Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dem Bones

Two views inside the Catacombs, Paris, France.

Photography is not permitted. Oops, pardon!

Below, another bonus from hanging around the columbarium.

Can't decide whether to dress as Beavis or Butthead tonight.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Der Panther

While I'm on this big cat poetry jag, here's one more personal favorite, Der Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke. I looked for and found several pictures to go with this post, but somehow they seem to disrespect the poem. There are a number of fine translations, each having its merits, but I'm going with this one today.

The Panther

In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
that it no longer holds anything anymore.
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
which circles down to the tiniest hub
is like a dance of energy around a point
in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise
without a sound . . . then a shape enters,
slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart, and dies.

translation by Robert Bly

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tiger Tiger

Paint by Number, Signed Katreen, 1955. Reminds me of the vivid embroidered jackets that soldiers brought back from Japan and Korea.

THE TYGER (from Songs Of Experience)

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


A continuous cold rain all day today brought to mind this unusual make-do textile. It's a blanket made from embroidered armbands sewn together. The armbands were distributed to volunteer members of the U. S. Army Air Force Aircraft Warning Service, citizens who were enlisted to observe the skies for enemy aircraft during World War II. They received training in identifying various aircraft, and there were flash cards and models made as aids. Recognition clubs flourished and were a major social phenomenon of the day. There were competitions and "bees." On the West Coast, NBC had a weekly radio broadcast called "Eyes, Aloft," with Henry Fonda as a principal actor. As many as 750,000 people, the majority of them women, participated

As part of the waste-not, want-not ethos of the time, some enterprising person took advantage of the leftovers to make this warm wool blanket.

Monday, October 26, 2009

1. Human Zoos 2. Bad Information

The photograph posted here brings up two issues. I guess they should be approached separately.

One, it's evidence of a remarkable practice in modern history, the assembling of human zoos. Explorers and adventurers have long returned home with living human specimens for display, as Columbus did when he took indigenous "Americans" back to Spain in 1493. One of the Medicis, a Cardinal, is supposed to have assembled a collection of people of different races, as well as animals, in the 1600s. But this practice really got into high gear in the late 19th century, with exhibitions of humans in Hamburg, Barcelona, London, Milan, New York and Paris. They were wildly popular. Nubians from Sudan, Inuit (Esquimaux) from Labrador, Samoans - it must have been astonishing for Caucasians to see these strangely different (yet similar) people. The 1889 Parisian World's Fair had over 400 indigenous people as a major attraction. As bizarre as the practice may seem by our standards, I think that these displays must have been truly marvelous, and in keeping with human curiosity. So I don't presume to judge them too harshly for what could be characterized in contemporary sensibility as exploitation. But I doubt that the onlookers learned much truth about the people they were staring at.

The second issue is related to the first, at least in the pictures I've posted here. Recently I read some disagreement about who was pictured in a photograph. One side relied on the caption on the back side of the photograph as proof of who was depicted; the other side's opinion, based on having seen other images of the person, was that the caption was wrong.

So have a look at the photograph here. It was taken at the 1889 Parisian World's Fair. On the back is a pencil inscription identifying the people shown as a "Group of Africans." I think you'll agree that at most two of them may be African. The others appear to be Asian - my guess is from Southeast Asia. Maybe their clothing and accessories are authentic; maybe they're theatrical. Maybe the person labeling the photograph was misinformed or simply careless.

I'd say whatever truth was there to be gleaned from the exhibition or the photograph, you wouldn't find it without first distrusting what you're being told or shown.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Selling Sin

This is a very scarce book, titled simply Blue Book. It was published in New Orleans around 1912. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a directory of the prostitutes of that city, who worked in a defined area called the Tenderloin District or Storyville. "This is the boundary in which the women are compelled to live, according to law." The women are categorized by their race - white, colored or octoroon - then listed alphabetically. There are a lot of names. You'll see the page reminding readers that the book may not be mailed. The listings are supplemented by pages advertising restaurants, nightclubs, cigars and booze. Today a copy will cost you several thousand dollars.

I think most of the history of America is written in its advertising.

Graphic And To The Point

The maker of this homemade sign needed only four words to get his message across and to do the right thing. Not bad.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tallulah Gorge

Generous friends gave us the use of their mountain house for the weekend. (Thanks, T & S!) Nearby is the Tallulah Gorge, a spectacular 2-mile long, 1000-feet deep canyon. It is very. far. down. there. One of these pictures was taken through an old lens that distorts the image depending on how it's turned. And yes, the power lines are strung so that they're always a part of the view.

Near one of the overlook areas is a country store which has a wall devoted to a tightwire walk across the gorge by Karl Wallenda, of the Flying Wallendas family, back in 1970. The wall and its ephemeral paper souvenirs of the day are now sort of a neglected, moldy afterthought. (Notice that in the publicity photo of Mr. Wallenda and his balance pole, he's standing on the floor.) He crossed successfully that day. He was 65 years old, and traveled 1200 feet, doing two headstands on the way. 30,000 people watched. I wonder what they were hoping to see. A note at the bottom shows that eventually, he dared the devil once too often.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Missing the Point

19th century CDV. Somehow I'm more interested in her than him. Here's a little bit about being a "target girl."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Keep Me Warm

I saw this quilt yesterday and am still visiting the image today. Case Antiques Auctions in Knoxville, TN sold it last year for $2310. Here is their description:

Rare Watauga County, North Carolina quilt. Made by Nancy Lucinda Horton, b.1824 Watauga Co., NC. The Great Divide/Rocky Mountain pattern with appliqué and reverse appliqué with long seams hand sewn with chrome yellow, indigo with lighter blue print, double pink, printed turkey red, indigo with chrome orange print. The quilting pattern consists of feathered cross in center of blocks, corner sunbursts. border has feathered vine with half inch diagonal lines in background.

To Nancy Lucinda Horton, a blue ribbon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Make a Joyful Noise

In descending chronological order, some folks making a joyful noise with a squeezebox. The first is a snapshot from the 50s, then a member of a hosiery convention in the 20s, then a daguerreotype circa 1860.

When I was very young, a traveling salesman of accordions came by our rural home. He persuaded my mother to let my older brother have a go with his contraption, though there was no chance we'd be buying one. My brother squeezed some cacophonous racket out of the thing, and our little terrier Wink threw her head back and howled in harmony.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bow And Arrow

I like this figural sign for its folkiness, and the paradox of the grouping of birdhouses around it, stationary homes for their mobile residents. It's near a national park preserving Indian mounds, thus the Bow & Arrow name.

By posting this picture I mean no disrespect to mobile homes. In fact, I resent the belittling of people who live in them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Falling to Earth

The first two images show the beautiful abstract patterns of the earth as seen from a plane. The rest of them are from the same group of pictures, only they tell the story of why they were taken. These were all found bound together in a manila folder, along with many others. Some have annotations on the back with the date, September of 1944, and the locations, mostly eastern Europe. Several have grease pen notes on the photo, like the red circle, or "Axis of Attack, 308 degrees." In some you can see the bombs falling toward earth, and then some with the resulting effects on earth or water. The last one is Budapest.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


There's something about an object that has survived despite being abused. I knew a collector who wanted things that had been repaired, including wood, ceramic and metal, and the more obvious and expressive the treatment, the better. She called them mends and make-do's. I enjoyed seeing the things she'd found, for the cleverness, the frugality, and the honest results of age they showed. There's a real authenticity to those things.

Occasionally I find photographs that have been repaired, like this one of some men who worked as traveling salesmen of lightning rods. Maybe their on-the-road lifestyle was the reason the picture sustained the damage it did. Anyway, here it is a hundred years later, showing some character.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nature Morte

Found this fellow on my deck yesterday, lying on his back.

Now that he's very still, I can marvel at leisure.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Band of Brothers

Panoramic photograph of a Black fraternal organization. As much as I can determine from reading words appearing in the photograph, these men are members of the Menelik Temple, Doko #1, from Chicago, Illinois. One of the few books on the subject of black fraternal groups refers to one named the Royal Order of Menelik. (Ethiopia had an emperor named Menelik in the late 19th and early 20th century.) There are railroad cars and tents behind them, so they must have been attending a grand assembly. Certainly they dressed up in full regalia for the occasion.