Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cigar City

CB-ers refer to Tampa as "Cigar City," but the real cigar city is a neighborhood of Tampa called Ybor (pronounced ē-bor) City. Vincente Martinez-Ybor, a wealthy Spanish cigar manufacturer from New York and Key West began development of Ybor City in 1885. In 1886, 500 Cuban cigarmakers boarded the sidewheeler Hutchinson in Key West and sailed for Tampa. By the end of the year, there were more than 3,000 workers in Ybor, and for the next 40 years, Ybor City was the "Cigar Capital of the World."

Cubans, Spanish, Italians and Jews settled in Ybor, and one of the factors that made the community thrive is that the different groups established Mutual Aid Societies, clubs that were the centers for social, intellectual and business life. Above is the Italian club.
In the society of cigarmakers, one of the most respected and prominent men was the lector. Cigarmakers would each pay a weekly subscription of 25¢, which paid the salary of a talented reader. The lector would spend the morning reading the newspaper aloud while the cigarmakers rolled tobacco at rows of desks that were known as a gallery. In the afternoon, the lector would return to read a novel, often mimicking different voices. The cigarmakers, while not all literate, were nonetheless very well-informed.
In this photo from 1929, you can see the lector in the upper right corner, sitting in a chair that resembles a lifeguard's roost. The lector would have needed a strong voice in any event, but perhaps by 1929 he had some amplification.

I believe the lector in the last photograph might have been reading in this building, which was a cigar factory, and now offices.

Other cigarmakers flocked to Ybor City, and evidence of that time is still seen there. In fact, even today one can go into several tobacco stores and watch a cigar being rolled.

A relatively new shopping mall, Centro Ybor, uses a cigar label image as its logo.

Ybor's cigarmaking peaked in 1929, and then the Great Depression caused a steady decline of the neighborhood. In recent years, Ybor has revitalized. The streets, above, are sleepy during the daytime but turn into a hot night spot.

Newer buildings, like this Hampton Inn, echo the older brick architecture.

You might also enjoy the story of my own cigar label design, which can be found here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Victorian Metamorphic Cards

Metamorphic cards were popular in the later part of the 19th century, but are rarer finds for today's advertising collector. They were folded to show a before view . . .

. . . and then opened to reveal a surprise ending. 

Buckingham's Dye must have been a popular brand because it's the most common of the Victorian metamorphic cards. Before, and . . .

. . . after!

And don't we suppose that it was very, very dark? The back of the Buckingham card promotes another hair product, Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer. Its makes for some interesting reading:

Does it do anything for sore feet or ulcers?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Florida's Rarest, Most Colorful Coral Reef

St. Petersburg, Florida's premier crafts gallery, Florida Craftsman, is currently hosting a fiber coral reef, a coral reef that is completely crocheted!

With the assistance of local marine scientists — there are more than 1,500 in St. Petersburg — 267 artists from England, Norway, Canada, Mexico, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and all around Florida have contributed to a crocheted coral reef.

The project is in conjunction with a similar coral reef exhibit that's been traveling around the country since 2007.

I noticed that crocheting especially lends itself to brain coral patterns.

Quoting from the gallery legend, "Corals are made up of colonies of tiny animals known as coral polyps. these coral polyps can create a variety of structures, from a solitary disc the size of a silver dollar, to an intricate and elaborate tree-like structure, to a massive boulder the size of several Volkswagens! The collective growth of these structures over thousands of years make up what is known as a coral reef."

"Coral reefs are known as the 'tropical rain forests of the sea' because of their complex, delicate and highly diverse ecosystems. The sophisticated structure of a coral reef provides homes to thousands, if not millions of organisms that all depend upon one another to sustain their lives."

The gallery legends also stress the importance of coral reefs to mankind, and warn that we are in danger of losing 90% of our coral reefs within the next 50 years!

Part of the exhibit was even dedicated to illustrating the results of oil spills.

When the coral reef is stressed — through heightened water temperatures for example — the algae that provides the coral's pigment is expelled and the coral is "bleached." Though not dead, in order to survive the reef will need conditions to come back to normal and the (zooxanthellae) algae to return.

There is a quality of humor and kitsch in the exhibit that is more than counterbalanced by its scope and size. Regardless, it's an awesome project, and the best part of visiting the crocheted coral reef is to see the complete delight of all the viewers, from adults to toddlers.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cà d'Zan, a Gothic Venetian House

Photo: Giovanni Lunardi Photography
In my last posting, I shared a little of my visit to the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art. The museum shares space on the grounds of the Ringling's winter home, Cà d'Zan. This is the rear view of the house, facing Sarasota Bay. The Ringlings loved Venice, and the style of this house is Gothic Venetian. (Cà d'Zan is "The House of John" in the Venetian dialect.)

Both portraits by Savely Sorine, 1927
John Ringling (1866-1936) was one of seven brothers. Five of the brothers got into the circus business in 1870, and by 1889 were successful enough to move the circus on railroad cars, rather than by wagon. By 1929, when he was the sole surviving brother, John Ringling had bought every traveling circus in the country, including the Barnum & Bailey Circus and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He had a circus monopoly and was one of the wealthiest men in the United States when he completed building Cà d'Zan in 1926.

click to enlarge  |  detail from the front door
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The last three photographs are taken on the front side of the house, standing in essentially the same spot. They show the thorough attention to detail and beautiful craftsmanship that is applied to every inch of the exterior.  |  photo by Roger Wollstadt

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The rear of Cà d'Zan is a magnificent example of Gothic Venetian architecture. The architect was Dwight James Baum of New York, and the builder was Owen Burns, who was a major developer of Sarasota, Florida.

My blogging friend Rosemary of Where Five Valleys Meet has noted Cà d'Zan's resemblance to the Palazzo Pisani-Moretta on the Grand Canal. Leave it to John Ringling to enlarge and expand upon the theme!

In previous photos, and the one below, you can see that Cà d'Zan's windows are all stained glass of subtle pastel shades.

My friends and I toured the outside of Cà d'Zan for free, but elected not to pay admission to see the inside, which is a limited and relatively expensive tour, requiring one to stay on a narrow carpet and refrain from photo-taking. In any event, it's experiencing the outside of Cà d'Zan that makes a trip to Sarasota a lovely and successful day trip.

John Ringling struggled during the Great Depression, fighting desperately to save his house and art collection. According to Wikipedia, when he died in 1936, he had $311 in his bank account.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Visit to the Ringling Museum

Last week my friends Samson, Sue and Marie celebrated my birthday by taking me to the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, in Sarasota, Florida. It was built by the circus mogul to house his own collection of art, and opened to the public in 1931. John Ringling suffered financial setbacks during the Great Depression, but borrowed and persevered to complete the museum as a tribute to his then recently-deceased wife, Mabel.

As one wanders through the museum, it's immediately apparent that John Ringling liked all things Baroque, and he liked things on a BIG scale.

He bought lots of architectural details as he traveled through Europe (while also searching for prospective circus acts), and he sometimes bought entire rooms. This is a portion of the drawing room that came from the 1895 New York mansion of Mrs. Astor. It's in the Louis XV style and closely resembles several of the king's private quarters at Versailles.

Throughout the galleries, almost every passageway features monumental Baroque door frames or equally ornate columns.

Knowing John Ringling's taste and history, I was interested in this set of paintings that once graced an archway in the Church of Santa Croce in Reggio Emilia, near Bologna. It occurred to me that Ringling most probably bought the paintings unframed, and then had his own circus carvers create the carving that fills the arched space.

He did, after all, have access to the very best carvers in his own business. What do you think?

Did I mention that Ringling liked Baroque and BIG? The centerpiece of the museum's collection is a series of paintings that Peter Paul Rubens executed as cartoons for giant tapestries. The series is based on the story of the Eucharist. Now take a good look at the upper corners.

Here Rubens has very cleverly designed the scene to be a tapestry within the painting, which means that the final product would be a tapestry within a tapestry, a brilliant conceit, for sure.

I fell in love with this still life from the bottom corner of another cartoon; it probably represents one per cent of the entire painting, but it's a masterpiece unto itself.

As we left the museum to wander the rest of the grounds, we went a teeny bit astray and discovered something that most museum visitors will never know — hidden behind all the buildings is a statuary graveyard! And of course, because I love the illusion of antiquity, I had to record the scene for you.

My next posting will be on the house that John Ringling built for himself. And what a house it is!