Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year's Eve!

I haven't decided how to spend my evening.
I might go out and visit all my usual haunts ...

... or I might just stay home and read.

Have a happy, safe celebration —
and visit tomorrow for three pages
of antique photography!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two Views of One Lamp Pole

This is a lamp pole that's at one of St. Petersburg's main intersections.
If you want to post a sign in a prime spot, you've got to use a big nail!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Elegant Illustrations of Elliott Banfield

Elliott Banfield (b. 1945) is a contemporary illustrator whose masterful line work is reminiscent of fine engravings from another time. His work has appeared for years in the New York Times Book Review and in many other publications, including The Wall Street Journal, American Heritage and Time magazine.

New York Times Book Review

James Baldwin, New York Times Book Review

John Updyke, New York Times Book Review

Banfield studied architecture, printmaking and painting before becoming an illustrator. His distinctive classical style has remained through transitions from ...

... pen and ink drawing ...

A pen and ink drawing for American Heritage

... to scratchboard illustration ...

A scratchboard illustration

... to computer illustration ...

George Will, a computer illustration

Illustration for the Claremont Review of Books

Detail of an illustration of Winston Churchill for American Spectator, from a Karsh photograph

Banfield's line work is often compared to that of the 19th century French master,
J. J. Grandville.

Detail of an illustration by J. J. Grandville

Illustration for the American Enterprise Institute

Above is a computer illustration of the Supreme Court, by Elliott Banfield.
An extensive portfolio of his work can be found here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day!

Our regular postings resume tomorrow.

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas ...

... and visions of sugar-plums danced through their heads.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas 1914

One of my favorite possessions is this brass box. It was designed as a 1914 Christmas gift from King George V's daughter, Princess Mary, to each and every person in the British armed forces. The box was distributed with gifts of candy and tobacco, and money for the monumental project was collected from public donations. Possibly the most interesting thing about this artifact is that the British were confident enough that WWI would last only a few months that they used up so much brass as a (lovely) gesture. To read more about H.R.H. Princess Mary's Christmas box, go here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Present, 1874

Inscribed "Christmas Present 1874 to Clara Winter
from her German Teacher J. Range"

I don't want to leave viewers with the impression that this book was constructed
with trifolds; I used the triple-page format just to display the entire book.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Allure of Spanish Moss

This is an old engraving of Spanish moss that appeared a century ago in Harper's Weekly. As I was growing up in northern U. S. cities, it was also a romanticized vision I had of the South. Little did I know that I would end up living in a house engulfed by Southern Live Oaks, all draped with Spanish moss!

These are all views of my back yard. Two giant Southern Live Oaks hover over my house, providing shade, cooler temperatures in the hot summer, and a rather exotic scenery.

Spanish moss grows in high-humidity and warm climates, from Virginia all the way down to Argentina. It absorbs all its nutrients through the air and through rainfall. There's an on-going debate as to whether or not Spanish moss kills host trees. When one sees such dense groupings as pictured above, and then a tree like the one below, it's easy to draw that conclusion.

Experts say that Spanish moss rarely kills trees, though. It can impede growth, but because Spanish moss hangs below limbs, it still allows the oaks to get the sunlight necessary to survive. Far more dangerous are vines that completely encircle tree limbs.

Spanish moss can be very decorative. Lots of people "harvest" the moss from the oaks and put it in planters, much like mulch. Friends occasionally make requests for some of my moss.

There's a flower pot on my kitchen window sill, and a little dormouse resides in it year round. He's always in a happy and contented sleep, in part because I make sure to regularly change the Spanish moss that is his comfy bed!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Reinventing the Wheel

My friend Yvonne always thinks of the cleverest gifts, and about a year ago she surprised me with a book by Jessica Helfand called Reinventing the Wheel. It's a compendium of all those wonderful rotation devises so many companies have sold or given away as advertising through the years. Helfand writes at length about the origins of these wonders. They go back hundreds of years, were first used primarily as astronomy charts, and were called "volvelles." The math wheel above dates to the 1920s, and somebody learned their lessons well enough to earn a gold star in each corner of the wheel.

This colorful wheel from 1931 features 40 Wonders of the World on the reverse.

This rather Art Deco wheel dates to 1932, when Myanmar, Thailand and Iran
were still Burma, Siam and Persia.

This 1933 nail gauge had a "loop" at the top so that it could be hung
in the nail section of a hardware store.

World War II saw a lot of these spotters, for airplanes, ships, insignia, etc.

This wheel looks decidedly Victorian, but it was actually designed for Holt, Rinehart & Winston by Aaron Heller in 1973. It's a spelling aid - the middle letter is stationary, while the beginning and ending letters revolve to form new words.

I enjoyed the book so much that I started rummaging through my own materials to see if I had a wheel, too. And here it is - my proportion wheel, which I still use occasionally for scaling items. I'll bet you've got a "volvelle" or two at your house.

Reinventing the Wheel is a most entertaining book, with wheels on everything from gestation periods for breeders, to presidential quizzes, to good old color wheels. And needless-to-say, it is richly graphic!

A Winterhouse Edition
Princeton Architectural Press

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thomas Jefferson's Trompe l'Oeil

Thomas Jefferson makes for very interesting reading because he was both brilliant and quirky. There can be no denying that he was obsessive/compulsive. He had an odometer on his carriage, literally had every bean from his gardens counted, and thought nothing of tearing down his house and starting over. Jefferson's pursuit of architectural perfection for his home was endless, and accounts from Monticello's steady stream of guests reveal that the place was a busy construction site and in constant upheaval throughout Jefferson's life. Only in our time is it complete and serene.

Now I'll share one of my favorite details from Monticello, a clever solution to a problem that would have eaten away at our third president's perfect vision.

Jefferson wanted a balustrade to go completely around the roof line of the house. I've shown that by color coding it blue. The problem is that the balustrade would be interrupted as it met the exterior wall of the dome (shown in red).

Jefferson's solution was to have a very thin, flat balustrade affixed to the side of the dome, so that there would be an optical continuity.

And from the ground level, it works perfectly. Incidentally, Jefferson was an avid billiards player, and the dome originally housed a billiards table. Unfortunately for Jefferson, Virginia outlawed billiards, and the dome fell into disuse. Susan R. Stein, author of The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, writes of Margaret Bayard Smith's impression of the dome, when Smith visited Monticello in 1809:

'[Jefferson] afterwards took us to the drawing room, 26 or 7 feet diameter, in the dome. It is a noble and beautiful apartment, with eight circular windows and a sky-light. It was not furnished and being in the attic story is not used, which I thought a great pity as it might be made the most beautiful room in the house."

The image of the dome interior is from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation.
All other images are from Jefferson's Monticello, William Howard Adams, 1983.
Photography by Langdon Clay.