Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest"

Satirical artworks have come down to us from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Cave dwellers many millennia ago probably indulged in snarky drawings as well. From a show of prints currently running at the Metropolitan Museum (Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine), here are a few selections skewering all manner of pomposity, ridiculing fashion, expressing outrage at politicians, or just exaggerating various aspects of the species homo sapiens.

Finally, here's "Americans in Paris" from 1951 by Al Hirschfeld. Patrons at the Café de la Paix include the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Sugar Ray Robinson, Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Hirschfeld himself with his wife (actress Dolly Haas, in sunglasses) and their daughter Nina (whose name is embedded in most of his theater caricatures). Can you identify anyone else?
Here are several detailed views:

For a wealth of cartoons and drawings that display a witty and compassionate view of humanity amidst their foibles, I can't say enough good things about our career retrospective of William Steig. This is a book to treasure.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A centuries-old mystery

"Who Killed Cock Robin?" is one of four venerable children's rhymes illustrated in the color-saturated, brilliantly designed My First Nursery Book by Franciszka Themerson (1907–1988). (Below are endpaper and story title designs from the book.) 
After poring over Themerson's eye-popping handiwork, I had to learn more about her. I found that they carry this book in the museum shop of the Tate in London. She was an artist, filmmaker, illustrator, theater designer, and book designer. She collaborated with her husband, Stefan, in Warsaw's film avant-garde of the 1930s and in books for children. From 1948 to 1979 they ran the Gaberbocchus Press (Latin for 'Jabberwocky') in London. There is an online archive of their work at the press; this drawing from it reminds me of the work of William Steig.
The artist at work
By F.T., from "All the King's Horses"
Acquiring intriguing and beautiful children's books is an abiding passion for us at Daedalus. And we  have prices that beat Black Friday every day! Can you share with Daily Glean readers some of your favorite children's book illustrators?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mullaney's miscellany

My sister, Pat Mullaney, is an elementary school teacher, and it always amused me that one of her students persisted in calling her "Miss Alleny." So here is my own brand of miscellany for a Monday morning.
A rare showing of Romare Bearden's epic artwork The Block as part of a centennial celebration is winding down at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. One of our many items offered at a dramatic discount is notecards from Bearden's Odysseus series. Selected Bearden works chosen by 100 of today's artists are also on view at
Stein, pooch, and Toklas. No contest as to which of them had the best hairdo.
Did you know that Alice B. Tolkas's middle name was Babette? I find that simultaneously incongruous, given her somewhat austere persona, and apt, since she became such a prominent American expatriate in France. For a glimpse into two of the artists Gertrude Stein and Toklas championed, look no further than Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art by Picasso's companion Françoise Gilot. Stein avowed that you can buy art or you can buy clothes, but you couldn't do both. She had a small inheritance, and she spent most of it on paintings and sculpture of discerning quality.
Picasso's "Head of a Sleeping Woman (Study for Nude with Drapery)," which was once owned by Gertrude Stein. Museum of Modern Art/Scala, Art Resource, Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Henri Matisse, The Girl with Green Eyes, 1908; oil on canvas; Collection SFMOMA, bequest of Harriet Lane Levy; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: photo: Don Myer
Picture yourself in the place of Gertrude Stein. Whom would you collect, Picasso or Matisse? Both? Or perchance Toulouse-Lautrec or Cezanne?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

From writing code to clicking a button

Steve Silberman's article "The Sketchbook of Susan Kare, the Artist Who Gave Computing a Human Face" is a fascinating guided tour of the birth of icon-driven computing at Apple. It all began with a pad of graph paper, each square being a pixel....
Once software was developed that enabled Kare to start brainstorming digitally, she mined ideas from everywhere: Asian art history, the geeky gadgets and toys that festooned her teammates’ cubicles, and the glyphs that Depression-era hobos chalked on walls to point the way to a sympathetic household. The symbol on every Apple command key to this day — a stylized castle seen from above — was commonly used in Swedish campgrounds to denote an interesting sightseeing destination.

Kare command key
Kare’s work gave the Mac a visual lexicon that was universally inviting and intuitive. Instead of thinking of each image as a tiny illustration of a real object, she aimed to design icons that were as instantly comprehensible as traffic signs.
Kare icon for "volume"
For other musings on the frontiers of humans vis à vis science and technology, consider Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human; Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions; The Mind's Eye (first edition with a signed bookplate) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by the always fascinating Oliver Sacks; and The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves.

“Sacks writes not just as a doctor and a scientist but also as a humanist with a philosophical and literary bent.” —New York Times

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Secret Garden" centenary

Illustration by Tasha Tudor
Frances Hodgson Burnett, who was born on November 24 in 1849, is most famed for The Secret Garden, which turns 100 this year. She emigrated from Manchester, England, to rural Tennessee and began writing—as did so many women authors—to help support her family. She published more than 50 novels and umpteen magazine stories, becoming the highest-paid female author of her time.
The classic Hollywood version of 1949 from MGM starred the ever-reliable Margaret O'Brien. The reverse of The Wizard of Oz, it was predominantly in black-and-white, with the sequences set in the restored garden filmed in Technicolor. Did you read the book as a child? If so, you'll be intrigued by our annotated edition.
Cover of the first edition.
Penguin edition, 1958.

Illustration by Charles Robinson.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Like the down of a thistle"

No other American poem has been printed so often. Its illustrators range from Arthur Rackham (left) to Grandma Moses. Yes, folks, we're talking about Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as The Night Before Christmas—in this case as annotated most splendidly by Martin Gardner.
Before Moore's poem consolidated the iconography of Santa Claus, the range of characters bringing gifts at the Christmas season was broad. They included the Dutch Sinterklaas and his Moorish sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who arrived from Spain on Dec. 5 (St. Nicholas Eve); the German Kris Kringle; the Italian witch Befana, who dispenses her goodies on January 5,  (Twelfth Night) to commemorate the visit of the Three Wise Men; and the Spanish tradition of the Wise Men themselves, who come bearing gifts as they did thousands of years ago.
The many parodies included in the book include hipster, Cajun, and Yiddish versions. My favorites have to be the handful reprinted from MAD magazine. Here's the opening of the 1981 version by Frank Jacobs:

'Twas the night before Christmas, and one thing was clear-
That old yuletide spirit no longer was here;
Inflation was rising; the crime rate was trippling;
The fuel bills were up, and our mortgage was crippling;

I opened a beer as I watched the TV,
Where Donny sang "O Holy Night" to Marie;
The kids were in bed, getting sleep like they should;
Or else they were stoned, which was almost as good.

While ma with her ball-point pen was making a fuss
'Bout folks we'd send cards to who'd sent none to us;
"Those ingrates," she thundered, and pounded her fist;
"Next year you can bet they'll be crossed off our list!"
Charming 1902 illustration by W. W. Denslow, who did the original Wizard of Oz
"Visions of sugarplums danced in their heads." Jessie Willcox Smith, 1912, and Arthur Rackham, below, 1931
Jessie Wilcox Smith's Santa sports the fur suit of many early depictions; plus he's elf-sized
Here is a reading of the poem by the one and only Basil Rathbone.

And to all a good night!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lepidoptera in glowing hues

I thought this wonderful gift book deserved more views. Here are a few gorgeous examples (even the endpapers are exquisite!). And don't forget: the $5 off $50+ promotion ends at midnight.

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving with The History Guys

This Thanksgiving-themed podcast from the award-winning humanities radio show Back Story is fun and way informative as the regular experts banter amongst themselves, chat with special guests like Roger Staubach (you can hear this interview over a great slide show here), and take intriguing questions from callers. Here's the episode summary:
When we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, we think we know what we’re commemorating. But if an actual Pilgrim were to attend your Thanksgiving, chances are he’d be stunned by what he saw there. In this episode, historian James McWilliams discusses why the Puritans would have turned up their noses at our “traditional” Thanksgiving foods. Religion scholar Anne Blue Wills reveals the Victorian  origins of our modern holiday, and one woman’s campaign to fix it on the national calendar. An archeologist at Colonial Williamsburg explains what garbage has to tell us about early American diets. And legendary NFL quarterback Roger Staubach describes what it was like to spend every turkey day on the football field.
Give it a listen while you're taking your postprandial walk!

Audio Excerpt: "Historian James McWilliams tells 18th Century History Guy Peter Onuf why the Pilgrims and Indians would probably have been grossed out by each others’ contributions to the Thanksgiving table."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Remembering J.F.K. & R.F.K.

On November 22, 1963, Warren Benson responded to the assassination of our President by composing  "The Leaves Are Falling." The title comes from "Autumn," a poem by Rilke, and the work uses the hymn tune "Ein' feste Burg" ("A Mighty Fortress"). It is a groundbreaking piece in the history of band music, not only for its elegiac theme but for its single-movement length and introspective character. It became Benson's best-known work, and a touchstone in the wind band repertory.

If you are a baby boomer, you will doubtless remember where you were on this day almost 50 years ago when you heard the news. Most of us will have been in school. Will anyone share?

We have two Kennedy books at the moment: The Kennedy Brothers: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby and The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality.

"All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity."
"I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil."—Robert Kennedy 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting snarky with Carroll

How magical is this text and drawing from Alice in Wonderland in Lewis Carroll's own hand! It's from the British Museum's collection of original manuscripts.
If you also love the Reverend Dodgson, you'll want to obtain The Annotated Hunting of the Snark: The Definitive Edition. It's one of our top 10 sellers in books, so don't delay! Boris Karloff reads Part 1, below.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

19th-century gent lives on through ephemera

It's a good thing for us that the hoarder patrol never swooped down on Victorian magician and ventriloquist Henry Evans. The 5,000 items on paper he saved are now owned by the British Museum and are known as the Evanion collection, after his stage name. The scope is fascinating, including playbills, tabloid magazines, stage passes, holiday cards, advertisements, and exhibition posters. I've picked a few of of my favorites for your delectation.

The British Museum provides the following gloss on the above ad:
John Lawson Johnston was a butcher in Edinburgh, although he was originally from Canada. He invented a beverage made from extract of beef that was advertised as a healthy alternative to alcohol. It was called ‘Fluid Beef’ and hot water was poured onto it to create the drink. He opened a factory in London in 1886 and produced a more concentrated version of the drink, calling it Bovril.