Friday, December 27, 2013

A Newlyweds Christmas Tradition

When my friends Sandy and Greg celebrated their first Christmas together, Greg saved a slice of the Christmas tree's trunk and recorded the year's events on it. That tree slice became a meaningful ornament for the next year, and so a piece of the second Christmas tree's trunk was saved, too. It also was inscribed with the year's highlights.

This Christmas, as they do every year, Sandy and Greg hung up a long garland, displaying pieces from all of their Christmas trees. It's a lovely tradition, and it makes a very special decoration, don't you think?

•  •  •

I couldn't help myself. Since my last posting, I went out and bought five more antique glass pine cone ornaments. I particularly like the smallest one, which appears silver on the tree, but which clearly has a tint of chartreuse.

I hope you're all having a good holiday!

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Victorian Christmas Tree

This year, I decided to create my version of a Victorian Christmas tree. You may remember that last year I posted about the fun of decorating a tree with travel souvenirs, here. Then, as the holiday season drew to a close, I walked into an antique store comprised of many dealers and noticed — going from stall to stall —  that there were lots of antique glass pine cone ornaments. I couldn't resist starting another collection, above!

I decided to complement the antique ornaments with new colored ones, and to alternate those colors from year to year.

If that isn't enough, I'll add colored ribbon to match the complementary color scheme and . . .

. . . strands of pearls or perhaps colored beads.

And here's the finished tree (with room for the glass pine cone collection to grow).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Christmas Tribute To Thomas Nast

In my last posting I mentioned how I developed a technique of drawing with felt-tip markers, creating "nubby" lines that have an antique look. As part of the same campaign, John Atkinson and I promoted the shopping center with a Santa Claus modeled after Thomas Nast's famous image. In my illustration, Santa is holding products that could be found at the shopping center.

click to enlarge   |   © Mark D. Ruffner, 1983
Here is my illustration, and below is the 1862 original. I didn't want to lose that distinctive 18th-century clay pipe!
While Thomas Nast (1840-1902) defined the American perception of Santa Claus for decades, he is better remembered as the finest 19th-century American political cartoonist. He is the man who came up with the iconic elephant to represent the Republican party, and while he didn't create the donkey as a Democratic emblem, he popularized it.

click to enlarge   |
Nast began newspaper work while still a teenager, and worked for both Frank Leslie's Illustrated and Harper's Weekly. He used photographs as reference for his stinging caricatures, and was instrumental in bringing down the powerful New York politician, Boss Tweed. When Boss Tweed fled the country on corruption charges and was apprehended in Spain, it was a Thomas Nast cartoon that identified him. Nast's cartoons are also credited with helping Grover Cleveland become the first Democratic President (in 1884) since the 1856 election.

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt rewarded the ailing Thomas Nast by appointing him as Consul General to Ecuador. There Nast contracted Yellow Fever while helping others to escape a similar fate, and died the same year.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nostalgia, Bleeding and Cutting

When I worked as a commercial illustrator, I was not known by any one particular style, and so I developed a range of styles, and that kept me busy.

click to enlarge   |   © Mark D. Ruffner, 1983
This was a full-page newspaper ad I illustrated one Christmas for a local shopping center. For the line art I developed a technique of drawing on thick, absorbent paper with a felt-tip marker. The felt-tip marker would bleed, but slowly so, allowing me to control the line's "nubbiness." Note how I put my initials on the rocking horse's rear, where a brand would be!

The art director for this job was my good friend John Atkinson, with whom I worked on many fun projects — he came up with the concept (and I've mentioned him before, here). Together we spent one evening cutting amberlith overlays for each color.

George Rorick On Using Amberlith   |
This job was done before the days of the computer, so each individual color would be indicated on an amberlith overlay.

Amberlith is a sheet of acetate that is covered with an orange gel that is both semi-transparent and peelable. The amberlith is placed over the artwork, and the areas for one particular color are cut with an exacto blade so that the amberlith covers those areas, and all the rest is peeled away. The step is repeated for each color, and then registration marks are put on each acetate so that all the colors register at printing time.

Producing full-color ads this way was a tedious job, and I sometimes created ads that had more than 20 color overlays! The Christmas ad above required only five.

While this process is now very much outdated in the digital world, it was the norm in newspaper work well into the 1990s.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Visit to St. Petersburg's Brocante

Yesterday, my friend Sandy and I visited St. Petersburg's Brocante, a new vintage market with dozens of vendors and "15,000 square feet of vintage bliss."

The brocante is the brainchild of Sean and Celesta Carter, and it's open the first full weekend of every month.

That the brocante is restricted to once per month is a large part of its evident success. The Carters — and the many vendors who have joined them — obviously take the better part of each month to be selective in what is included, and also take the time to present vintage items in ways that are visually stimulating.

For example, all these items were grouped to suggest Dad's shop, and one can immediately imagine sitting in that chair and tying a few fishing flies or working on a kit.

Likewise, these religious icons were resting on a very long and substantial church pew.

In an area of filing cabinets and lockers, I noticed this cool cabinet that once held college microscopes.

Globes have a huge retro appeal today, and for the person with a keen eye, the brocante held a ready-made collection.

If my dining room ceiling weren't quite so low, I might have snapped up these vintage lamps.

How's this for vintage — spats!

Years ago somebody bought a white cigarette holder, a sophisticated choice and the only one missing from this set.

Have you ever heard of a Dorking Rooster? (Is he x-rated?) I was instantly attracted to this handsome image because it was an original 1870's lithograph. It doubtlessly was 19th-century advertising .

I'm continually intrigued by these old team photographs. Have you ever noticed that the sports teams at the turn of the last century almost always included guys who wouldn't rise above bat boy today?

With its enameled metal top, this old cabinet could be a fun piece of outdoor furniture.

You'll never guess what this is, so I'll just tell you — it a detail from a vintage lampshade.

My purchase for the day was this lithographed tin, a perfect companion piece to my Lucky Strike tin of the same era. It probably dates to around the 1880s and is in virtually mint condition — a great find!

St. Petersburg's Brocante is very well thought out, efficiently organized, fun to visit and a great addition to the area. If you're in St. Petersburg, here's what you need to know:

2200 2nd Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33712


Sunday, December 1, 2013

How I Own a Piece of the London Bridge

The history of the London Bridge, which spans the Thames River, is an interesting one. There were a number of versions, starting with a wooden bridge built by the Romans. A medieval London Bridge resembled the Ponte Vecchio, in that it had shops attached. For a thorough accounting, you can read the fascinating history of the London Bridge here.

click to enlarge   |  photo circa 1870-1890   |   Cornell University
This version of the London Bridge was opened in 1831, and it is estimated that in the 19th century, 8,000 people crossed it per hour! Click on the image and you won't doubt that figure. Perhaps all that traffic was one factor in its sinkage. By the late 20th century, the bridge was sinking about an inch per year.

Amazingly, in 1968, the 1831 London Bridge was sold to American Robert P. McChulloc for $2,460,000, who in turn had it carefully deconstructed and reassembled at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

London Bridge in Arizona   |
When the London Bridge was reconstructed in Arizona, it came under modern building requirements that called for steel reinforcing not found in the original. And so when that was accomplished, there was a lot of leftover granite.

Of course this historic 1831 granite didn't go to waste. It was cut into pieces about the size that this appears on your screen, and was sold as souvenirs. I was delighted to be gifted with a piece one birthday!


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. I've hidden from him, and at this moment peered around the corner to see if he was still there!

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.