U.S. History Images

Native American Drawings
Facsimile of an Original Indian Drawing of a Ceremonial Dance
Drawn with colored crayons and pencils by Big Back, a Cheyenne.
Source: Humfreville

For those of you who are not subscribed to my Yahoo Newsletter, I wanted to be sure and let you know about my new web site U.S. History Images. I started creating it last April. I decided that since I had so many books that focused on United States history, that I would create another site for just those images. It’s a big, long term commitment; it took me almost three months to get the last set of images online. So far I’ve included drawings and photographs from the discovery and conquest of North America and the Native Americans who were there when the Europeans arrived. I’m still deciding whether it’s appropriate to include South American indians on this site or not. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. I am using a ten volume set on United States history as my outline for time periods and events. I plan on adding images in chronological order as I find time, while still adding images to the Public Domain Images on my other site. I know, I know – I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. That’s what summer vacation does to me; it makes me feel invincible!

Joseph Cornell at SFMOMA

I had invited my son to join me on my journey to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, but he turned me down. That actually ended up to be a good thing because if he had come along, he either would have a) gotten mad at me because I was taking too long, or b) caused me, out of guilt, to rush. As it turned out, I was able to spend almost three and a half hours working my way through the Joseph Cornell exhibit Naviagating the Imagination while lingering over every amazing box, collage, commentary, note, and scrap of paper. It runs until January 6, 2008, and I highly recommend hawking a piece of jewerly if necessary and taking the A-train to see it.

As I wandered through the exhibit, I wrote down notes (in pencil – no pens allowed in the museum) about what I saw into my notebook. What follows are those musings.

I started by watching a short film by Larry Jordan who lived and worked with Cornell for a while in his house in Flushing, New York.

Cornell’s House in Queens
from Freeshell.org

The film, entitled Cornell 1965 contains the only film footage of Cornell, and if you blink, you’d miss it. It’s not that Cornell was reclusive, as is sometimes implied, but that he wanted his work, not himself, to be recorded. Jordan was in the attic filming Cornell’s art work, when his camera happened to look out the window to find Cornell in his backyard, rummaging through boxes and trying to piece parts together, presumably for another one of his “object boxes” as he liked to call them. Towards the end of the film, there’s another glimpse of Cornell, standing inside his garage, hands on his hips, looking towards his yard. The camera lingers there, watching him lovingly, and you get this sense of a fleeting stolen moment, which was obviously very precious to the filmmaker.

Jordan narrates the film and gives us some insights into Cornell: Proust was his favorite writer. Debussey was his favorite composer. Lorca, a favorite poet.

Jordan said that Cornell “. . . believed that there were moments crystallized in feelings from the past . . .” He said that Cornell used the term “epiphanies” more than once to describe what he was striving for in his art and that “. . . his working concern was only to bring certain threads of reminiscence together.” Jordan also said that Cornell “preferred working with humble materials,” and that his simple little nine minute film was a sort of homage to that vision.

One of my favorite things from the exhibit was a huge blown-up photograph of one of the set of shelves from Cornell’s basement where he stored all his stuff and made his art. Rows and rows of boxes are stacked precariously on top of each other. The boxes are all different sizes and shapes and have handwritten labels on the front with descriptions such as “cornials,” “plastic shells,” “tinfoil,” and “tinted cordial glasses.” Apparently, Cornell liked to collect ephemera as a way to relax and break the tedium of his job as a textile salesman. It wasn’t until 1931 that he shifted from the hobby of collecting to making art from his collections.
He started in 1929 with collage and later moved on to boxes, which he called “poetic theaters.” And in 1953, he returned to making collages again.

Untitled (Tamara Toumanova) c. 1940
from Friday Prize

But it’s Cornell’s “cabinets of curiosity” for which he best know. The exhibit commentary says, “Cornell also absorbed his family’s Victorian sensibility of gathering and recycling things as talismans of ‘what else were scattered and lost.’ ”

Untitled (Paul and Virginia) c. 1946 – 48
from the WebMuseum

Paul and Virginia is one of my favorite boxes. Although I had seen Cornell’s work before, I had never seen this piece. I love the light blue color throughout and the way every little edge of the box is covered with text or illustration from old books and magazines. It reminds me of the piece I did for my mom The Gift. Apparently, Cornell did not feel any compunction against using original source material in his work.

As I was standing in front of this piece, and man and his daughter stood next to me. The girl was about ten years old. She said something like, “Why did he use those bird’s eggs?”

The dad replied, “You need to think about what they represent.”

The girl wondered, “The beginning of life?”

Even at her young age, she got it.

Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall c. 1945

Apparently, Cornell loved to create works that would incorporate and pay tribute to the artistic gifts of people he admired, as he did with the piece for Tamara Toumanova, and in the one above for Lauren Bacall. He was inspred by her movie To Have and Have Not and the song she sings in the movie “How Little We Know.” In his notes for this “dream machine” he writes about wanting to create “. . . a machine that can capture over and over what one rememers from the film, more of the romantic ‘afterglow’ than literal scenes such as a musical composition which evokes and prolongs the pleasure and mood of an experience without being merely descriptive.” from Revised Notes on April 1945. You can definitely get a sense of the nostalgia that pervades Cornell’s work. There’s an interesting article at the Tate Research Center that talks about how Cornell’s passions for entertainers — ballerinas, opera stars, and actresses, to name a few — influenced his work.

Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) 1946
from WebMuseum

Cornell like to use antique star maps in his work. He was an avid stargazer, and as the museum commentary notes “. . . celestial navigation became his primary metaphor for extended travel across time and space and between the natural and spiritual world.” He used Dutch clay pipes used for blowing bubbles in his work as possible reference to “pipe dreams” He wrote in his notes regarding a collection of images around the theme of air travel that “. . . the beautiful fantasy involved the early ideas of conquering the air, and some of the more fantastic continuations of such dreams.”

One interesting thing that I learned about Cornell’s work, is that he would create portfolios of magazine and news clippings, postcards, advertisements, and other printed material that he could find all relating to a particular person or theme that he was interested in. He was inspired to create a case of papers and ephemera referred to as GC 44 after working at the Garden Center Nursery in Bayside, New York in 1944. In his notes he wrote about the collection “. . . all this manner of thing are gathered to convey this fleeting glory the sunlight filling the kitchen to recreate the House on the Hill . . . the calm enjoyment vs. the former feverish wanderlust to be away forgetting the besetting reaction of physical and mental fatigue (which resulted, however, in endless experiences of unexpected beauty, precious moments of the commonplace transformed by a kind of magic producing the deepest and warmest kind of love for each humblest aspect of landscape and person encountered — in this territory where one felt so much a stranger and but a ‘few blocks from home.’ ”

Crystal Cage: Portrait of Berenice ca. 1934 – 67
from The Warhol

Between 1934 and 1967, Cornell collected all sorts of material for a photomontage publication about a little girl named Berenice who would do experiments in a tower, or Crystal Cage. He eventually published this series in View magazine which you can see online at Bibliopolis. In his notes for this piece, dated November 14, 1942 and labeled “Appearance of Berenice” Cornell wrote about the sudden inspiration he had after seeing, through an elevated train window, a brief glimpse of three girls as they rode by. “. . . that little arm held a key that was now unlocking dreams. For in another flash and with overwhelming emotion came the realization that Berenice had been encountered, leaving a scattering of star-dust in her train.”

Some other random observations about Cornell:

  • He was a science major in college.
  • He became a Christian Scientist in 1925.
  • He liked the artists DeChirico and Max Ernst.
  • He created the first avant-garde “collage films” by spicing together film footage that he collected.
  • I liked his use of glass compasses and the Dutch pipes.
  • I recognized some of the marbled papers he used in his work. They are in the end papers of some of my old books.
  • I like the way he cut out an image and placed it opposite its own dark silhouette.
  • I recognized two collage images that he used as being from a little French language book that I own.
  • He was influenced by Juan Gris.
  • He was inspired by Rebecca Patterson’s 1951 biography The Riddle of Emily Dickinson.
  • The French word for “dovecotes” is colombier which is derived from the Latin word columbarium which denotes a niche for burial urns.

  • To see more of the contents of Cornell’s collections visit the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
  • To see an interactive web site for the SFMOMA exhibition, which was originally created by the Peabody Essex Museum, visit Joseph Cornell: Naviagating the Imagination.
  • If you can’t get to San Francisco, you might enjoy the beautiful book which catalogs the exhibition — Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination, which can be purchased at Amazon.

  • Book Arts Class

    Skylar and Sloan

    It’s four a.m., and I can’t sleep. It’s very dark and still except for the glow of the monitor and the hum of the CPU fan. Today will be my third consecutive day staying home from school. I have a nasty cold. It started with a sore throat and cough last week. I tried to fight it off by drinking lots of water and basically willing it to go away, but the cold had more tenacity than I did. By the end of school on Monday, I could barely talk. So I decided to just stay home and take care of myself. It’s hard to be in front of 130 twelve year olds when you feel lousy. And then I have the added joy of having to oh-so-discreetly cross my legs everytime I cough. It’s not a pretty sight. My husband hates it when I’m sick. Yesterday he said that if I would just think positive and act like I feel healthy, then I would be okay. So it’s all in my head, eh? Bring me a kleenex and leave me alone.

    I’m not very good at lying around the house and doing nothing for the sake of getting better. So yesterday I scheduled some more ebay auctions for my gothic fairy collages. I’ve sold three so far but am in a quandry about how many times to list a piece before removing it from circulation. I don’t feel like giving up just because a collage hasn’t found a home yet. I know there’s somebody for each one of my small blessings; they just have to find their rightful owner. Maybe I’ll pull them after listing them three times and put them on the collage art page on my web site and try to sell them there.

    Later on in the day I made some little sample books for the Book Arts class that I will start teaching on Monday after school. I have ten young ladies signed up for the class, and I’m very excited about making books with them.

    For the first class I’m going to show a powerpoint presentation of some incredible artist books so they can get an idea of the unlimited possibilities for creating artist books. Many of the images I used are from the Guild of Book Workers’ 100th Anniversary Exhibition. You should really take a look at this site when you have some time to kill; the variety of artistic vision is breathtaking.

    Next we’re going to make some 3″ X 4″ books that are folded from a single sheet of 8 1/2″ X 11″ paper. I got the recipes from Shereen LaPlantz’s great book Cover-to-Cover. I’m going to have lots of colored paper for them to use. I thought this would be a good way to introduce them to different types of folds, how to use a bone folder for scoring and creating nice tight creases (we’re going to use old credit cards as cheap imitation bone folders), and how to safely use an exacto blade for cutting.

    I wanted them to make a little box in which they could put their finished books, and I found this neat Super Deluxe Tuckbox Template Maker where you can enter the dimensions of the box you want to create and it will make a custom template that you can print out on your computer. (The calculations on the template maker are a little off, so if you do this be sure to add .25 to all your dimensions, otherwise it will come out too small.) I printed my template on cardstock and made a cute little tuckbox for the books to fit in. I think the girls are really going to enjoy this.

    I also plan on showing them my texture box so they can start collecting textures of their own since the next class will be all about decorating paper. I’m going to show them how to make a string stamp as their homework assignment. Hopefully at the next class we’ll have ten very cool string stamps that we can use to decorate our paper. I can’t wait!

    My Gothic Fairies

    Jeran and Nemanda

    So I had an itch in my brain that I had to scratch. I wanted to make some collages. I had seen a lot of altered cabinet cards in the artsy, craftsy magazines lately, and I thought to myself, “That looks like fun.” But I didn’t want to do what they had all done. I wanted my altered images to be a little different, a little strange. I played around with some scans in Photoshop, and viola!, I created some strange little people to use in my art. I wanted fairies, but not too pretty. Gothic fairies. Gothic fairies with insect wings. A little dark around the edges. A little mysterious. Little gothic fairy children who befriend gargoyles.

    After I had made a few, I showed them to my sister. She does not like them at all. She said, “What do you think is causing you to make all this weird art lately?” Just my mood, I guess. But I have fallen in love with these little people. I give them a name. I give them a teeny bit of history, and then I set them free on eBay, and watch what happens (or doesn’t, as the case may be.) It’s all okay. I know that someone out there is going to look at Jaren and Nemanda, or Mizzy, Flora, and Little Vell (my favorites so far) and love them as much as I do.

    I wanted my auction to look just right, so I wanted to make my own background and html formatting. I looked around at some of the free ebay selling assistants and decided on Auctiva. I felt like I had to learn something new all over again. So I spent about three sleepness nights emailing customer support, asking questions on the forums, tweaking and untweaking my template until it was just (almost) the way I wanted it. I spent ONE WHOLE DAY just trying to figure out how to get the background image I wanted to show up. And then when I finally figured it out, of course it was something so tiny and simple that I almost broke down and cried when I discovered it. Isn’t that just the way with the web? It can suck the life out of you and can almost make you break down and cry.

    Mizzy, Flora, and Little Vell

    Benicia Open Studios

    Today was the second and final day of Open Studios in Benicia. The weather was great, so I hopped on my scooter and rode down to the Benicia Art Gallery. On the way there, I stopped in my first studio. The artist’s name was Joe Martino, and he had created a series of 100 sketches with a Sharpie on used coffee cups that he had unpeeled and opened up. Every morning, after his ritual coffee, he went somewhere and sketched a scene. He drew a companion sketch on the disk from the coffee cup bottom, too, and then mounted the coffee cup pieces on an assortment of board and other background materials that he had found lying around his studio. What a great guy to talk to. He was so enthusiastic about his work, which I found fresh and spontaneous and joyful.

    On to the gallery . . . After looking around a bit, I grabbed a map, and then I went upstairs to see Ann Baldwin, one of my favorite artists. She is such a great lady. Everytime I see her and we get a chance to talk, I always learn something.

    She had lots of different styles of work on display this year. On one wall, she had an exhibit of smallish abstract photographs that she had taken, printed on paper, and mounted on a lightweight board . They were so intriguing. She said that someone who had come in earlier had assumed they were aerial photographs. They do have the quality of looking down at something and not being sure of what you’re seeing. She had captured beautiful patterns, textures, and colors from nature- a path carved by rivulets of water, the damp mossy roots of a tree, circles of dampness left by the bottoms of soda cans on concrete- simple, yet mezmerizing. They looked georgraphical and anatomical at the same time.

    Over the past couple of years, Ann has worked on developing her skills as a photographer and is taking pictures to use in her collage art. In my mind, it has transformed her work into something more modern than previous collages, which were infused with memory and nostalgia. Though there’s still some of that present, I think her new work feels more contemporary and immediate, and theres’ much more imagery from nature and architecture, which I love.

    We talked about copyright issues for collage artists and she told me this was one of the things that lead her to use more of her own photography in her art work. She told me that she recently discovered that in order to photograph (for showing and selling) a more modern building, you have to get permission. It’s even illegal to photograph raptors such as hawks and eagles without the permission of some raptor association. How can a bird be copyright protected?!

    One of the things I really like about Ann is that she always asks me about my own artwork and how I’m doing with my altered books. I swear I could talk to her for hours, but I don’t want to monopolize her time when there are other people coming in and out who want to speak with her as well. So I reluctantly said good-bye and headed on my way.

    After I left Ann’s exhibit, I went to see an old student of mine who makes jewelry. I’ll write more about that tomorrow.