Monday, November 25, 2013

The Family Photographer

Photograph by René Breguet
Last month, I featured a Halloween photograph by my maternal grandfather, René Breguet, and mentioned that he had thoroughly documented my childhood. And because a number of blogging friends have encouraged me to do so, today I'm sharing a few more of his photographs.

Above is a self-portrait of the photographer, using a timer on his Zeiss Ikon camera. Though the license plate has the number "37," I believe this car is a 1935 Cadillac V8.

Photograph by René Breguet
Here's an image of my maternal grandmother in the same car. She has just lowered a newspaper, the tip of which can be seen at the lower right. She was a constant knitter, and doubtlessly made the jacket she's wearing.

Photograph by René Breguet
Here's a photo of the photographer's father-in-law, my great-grandfather Cesar. He's standing in his vineyard in Ligerz, Switzerland, and behind him is a great lake called Bielersee. The landmass in the distant right is the island of Sankt-Petersinsel, which was a favorite spot of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Photograph by René Breguet
Of all my childhood photographs, this is my favorite. My grandfather loved taking photographs of me and the circumstance of this particular one is that I had finally tired of the grandfatherly paparazzi.

Photograph by René Breguet
Having said that, I want to add that I idolized my grandfather, and so this photograph has great meaning for me. At some point I was given a miniature toy camera, one that had no moving parts whatsoever, but which looked authentic. It delighted my grandfather that whenever he took a photograph, I would immediately move into his space to take an identical shot. Here you can see his shadow, including the Homburg hat that he always wore.

Photograph by René Breguet
I spent innumerable hours with my grandfather in museums and galleries. Here I am at the National Gallery of Art, Saturday, March 27, 1954. I never tired of my grandfather's company because he was that unusual adult who never talked down to children. In retrospect, I'm sure that on this particular Saturday he explained the meaning behind any of the paintings that interested me.

Photograph by René Breguet
My grandfather enjoyed photographing art at the National Gallery and kept several photographic albums of paintings and sculptures for his own reference. This is my favorite of that series.

Photograph by René Breguet
Here I am studying a beautifully illustrated Bible. I still remember that afternoon.

Photograph by René Breguet
This is my favorite photograph of my brothers, taken in 1950. My understanding of my grandfather's work has evolved through the years. Because I grew up with his photographs, I knew them first as familiar images and accepted them simply as that. With time, I regarded them as good portraits, and more recently I've realized that they're fine psychological studies.

My grandfather was a psychiatrist, and a great observer of human nature. He was an engaging conversationalist with children and adults alike, and because his camera was also ever-present, his portraits — like the one above — have a very candid aspect. Certainly the words, "Say cheese!" never crossed his lips.

Photographs by René Breguet
These are Neoclassic toy chests that my father painted around the time that he was stationed in Occupation Germany. During World War II, munitions were sent to the front in such wooden crates, and after the war there was a surplus of these. While many were doubtlessly broken down for firewood during an historically cold winter, others were put to more creative use.

Photograph by René Breguet
This is my father and me on Mother's Day, 1957. My father was about to leave on a business trip. I like this photograph for three reasons. First, I like that it's an image Norman Rockwell could easily have painted; though it's not posed, it's how Rockwell would have posed his subjects. Second, the photo perfectly captures my father as I remember him. And finally, I love that the background looks like a painted studio backdrop, but it is in fact one of the streets of my childhood.

Photograph by René Breguet
Oh, my gosh, I loved this car! It was red and to my mind, very classy. I think my grandfather knew my pride in it. I don't know where I'd put it, but I wish I still had it.

Photograph by René Breguet
This is a photograph of my mother in 1958. She's wearing my grandfather's watch chain as a necklace, and from it hangs a Serbian Red Cross medal my grandfather was awarded during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.

Photograph by René Breguet
When my grandfather wasn't photographing our family, he photographed many evocative images that he entered into photographic shows around the country. He called this Fantasie.
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Designing a Conestoga Wagon

click to enlarge   |   Illustration by Mark D. Ruffner, 1973
My blogging friend Gina of Gina Ceramics recently posted a riveting story about a pioneer family and the scary maneuvering of their Conestoga Wagon. You can read about it here. The story reminded me that I had done an illustration of a Conestoga for the Scott Paper Company, back in the 1970s.

I stained balsa wood blue and inset it into an illustration board, then drew around the sunken "implant" with colored pencils. Today, of course, I'd do it in half the time digitally.

Conestoga Wagons were made by the Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Because the Pennsylvania Dutch cartwrights traditionally painted their wagons blue, and the Pennsylvania Dutch wheelwrights traditionally painted their wheels red, the Conestoga wagon is almost always seen in this color combination.

Illustration by Robert Layport, 1973
The toolboxes that hung on the side of the wagon had wrought iron hinges, and the hinge designs, also coming from Lancaster County, are evocative of German metalwork.

Illustration by Paul Rendel or John Banks, 1973
Quoting from the Scott Paper sample: "Shoeing a wheel in a hot cloud of sweat, steam and smoke. Iron rims were cut a full ¾ inch smaller than the circumference of the wheel. They were heated red hot, sledged into place, then doused with water. The iron contracted violently, tightened all the wooden joints, and further emphasized the "dish" in the wheel."

click to enlarge

click to enlarge   |   Scott Paper Company
The Conestoga Wagon was used in the early 1700s when colonial settlements were established in the Appalachians, and into the late 1800s, as pioneers moved all the way to the West Coast.
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Finest Cafeteria in the South

"The Finest Cafeteria in the South." So says an early postcard of St. Petersburg's Tramor Cafeteria, built in 1929.

A prime example of Mediterranean Revival architecture, the interior was designed to resemble the patio of a Spanish hacienda, complete with arches, balconies and a condiment station that could just as easily be a fountain. The ceiling is a painted sky, just as it was in 1929.


Back in the 1930s a small band would play on the balcony seen below. I wonder if lunch patrons ever danced to the music? I'll bet they did.

In 1980, the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) bought the Tramor and renovated it. The Tramor reopened as a staffer's cafeteria in 1985, and I've had many meals there. For a little privacy, the balcony area was always a good choice (below).


The publisher requested that I design a sign for the entrance, and I created this image, which is about five feet wide, maybe a little wider.

I wanted to convey a 1930s atmosphere, so I used a typeface called Mona Lisa. It was originally designed by Albert Auspurg in the 1930s, and updated for modern use in 1991 by Pat Hickson.

You'll notice that there are no people in these photographs and that this wonderful landmark looks quite bare. That's because financial strains have caused the newspaper to put the Tramor up for sale, and there are no takers in sight.

The Tramor is still open to newspaper staffers, but this is the only food served there these days.
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Another Strange Victorian Pastime

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm interested in graphology. Because of that, I've collected tomes that often reference the old-fashioned autograph book. In Victorian times, people — including Queen Victoria herself — enjoyed collecting autographs. In the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, people also kept pig books, books filled with pigs that had been drawn blindfolded!

It's rather delightful to see the eminent people who tried their hand at drawing pigs blindfolded, and below are just a few. They all came from the same pig book, and are included in The Stein and Day Book of World Autographs, by Ray Rawlins.

Robert, Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts
King Carlos I of Portugal,
Sir Rufus Isaacs, Marquess of Reading, Viceroy of India, Chief Justice
King Gustav VI of Sweden
Sir C. Aubrey Smith, cricket player, actor
I revived the practice at a recent dinner party, and it was great fun! Here's our own collection of pigs:

The gathering enjoyed resurrecting this Victorian pastime, and we all agreed that Judy's had by far the most character.

Since posting, my blogging friend Jim of Road to Parnassus has sent a pig he drew blindfolded. Frankly, I'm jealous of his pigability!
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Friday, November 1, 2013

Books That Inspire

Architectural Digest, January 2013
If you are like I am, magazine images like the ones above and below make you pause and inspect what inspires their owners. It can be very insightful. And I always get a secret satisfaction knowing that a designer and I have a title or two in common.

click to enlarge  |  Architectural Digest, January 2013
Oscar de la Renta loosely alphabetizes his books, and collects ones from Goya to Raj India, to those of his competitors.

Recently, my blogging friend Alan Carrol of Surface Fragments asked artists to reveal some of their reference material by sending photographs of their bookshelves. His posting — Alan's been good enough to link many of the books to book sellers — is interesting and a valuable resource. While you're at his site, browse through his many excellent and erudite posts.

You can also read about my own Dover books, here.
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