, Adirondack Mountains, NY, c. 1905
I love crude old color lithography—
the kind that is made up from visible dots of poorly registered color.
With its oddball woody frame I think this might be one of my favorite postcards ever...
///  ///  ///

I've convinced myself that the mounted photos, below, are fairly interesting.
I plucked them from a big pile of mess, along with a few klunkers (on further consideration)
and couple mangled prints for $20 total. The lady was actually surprised that I just handed over the bill
without a protest, so maybe I overpaid. ha.
Who knew Seneca looked like a haggard beggar?
I guess dealing with Nero and being forced to commit suicide will take its toll.
"Balbo figlia, Museo di Napoli" by Roberto Rive (embossed stamp), c 1870s
Marcus Nonius Balbus was a governor of Herculaneum—and this must be the family!I find it funny that this kid's head is so inflated. A bulbous Balbo.
The Pantheon, Paris, and detail, by Albert Mansuy, c1860s
This site, which is selling this exact same albumen print for 32 euros, says,
"Albert Mansuy had a little studio in Paris and sold his work to Martinet retailer, rue Hautecoeur, Paris.
Scarce, rarer than Quinet, Levy, Neurdein & other studios."
The details are pretty great—Its 4:15 and the advertising kiosk features chocolate and "toothache" remedies
Pluto and Proserpina (Bernini)
*If you'd like, see other "Highlights from the Collection": A sporadic series of posts focusing upon some object or series chosen from amongst the piles in my apartment. A spotlight thrown on things curious or engaging in their unremarkableness.



Saulorme chair
Moiste chair
limited edition mirror for Couturelab
two images above, Elle Decor Spain
Tactoris commode, 2008
image by Diane Pernet— from her wonderful fashion world blog
image by Diane Pernet
he also does sculpture in bisque for Sevres!
black painted cotton rope and raffia on wood
cotton rope on wood with gold leaf (I believe)
I just read a wonderful piece on the New York Times T style site about artist Christian Astuguevieille. I'd never heard of him before but I now believe I love him. Except for the fact that he is perhaps a tad senior for me, is in another country, and is gay—he's my ideal man. He is a furniture designer, sculptor, collector, and the "nose" behind many of the intriguing fragrances produced by Comme des Garçons. (I have Avignon, from the Incense series, described as Gothic, "tapestries imbued with centuries of incense... with an almost eye-smarting, gloriously smoky and resinous heart") As a bonus, he seems partial to crisp white shirts (nice!) and his house in the south west of France appears to be fairly enchanting as well.

“Altering and deforming the original use of things is important to me.” Astuguevieille's work is informed by Japanese wabi-sabi (which I've briefly touched on a couple times before) and furoshiki (the art of wrapping objects in cloth bundles), but also tribal and cycladic forms. Now I'd like to know how to correctly pronounce his name.
see more at
Franziska Kessler gallery and Holly Hunt


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