Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Dear blogging friends,
I wish you a happy new year,
and as this colorful bird
from 133 years ago suggests,
may it also be a jolly one!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Dinner at the Pier
This is where friends and I had our Christmas dinner. It's the Pier, in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Pier, an inverted pyramid built in the 1970s, replaced the older Mediterranean pier shown below. Amazingly, the pilings of the "new" pier are already deteriorating, and the city wants to replace it with something entirely new and different.

We arrived at sunset, and had fun watching this little boy feed pelicans. Because people can fish at the Pier, the pelicans stay close, waiting for unused bait.

Occupying the whole top of the Pier is a branch of the Columbia Restaurant. I blogged about the original restaurant in a July posting, here.

The atmosphere of the Pier's Columbia is reminiscent of the Ybor restaurant, with dramatic tile work.

It has a gift store that's almost entirely majolicaware.

We enjoyed sangria and excellent Spanish dishes, but saved room to have dessert and coffee at the home of my friends Sandy and Greg.

I hope you all had a happy Christmas
and were able to share with loved ones!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Dear Blogging Friends,
This old card reads,
"May this greeting,
 sent to thee,
 Fill thy heart with
Christmas glee!"

More than 100 years later,
the sentiment remains the same.
I wish you a very merry Christmas! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas 1915

My grandfather Ruffner worked for the Eastman Kodak Company during its early days, so my father's childhood was as well documented as one's family life might have been decades later. (In fact we have indoor home movies from the 1920s.)

Here's an image of my father and grandmother looking at his first Christmas tree, in 1915. He was almost a year old. The lights are lit candles, and my father — who remembered later trees with candles — said that there was always a bucket of water nearby, and that the lit candle-viewing would last for only about a minute.

Here's a Christmas ornament from that very same long-ago tree. Every year it gets packed into a box of its own.

click to enlarge
Here's what my dad received as gifts in 1915. My grandfather made the wooden toy box, and then, rather than paint it, covered it with a tan wallpaper.

I hope you enjoyed this "Kodak moment!"


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ever Wonder About Mince Meat?

This time of year, I always look forward to having some mince meat pie. Like this boy from my Atmore's trade card (probably dating to the 1870s), I'm ready to drop everything and indulge.

As I look at the card's reverse, and indeed every time I mull the term "mince meat," I wonder about the meat part. Every mince meat I've ever eaten has been store-bought and richly fruity, but where's does the meat part come into play?

Well, I've been researching mince meat on the site, and if you want an authentic recipe — at least the way Grandma Myers made it — go here. It makes for interesting reading. And for heaven's sake, let me know if you try the recipe!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Souvenirs As Christmas Tree Ornaments

My parents were avid travelers and explorers, and they always bought Christmas ornaments in countries where they were stationed. Their tree held glass ornaments from Czechoslovakia, wooden turnip-domed churches from Germany and strings of bells from the Far East.

As the years progressed, they started to see Christmas ornaments in the every-day life of places they visited. This colorful icon, for example, is identical to one that hung from the rear-view mirror of their Athens cab driver.

I believe this is a Japanese baby's ball — when it rolls, it rattles. It's also about five inches in diameter, so it was always hung from the bottom of the tree.
This is also a toy, made in Vietnam.

This is a lovely Japanese ornament, though it wasn't intended as a Christmas tree decoration.

I followed my parents example and through the years have added items to my tree that were just as much about remembering life experiences as they were about finding a decoration. This is a little angel from Mexico, only about three inches tall. It's clay that was fired black, and I painted it gold.

I found this coral while walking on an airstrip on Wake Island, in 1965. It would look interesting on an end table, but it's always lived on my Christmas tree. And at Christmastime, I remember a particular day in 1965 . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Evolving Taste in Christmas Ornaments

When I was growing up, my family had a fun Christmas tradition. Every year the five of us would go into town a day or so before we got our tree, and we'd each pick out one new Christmas ornament. Then each year as we decorated the tree, ornaments would call to mind the different places we had lived, and the different choices each family member had made.

Here's my choice for the year 1956 (I have of course catalogued all the ornaments). The next year I chose a snowman in similar style, but alas, he has not survived.

Here's my choice in 1959. It's a paper-maché ball made in West Germany. I find it rather alarming these days to see the same exact thing in antique stores!

1962 was a little different. I may have found a store-bought ornament, but I also made this one from a real egg. The gold florals are authentic die-cut scraps that came from a mail order place called the Brandon Company. It was a business that grew out of the discovery of a whole inventory of Victorian scraps in a barn! (I spent a lot of allowance money ordering from the Brandon Company.)

My ornament for 1976 was this replica of an antique grape cluster (or is it a pine cone?). It's more than 25 years old by now, so it might be an antique in its own right.

In 1979, I bought this delightful glass gyroscope at a favorite antique store in Pittsburgh. I'll be sharing more ornaments later in upcoming posts.

Friday, December 7, 2012

10 Noteworthy Portraits of Women

My blogging friend Yvette of In So Many Words recently posted on 10 female portraits she'd love to own. I don't have enough wall space for 10 more portraits, but I thought today I'd share 10 portraits of women that I enjoy studying (the portraits, I mean!). We'll look at them in the order they were painted.

This is a portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, painted by Ghirlandaio in 1488. Giovanna was a young noblewoman who died in childbirth that same year. The painting is rich in detail, and yet has a flatness that appeals to me for its very graphic quality. The beautifully modeled face contrasts with straight lines and simple shapes that could make a cubist's heart skip a couple of beats. I view this as a very modern painting, along the line of an early work by David Hockney.

Leonardo da Vinci painted Cecilia Gallerani circa 1490, about two years after Ghirlandaio's portrait of Giovanna. Cecilia was the 16-year-old mistress of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, for whom Leonardo produced many designs ranging from battlements to party decorations. The ermine is most certainly symbolic — as well as representing purity, it was the Duke's heraldic animal. I like this portrait for that graceful hand, and it's interesting that Leonardo mirrored the ermine's paw with equal grace. Few people have painted more beautiful hands than da Vinci, though, as one looks more closely at the painting, it really isn't the hand of a 16-year-old!

Lady With a Red Hat was painted by Johannes Vermeer in 1666, and came to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. through the collection of Andrew Mellon. I have a hunch that Vermeer was an alien time-traveler who ended up in the Netherlands with a knowledge of light from beyond our own time. His incredible highlights and diffused edges suggest that he studied optics and perhaps even used optic devices to which his contemporaries were not privy.

Here's a portrait of Mrs. Ezekiel Goldthwait (Elizabeth Lewis), painted by John Singleton Copley in 1771. This painting has special meaning for me because as a young artist I came to the realization, through copying it, that colors always appear more vibrant when they are juxtaposed with dark neutrals. Copley's finest portraits consistently feature bright spots that leap out of very muted palettes.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

As I look back over the portraits included so far, I notice a lot of fine fabrics. What can I say — I like luxe! And few excelled at that as well as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who painted this portrait of Princess de Broglie in 1853. Ingres' detailed rendering of satins, paisleys and jewelry made him popular in the French court, and yet he regarded portraits as the lesser of his work. Compare this image with the one of Mrs. Goldthwait, and you see that both artists rendered luxury in the bottom half of the painting and then reserved the top half for the face to pop out of simplicity. In each case, the painting is divided almost exactly in half.

By contrast, Franz Xaver Winterhalter's 1859 portrait of Countess Lamsdorff is busy-ness through and through. And yet, we are drawn — despite all the detail — to the sitter's face. How does that happen?

First, Winterhalter paints many lines in both the dress and the natural elements that converge on the face. And if that were not enough, he creates a spiral of movement around the face, sort of a visual vortex.

See how the shadow around the bottom of the dress forms an arc that moves up into the tree and around the head? Brilliant!

Alphonse Mucha painted Zodiac in 1896. His compositions are interesting because he used layers of decorative detail to form essentially solid blocks of color. Lush background detail is outlined in lighter colors or thinner lines, while the portrait itself gets a heavy black outline. But even here, that outline modulates to lightness as it moves down the neck and into the neckline. Isn't it interesting to see the different ways that artists simultaneously lavish and curb detail?

click to enlarge  |
Carl Larsson's 1906 portrait of his wife Karin is interesting in that the center of the composition is her azalea. Looking at Larsson's work, one can appreciate what a natural drawer and superb draftsman he was. It seems to me as though he must neither have used an eraser nor ever blotted a line.

Pinterest  |  Robert Sobsey

Tamara de Lempicka is one of my favorite artists — I've linked to her biography because it's such interesting reading. I've always been intrigued (and a little jealous) of artists who attain such a recognizably distinct style. This is a 1928 portrait of Arlette Boucard, daughter of Dr. Pierre Boucard, also painted by Lempicka (and an interesting story in itself). Tamara de Lempicka's work is sometimes described as "soft cubism," and I'd be hard-pressed to name anyone who surpasses in that genre. It's as though Ingres meets Leger in the form of one person.

My final choice for this posting is this stunning portrait by Pietro Annigoni (1910 – 1988). I'm sorry to say that I can't identify the sitter — perhaps a reader can help me fill in the blank. Annigoni was highly influenced by the Italian Renaissance, and his paintings seem more a continuation of that period rather than a reinterpretation. His work often reminds me of Hans Holbein, and so it seems fitting that Annigoni was made famous worldwide by his 1956 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Bunch of Squirrels Do My Decorating

I have several pine trees in my yard and am forever picking up pine cones. When my blogging friend Loi of Tone on Tone posted photos of bleached pine cones — along with his posting on mercury glass — I thought I'd share a different sort of pine cone decoration.
You see, I have about eight squirrels living in my yard, and they stay busy in the fall chewing the pine cones down to the core. I think these husks are wonderfully sculptural, and as I've picked up many dozen of them, I've started grading them, and saving the ones most neatly trimmed. (It's my collecting instinct kicking in once again.)

I love the overall texture that my squirrely decorators have worked so diligently to create, and so I've grouped the pine husks in a bowl, almost like potpourri.

I'm thinking it could use another natural element, or two. What would you add?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

J. C. Ayer's — A Famous Cure-All

I was looking through my collection of 19th century trade cards and noticed that I had several issued by the J. C. Ayer Company.

Small wonder, for Ayer's was one of the most successful American patent medicines of the 1800s. As you can see by the reverse of this charming card for pills, the company made very wide claims (below).

Yes, this dinner pill will cure jaundice, numbness and headaches! As you can see in the next image, Ayer's Sarsaparilla is a remedy for so much more:

I'm not sure if there was much difference between Ayer's Sarsaparilla and Ayer's Cherry Pectoral.
Dr. James Cook Ayer (1818-1878) graduated from medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and rather than practice medicine, he spent his life in pharmaceutical chemistry. He established a factory in Lowell, Massachusetts, and through his very successful merchandising, amassed a fortune of more than $20,000,000.

Ayer's  medicines — which certainly have the ring of quackery — were in fact continually evolving formulas, to the extent that after the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, the J. C. Ayer Company was able to remain in business. In fact, the company continued selling medicines through the 1920s.
Dr. Ayer adopted the image of the lion as a symbol of health and strength, and his cemetery monument with a giant marble lion is now a Lowell landmark. To see what happens to the Ayer lion in winter, go here.