Tag Archives: vintage

Stick Legs

When I first spotted the thumbnail photo for this ebay listing for a James Wallace Pondelicek nude, I thought that the lines were illustrated legs…

Turns out, the “lines” are not drawn upon the photo, but thin pieces of vegetation on the beach

The photo, titled The Bather, is rare hand signed original double-weight sepia gelatin silver photograph, circa 1924. Taken along the shores of Lake Michigan, this vintage nude was used as the cover for James Pondelicek sampler catalog.

My Rosary: Modern Piece With Period Style

I spotted this piece at a thrift shop on Sunday. The “Madonna” appears to be a contemporary image created from an scan of an antique photo which was digitally enhanced, colored then printed. The “My Rosary” seems to be text from an old piece of paper. Together they were simply matted (with an especially nicely beveled cut window for the text) and placed in an old metal oval frame painted black. All together, it has the appearance of a period piece.

How To Make Silhouettes

I remember when I was little and my parents, aunts and uncles took each of us children to get our silhouettes done as gifts for the grandparents. My parents even had a second set of my sister and I done for our home. It certainly is a quaint and charming way to preserve our childhood appearance.

If you’d like to preserve those memories — in a sweeter and more stylish way than those annual photos taken at school — here’s instructions for making your own silhouettes from SEI Art Studio.

Review: The Painted Backdrop: Behind the Sitter in American Tintype Photograph

The Painted Backdrop By Jim Linderman

Have you ever thought about the painted backgrounds in antique and vintage photographs?

No?

Well, you aren’t alone.

Until I read The Painted Backdrop: Behind the Sitter in American Tintype Photography, by Jim Linderman (with an essay by Kate Bloomquist), I hadn’t either.

In fact, the story of and between 19th century painters and American photography really has never been told — or, I should say, “hasn’t been explored” until Linderman came along and looked into it via his collection of antique tintype photographs.

Considering virtually every one of the millions upon millions of tintype photographs taken indoors from 1850 to 1920, (and a good number of the few taken outside) had a painted backdrop, it is remarkable  no one has ever written a book about them. This is even more remarkable given the importance of the background in motion pictures today. As entire films are produced by computer, the role of the actor has been reduced to standing before an empty screen mouthing words only later to be placed in a digital backdrop which never existed and never will. In a way, the early painted drops used by primitive tintype photographers of the late 19th century an unreal environment in a prescient manner; the thread connecting them to big-screen computer generated hyper-worlds is real but seldom considered.

He even dares to ask the question, “Could this be because photographers, even then, were so determined to prove THEY were doing the art and not the painter they relegated to the background?”

Antique Tintype Backdrop Being Painted

The author / collector states: “This is an art book about painting and photography (or vice-versa) and how they met in a certain time and place.”   Ever since the camera arrived, the debate about the merits of photography as an art form has raged (admittedly Ansel Adams helped sway a lot of people that it is), and this book and its 75 antique tintype images certainly is part of that debate. It also raises the question about whether or not the painted backdrops used behind the people in the photographs are art, folk art, or ephemera from the photographic industry.  But  it’s that last part, “how they met in a certain time and place,” which really gets to the core of things, the thrilling things, for me.  That’s where we get to the historical cultural contexts.

The book gives a brief historical overview of photography set in the context of culture, art and commerce. There’s a near ode to daguerreotypes and a rather sneering look at ambrotypes before we settle in to accept the (lowly fragile) tintypes as having won the hearts of the masses. While tintypes lack the gleam of their forerunners, the thin tintype’s popularity mirrors how the West was won: Easy, inexpensive, mobility.  The ease of mailing tintypes not only aligns with the power of rail road transportation, but in fact, photo studios sprung up near or at nearly every train station.

Two Antique Tintypes With Same Painted Backdrops

However, Linderman doesn’t end his considerations of the development of photography there; his (rather opinionated) narrative briefly covers paper prints, the Polaroid, and digital photos too. If you find the author judgmental, he is. But his thoughts are historically and culturally sane; and when it comes to art, we all have our preferences — or at least we ought to.

In many ways, Linderman’s brief text is more glorious than the many antique images he shares. For, agree or disagree with the author’s thoughts and opinions, you are rather forced to form your own thoughts and opinions. But none of us are really left with conclusions — at least those we haven’t, in part, jumped to.  As Linderman states, there’s just too little documentation, research and investigation, into what happened to painters when the camera came along — into the subject of photographic backdrops themselves — to reach any real conclusions.

The book raises more questions, really, than it answers. At least for me. But in that most excellent of ways which rather than being too light of a snack, leaving me unsatisfied, this book whets my appetite, makes me want more, leaves me with something to chew on… Technology, commerce, art, and culture collide at a crossroads, supposed “forward progress” exposing values, leaving the role of art and artists themselves as question marks… Not at all unlike the digital situation of today.

Tintype Of Painter Working On Photographic Backdrop

The very fact that we haven’t really put any effort into exploring “what happened” is a testament to how little we value photography, art, and artists, I suppose. Yet art, and more than a few artists, have managed to survive.

Collections and books like this preserve what was — not just for us all to see and enjoy, but to force us to look at what happened and to examine for ourselves just what is all involved in such technological advances and shifts in “style.”

Creating Ceramic Mosaics Of Silent Film Stars

Annette Kellerman, The Australian Mermaid, "the Diving Venus"

A few months ago I was contacted by Nick Bannikoff, a graphic designer in Sydney, Australia, who had recently worked on the refurbished Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre in Marrickville. The centre is now finished, and Bannikoff was assisting with the creation of a graphic interpreting / explaining Annette Kellerman’s life to be installed at the pool. Because I’m rather well connected to Kellerman on the Internet, Bannikoff was hoping I’d be able to assist him finding decent quality images to include in the graphic; which I did, by connecting him to silent film collector Mary Ann Cade. Because I’m rather nosy fascinated with Kellerman, film and art — and unable to get to Australia myself — I asked Bannikoff to tell me more about the project.

 

Background:

The redevelopment of the pool was undertaken by Marrickville council a while ago. The existing pool was only 33mm and a bit dilapidated. There’s plenty of information on the project here.

Annette was born in the council area and the centre (AKAC) was renamed after her in ‘94 (I don’t have any information on that process).

As part of the project a separate graphic design firm was engaged to design the logo for the AKAC (along with several other facilities), and we were engaged as specialists to design the signage and environmental graphics. For a better idea of what we specialise in, you can visit Society for Environmental Graphic Design.

The Mosaics:

We wanted to create an inviting entrance to the change rooms, and decided that the best way to do this was to create life-sized graphics of people standing at the entrances. In effect inviting people in (it also has the advantage of very clearly differentiating the male and female entrances). Annette was obviously a natural choice for the Female change room, but being such an extraordinary character it was difficult to select a male counterpart. In the end we settled on Cecil, a contemporary of Annette’s (this was important to us) who was sadly killed at the Somme in 1918. Had we not been constricted in our selection to an Australian, we would have recommended Jonny Weismuller, whose career so closely mimicked Annette’s.

Knowing what we wanted to do we were inspired by two sources. A photo of a confident young woman in a bathing costume with a very contemporary lighting scheme, and the work of mosaic artist Brett Campbell.

We particularly liked the confident pose and dynamic lighting for the young woman. We felt if we could present Annette in the same way it would convey more of her life and story (than any photo) and make her more relevant to a contemporary audience. We engaged the services of a talented illustrator, Justine Missen, who over 2-3 weeks developed sketches of Annette and Cecil with the stances, shading and attitude we wanted. I’ve attached a couple of images from the process. As we always knew we wanted to create the final work in mosaic, Justine sketched to that end, mapping out the broad areas of colour that we knew could only accommodate a limited amount of detail.

As I mentioned, we had decided early on that if we could execute the graphic as a mosaic we would. The material would fit beautifully within a swimming pool environment, and given Annette’s life was a perfect medium with which to portray her. Brett Campbell, being part of the inspiration, was then engaged to create the final pieces. Brett helped out a great deal with the selection of the tiles. There is actually a very limited range of colours out there, and we wanted a nice glossy finish and a ceramic tile which we felt matched our aims (there is a much greater colour selection available in glass tiles). Due to the fact the entrances were a little dark and out of the way, we also wanted nice bright colours which made the selection even more difficult. He worked in his studio in Queensland (about 1000km away) and would send photos of the progress on a weekly basis, which we would then discuss and occasionally make adjustments or suggestions. This part of the project took about 2 months.

Finally, Brett visited site in late November last year and installed the mosiacs over 3 days, along with another mosaic that formed the background for the main identification sign for the AKAC.

Other things you may be interested in:

As part of the project the council also commissioned artwork for a couple of locations. One of the artists, Mark Wotherspoon, took his inspiration from the life of Annette.

The piece is entitled “Silver Screen Mermaid” and a plaque will be installed soon that reads: Inspired by the collective consciousness of Annette Kellerman, the divine silver screen mermaid and Hollywood starlet (1887-1975)

Stitches In (My) Time

My mother, as she will tell you, is neither a very artsy person nor a very domesticated woman. While she is a rather gifted decorator, with an eye for beauty, detail, & quality — and a pocketbook which supports the artsy along with the arts, she doesn’t make things (other than reservations!). The result is that she didn’t teach me to sew or anything like that, and she was always rather fascinated by my continued purchase and completion of craft kits. As a kid, I taught myself to sew.

There was an older woman in our family who could have taught me, or at least nurtured me and and encouraged my interest; but she didn’t. (I’ll not name her, nor the relationship to me; so as not to hurt others and because the specifics of who she was does not matter as much as what she did or didn’t do.)

When I spotted this woman’s jar full of buttons, I was allowed to examine them. I fell in love with some adorable vintage lamb buttons (like these, except the ones I loved were made of white plastic). When she wouldn’t even broker the idea of giving me one, I decided I had to earn those coveted figural buttons. So I decided to teach myself to sew.

I began with what I thought would be a simple beginner’s project, using an iron-on transfer to place the blue outlines of a cheery juvenile bunny rabbit onto a piece of scrap muslin (both from a garage sale), and earnestly began making my first stitches.

After completing most of Mr. Bunny Rabbit’s head, I — in that shy sense of accomplishment of a beginner — presented my first wobbly stitches to this woman. I receive not one word of praise, even for taking up such an activity; instead she told me my stitches were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor.

They were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor — I was a child teaching herself needlework.

Had her appraisal included any sort of constructive tips in terms of just how to improve my stitches, I might not have been so devastated.

But I didn’t give up. I just didn’t show her, or anyone else, what I was working on. In my mind, I thought if I could improve, if I could make something worthy of showing, that one day I’d earn her respect — and those cute figural lamb buttons.

But I never did.

I never felt skilled enough to show that woman what I made, needlework or otherwise.

Years passed. I continued to make things. But, full of that woman’s scorn for my work, feeling that my skills were so poor that I’d never be worth mention let alone any investment in time, supplies or support, I just “piddled about” with projects on my own. My parents knew what I did, simply because good parents know what their children are up to, be it reading, crafting, or whatnot.

So when this woman got too old to use any of her sewing machines, my parents asked if I could have one. That woman refused; like the jar full of old buttons, the sewing machines just vanished from her house — and my life. But not my memory.

Instead of giving me the gifts of her time and counsel, of nurturing me and my skills, this woman left me with a very poor opinion of my work. I made less things, tried less projects, and, certain what I was making was crap, I obviously wasn’t going to let my peers see the fruits of my “piddling about.” By the time high school ended, so had my crafting efforts. I put them on hold for that “someday” when I’d have my own apartment and could piddle in private.

The story of that path or a promised “someday” is another story. But today’s point is that children and beginners need to be encouraged to create things. No matter how uneven, clumsy, and poor their initial (and subsequent) works may be.

Needlework is especially worth encouraging — not only as a nearly lost art, but as a practical life skill; the number of persons who cannot even replace a button or repair a separating seam is astonishing.

To help foster a young child’s interest in ans mastery of needlework, check out Easy Hand Sewing for Kids. Heck, if you don’t consider yourself a child but your stitches are childish, check out that article (and the slew of resources within it). It’s never too late to learn.

And, as far as I can see, it’s never too late to give an old lady her comeuppance.

Image Credits:

Vintage animal buttons via Prestige-Enterprises.

Vintage iron-on transfer of baby animals via Blondies-Spot.

Tamar Stone On Inspiration

I can’t get enough of artist Tamar Stone — her corset and bed books inspire me so much!

societies-corset-book-by-tamar-stone

a-very-safe-place-artist-bokk-by-tamar-stone

With all these projects and interests, I knew she’d collect lots of stuff, but I wanted to know more about what the artist draws from…

studio-desk-wall-artist-tamar-stoneI collect a lot of books, images etc. However, because of limited space and finances, I also go to the NY Public Library to do research with their really old books. Before you could find things on-line, I used to go to the library to do a lot of patent research (something I learned while being a para-legal) — and learning how to read a patent’s family history — to get you to other resources.

With the internet, so much stuff is online — but a lot of it is low-res, which I can’t really use, and also you have to make sure the images are in the public domain (due to copyright issues).

As with my latch-hook rug, works are inspired by my travels.

One of my hobbies is “Polaroiding dolls on the road,” which I’ve turned into paper books from Polaroids. I also have a series of bathrooms/outhouses along the road… And meals on the road… But I haven’t had the money to turn those into books (all the scanning of those is just so time consuming, and I rather just keep moving ahead with the sewing projects).

dolls-on-the-road-v2-tamar-stone

You can get copies of Tamar Stone’s books at PrintedMatter.org: Dolls on the Road: The Barbie and Ken Series. Vol. 1, Dolls on the Road: Baby Dolls and Others. Vol. 2. And you can visit Tamar Stone’s website to keep up-to-date on the artist and her projects.

A Word On Buying Antique Paintings At Auctions

auction painting I hate putting a value on art. I think you should pay what the artist asks, so long as the depth of your affection for the piece matches the depth of your pockets.

But, because I mostly write about antiques and collectibles, people often ask me about how much they should pay for art at auctions, or at least want a rule of thumb to guide them at their local farm or estate auction…

I’m no art appraiser; most of my experience with antique paintings has been observed at (countless) smaller local auctions, Antiques Roadshow episodes, and those Roadshow style trash or treasure events. But I feel rather confident saying that any antique painting purchased for $150 or less is a bargain. Seems like no old painting is ever, unless the canvas is completely shredded, deemed worth less than $150. Even antique paintings by unknown artists with small tears and in need of professional cleaning seem to be valued at or over $150.

That said, expect to pay more. Not just for big name artists, but for paintings which charm. If the painting charms you, it likely will charm another bidder or two, increasing the price. That said, console yourself with the following rational reasons to spend as much as you’d like buying antique paintings at auctions:

  • Consider how much something else covering that space would cost — be it a framed poster or generic starving artist art.
  • Spend as much as you are comfortable with; you’re going to have to live with it.

A Breath Of Spring Air

A lovely fashion sketch by Sir Cecil Beaton, which wafts off my monitor and makes my heart lighter…

sir-cecil-beaton-fashion-sketch

In non-art related news, I’ve been spending all weekend cleaning my home, laying down poison and traps, all to rid myself of an unwanted, non-pet, mouse. I can understand him wanting to move in here; it’s already friggin’ cold here in Fargo. But he cannot stay here.

I tell you all this so that you A) understand why I would be feeling the need to get away from the cleaning fumes and get some fresh spring air, and #2 have an actual real life lesson in how art can transport one.

Writing On The Wall Book Art

Etsy artist WHIMSYlove turns vintage and used books into wall art by folding the pages, origami style, for three-dimensional artworks dubbed Writing on the Wall Book Art — and it’s being featured for sale at the Bellevue Art Museum.

writing-on-the-wall-book-art

Each Writing on the Wall piece arrives with hanging hardware and a keepsake card printed on white cardstock with “stats,” including Book Title, Author, Copyright Date, # of Pages in book, & how many folds were made to create your piece of artwork!

Illustration Magazine: An Art Publication I Am Drawn To

Men may be, as we are told, visual creatures, but many women adore and collect vintage images. Pinups and those ‘trashy’ covers of pulp novels do more than just flirt with men ya know — we women like them too. And if this includes you, then girl do I have a treat for you: Illustration Magazine.

illustration-magazine-issue-13-coverCollectors of trashy vintage pulp novels, Elvgren pinups, and vintage magazines (be they men’s magazines or turn of the century copies of Collier’s) will drool. Pop culture addicts will greedily await the next issue. Art lovers, artist themselves and anyone with an eye for style will enjoy flipping through Illustration to find classical creations, stylized advertising pieces, elegant deco drawings, fine art, eccentric arrangements, and other works to ooh and ah over.

While the publishers occasionally devote an entire issue to one artist, most issues are a mix of the humorous, the sinister, the sleazy, the graceful, the surreal, the charming, and the cheeky.

It’s clear from the quality that for the publishers this is not just another job, not just a way to make some money — this is an act of love.

Printed on heavy weight, glossy paper, the high quality reproductions of of these illustrations are a joy to behold. The magazine includes articles by the artists themselves, as well as historians, professors & fans of the artists and their works; making it not only fun to read, but so informative, each issue is suitable for research.

art-of-a-leslie-rossSince the golden age of American illustration is considered to be the period of 1890 to 1960, the magazine covers more than just the girlie side of art. Inside Illustration, you’ll find the art of comic books, story illustrations, postcards, sci-fi book and magazine covers, posters and other ephemera of graphic delight.

What makes this publication unique is that it focuses on commercial illustration. Since the works were commissioned or contracted for clients approval and needs rather than “it’s own sake”, it often appeared without artist credit. These artists certainly weren’t celebrated for their commercial works, even if they had gallery success. As little was written about many of the artists, Illustration focuses on biographies of the artist themselves. Illustration celebrates and documents these masters, yes, but the biographies and articles also help to put the works in context. And I think that’s equally important in understanding their purpose and value.

illustration-magazine-issue-11For example, Issue Number 11 has 31 pages on Robert Bonfils, a prolific and gifted producer of those 1960’s trashy adult paperback covers. Not only do you have two articles (by Robert Speray and Lynn Munroe), a plethora of color cover reproductions to gaze at (including several full-page images!) from collector Bruce Brenner, but a piece by Bonfils himself. Reading all of this, one gets information on the trashy book biz, how Bonfils worked, the life of the artist, the culture of the 60’s, and even information on collecting paperbacks in this genre. Now that’s a lot of information.

And yet that’s not all that’s in the issue!

Also in #11 are “Men’s Adventure magazines in Postwar America: The Rich Oberg Collection,” “The Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards,” “Larry Admire, Star of Pulp World,” along with book reviews and information on exhibitions and events. What more can you ask for?

50-foot-woman-reynold-brownAs a person who dabbles in collecting in these areas, I’ve learned much from my issues of Illustration. As a woman who loves to ponder the cultural components of pulp novels & pinups, I appreciate how works and artists are put into context. As a girl who just likes pretty things, it’s a feast for the eyes.

This magazine is for connoisseurs & collectors alike.

Illustration is published quarterly, and you can subscribe directly from the publisher at Illustration-Magazine.com, where you’ll also find some back issues. (Both eBay and Amazon have back issues of Illustration Magazine too.)