Superheroes in the Sixteenth Century

I love to play with history, inside the classroom and out, which is one of the reasons I started this blog. Any sort of mashup of past and present, especially if it is clever and creative, is instantly going to catch my attention–and hold it, for a least a little while. So when I saw just one of the images of French photographer Sacha Goldberger’s “Super Flemish” series, in which twentieth-century superheroes are reimagined in the guise and garb of Northern Renaissance portraits, I had to see them all. Below are my favorites, and you can see the rest here, along with more of Goldberger’s provocative work. His commentary on his photographs is interesting too: By the temporal disturbance they produce, these images allow us to discover, under the patina of time, an unexpected melancholy of those who are to be invincible. “Temporal disturbance”, that’s what interests me. And don’t these icons look a bit melancholy in their trunk hose and ruffs?

SuperHerosFlamands_Batman_RGB1998_011

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SuperHerosFlamands_Catwoman_RGB1998_014

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Sacha Goldberger’s “Super Flemish” Superheroes: more here (including lots of Star Wars characters in ruffs–and the Incredible Hulk!)

These images got me thinking: who were the superheroes of the sixteenth century? Batman, Robin, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Superman might look like they’re hanging out in the sixteenth century in Golberger’s photographs but they don’t really reflect sixteenth-century values and ideals, as superheroes should. After looking at what seemed like hundreds of prints of his Twelve Labours, I decided that Hercules must be the perfect Renaissance superhero: he’s from the classical past, but convertible enough for that era (or any, really). People in the sixteenth century liked to mash-up history just as we do: that’s what the Renaissance is all about, and the Reformation popularized such representations. Picture in point: Martin Luther portrayed as “Hercules Germanicus” by Hans Holbein the Younger, slaying all the Catholic authorities in his midst, the perfect Protestant superhero.

Hercules Jost Amman BM 1590

Superhero Luther Hercules

Hercules in the company of a Roman warrior and a wild man, Jost Amman, c. 1590, British Museum; Luther as the “Hercules Germanicus”, Hans Holbein the Younger, 16th century, Zentralbibliothek Zürich.

 

 


When Monster (Buildings) Attack

Salem is still in the midst (throes) of a relentless building boom that began several years ago with the construction of an over-sized courthouse and will eventually encompass a train station/parking garage (just opened), a new hotel complex, and an expanded campus for Salem State University. This is a lot of construction for a relatively small city, and the buildings are big. Actually I’m not sure whether the scale of these structures bothers me more than the design, though now that I’ve thought about it for a second, it’s definitely the former with the courthouse and the latter with the proposed hotel complex, which looks like it is shaping up to be a truly ugly building. Anyone who has glanced at this blog briefly knows that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to architecture so no surprises there. But I don’t want to write about the design attributes of these buildings in this post: I’m more focused on what the average citizen can do when these big projects attack–and they can, at any time and anywhere. After years of watching these developments play out, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that there is very little that one person–or even a group of very dedicated and well-connected people–can do to stop them, most especially if the state is the developer. The process usually goes something like this: the project is proposed in all its glory, people get mad, and organized, but are repeatedly told that it’s a done deal, a fait accompli, except for (relatively) little details that are subject to mitigation, these details get discussed in the review process, the project gets built, period. And that’s how Salem got its GIANT courthouse and its generic parking garage. Even though Salem State University is Salem State University, the process of development has been a bit more collaborative, at least from my perspective (which could be very biased, as I work there), but now the university wants to build a large parking garage in very close proximity to a residential neighborhood that really doesn’t want it there. And I’m wondering if they have the power to stop it.

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Buildings 007

Monstrous Building Cube

Massive/massing: the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center in Salem; the new Salem Station Parking Garage; the proposed RCG Hotel Complex with “Cube” wing, courtesy Salem News.

I’m very torn on the Salem State parking garage, and not just because I work there. It seems quite apparent to me that design is a much greater priority for those who are planning the Salem State campus than those who are transforming Salem’s downtown. Salem State has 10,000 students and no parking garage–obviously it needs one (but it also needs a train stop)! There are actually three separate campuses: must there be one HUGE parking garage rather than three smaller, less obtrusive ones? I suppose this option is cost-prohibitive, but this is what every student that I’ve talked to wants. And there are plans for more buildings: won’t forcing this garage down the neighbors’ throats hurt future development plans? The neighborhood has organized itself into a group called Save our Salem (S.O.S: they started out as Save South Salem so this was a wise change), and they look committed. I’m really hoping that this particular superstructure doesn’t harm the environment in which I live and work.

PicMonkey Collage

Parking Garage SSU

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Facades and aerial outline of the proposed 54-foot, 725-car parking garage on the North Campus of Salem State University; Save our Salem signs along Raymond Road.


Trolley Barn Transformation

In a follow-up to a post from several months ago on the beginning of a really neat adaptive reuse project near Collins Cove in Salem, today I have photographs of the Victorian-era trolley barn that has been transformed–and reborn–as six sparkling residential units. This is a rare opportunity (in print, not in life!) for me to heap praise on my husband, who was the architect on the job, as well as his clients, who have a long and impressive record of effecting historic preservation through conversion in Salem.

Three Webster Street was built in 1887 as a trolley or “car barn” for the Lynn & Boston Electric Railway Company. Its two stories contained approximately 9,600 square feet of unfinished and open floor space, which has now been converted into six apartments, four “upside down” (with loft living space and kitchen above, and bedrooms below) and two flats. Because the building occupies nearly every inch of its lot–and there were existing bays–parking has been provided inside, which I think is both very appropriate and very neighborly! I’ve included a “before” photograph from my previous post so you can appreciate the transformation, which began with simple enclosure and construction–almost to the extent of building townhouses within the existing structure–and extended to the merger of integral industrial details with all the comforts of home.

Before: wide open spaces

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After: exterior, central hallway (with the building’s original ceiling tiles and sign along the walls), and apartments.

Trolley Barn Exterior

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Trolley Barn 055

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Three Webster Street, Salem Massachusetts: captured just before moving day. All six residences are spoken for!


Architectural Alphabets

Architecture and Alphabets: two of my favorite things, together. I’ve been meaning to post some images from Jean Baptiste de Pian’s clever alphabet ever since I discovered it a year or so ago, but just never got to it. There’s already some images and admirers out there, but I’ll add more. The lithographs below, part of a series of 26, were actually created and colored by Leopold Müller in 1842 after paintings by Pian. The series is very rare and valuable: one set sold for over $32,000 at a Christies’ auction last year, and another is currently available at Bromer Booksellers for $65,000. Apparently a facsimile edition was published in 1973 but I can’t find it anywhere. As you can see in the images below (which I have taken from the Christies’ listing), the letters are not just affixed to the structures but rather an integral part of them.

Architectural Alphabet 1842

Architectural Alphabet F

Architectural Alphabet U 1842

As impressive as they are, Pian/Müller’s letters are not completely original conceptions: just a few years earlier the Italian artist and theater designer Antonio Basoli had published his own, predominately classical,architectural alphabet, Alfabeto Pittorico, comprised of 24 letters and an ampersand. Basoli’s Alphabet, as it came to be known, is rare today as well, though apparently not quite so rare as that which it might have inspired: it fetched $15,000 at the same 2013 Christies’ auction. Before Basoli, there was the plan-based architectural alphabet of the German architect Johann David Steingruber, published in 1773. Viewed individually, I don’t think Steingruber’s letters are as impressive as the more consolidated forms of Pian/Müller and Basoli, but collectively (as in this canvas by Ballard Designs from a few years back) they pack a punch.

Alphabetical Alphabet Basoli

Architectural Alphabet Z

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Steingruber Ballard Designs

Scans of Basoli & Steingruber at the venerable blog Giornale Nuovo, a feast of information and images.

The architectural alphabet looks like a seventeenth-century invention to me: a direct consequence of the rebirth of classicism and the emergence and development of the printing arts in the centuries before. But I think I’ll move up (back) to our own time, where the architectural alphabet still survives, indeed thrives! Two great examples: Federico Babino’s alphabet of architects, cleverly titled Archibet (he also builds an Archibet City), and the (less integrative but more whimsical) Architectural Alphabet of Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams.

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Archibet-alphabet-of-architects-by-Federico-Babina_dezeen_Z-01

zega and dams


Some Came Back

Given that I, along with every other historically-conscious person in the world, have been thinking about World War One and its aftermath in this anniversary year of its commencement, that has to be my focus for this Veterans Day. I’ve been thinking about the impact of the Great War on Salem and its inhabitants for a while, but I haven’t really had time to engage in any serious research: I suppose that I have until 2017! This is one of those cases of “anniversary history” where the American and European perspectives are not quite in sync. I have found one great digital database, however: at the State Library of Massachusetts. A five-year project to digitize over 8,000 portraits of soldiers has created an amazing resource that every descendant of a Massachusetts doughboy will want to check out. Most of the photographs are accompanied by “cut slips” of paper that I find almost as poignant as the images themselves: data sheets for prospective Boston Globe stories which lists the soldier’s name, hometown, and story: either “experiences” or “killed in action”. The photographs were taken before the men shipped out; the slips were made out after armistice was declared. Some of these Salem men came back, and some did not.

Annable

Corp. Walter W. Annable, Battery F., 101st F. A.; Came Back.

Redmond

Capt. Ernest R. Redmond, Battery E, 101st F. A; Came Back (and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Salem in 1925).

Marcotte

Corp. Henry J. Marcotte, Co. M, 103rd Infantry; Came Back.

Lynch

Corp. Henry F. Lynch, 301st F. A.; Came Back.

Murphy

Henry G. Murphy, 101st F. A. Battery D.; Killed in Action in France.

Bufford

O. J. Bufford, Battery D., 101st F. A.; Killed by accident in France.

These are just a few Salem men and their fates: the entire record includes many casualties of war and as many–or more–of disease: the immediate post-war influenza epidemic which decimated the United States and the world. Imagine surviving the trenches and then dying from the flu in an army camp back home–or nearly there. Of course every death is heroic, but some were officially recognized as such, like that of Thomas Upton of Salem, who received a Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism in action near Belleau, France, on July 20, 1918. He voluntarily crossed a zone swept by machine gun and shell fire to aid wounded soldiers, and was killed. Conflict and contagion in 1918, and cheering crowds for those that came back.

Some Came Back 1918 Leslie Jones

Some Came Back 2 1918 Leslie Jones

Armistice Day 1919 SSU Dionne

Massachusetts troops arriving in Boston in 1918, Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library; the first Armistice Day Parade in Salem, 1919, Dionne Collection, Salem State University Archives.

 


 

 


Mapping the Twentieth Century

In the recent tradition of Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects and Jerry Brotton’s History of the World in 12 Maps, the British Library published A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps last month, and my copy arrived in the mail yesterday. The book consists of 110 maps actually, compiled for the most part from the Library’s vast map collection by Tim Bryers and Tom Harper. The maps are arranged chronologically and presented with detailed introductions: the end result is a perfect book. It occurred to me while browsing through it last night that the physical book is the preferable vehicle for the presentation of maps: they require close reading, although I suppose the zooming abilities of a Kindle would be helpful too. As I’ve written here time and time again, whether discussing maps in the form of animals, or hearts, or featuring octopuses bent on world domination, maps are an essential teaching tools, and this new book contains some great material. Though I do disagree slightly with Bryers’ and Harper’s thesis that the twentieth century is the map century: in terms of sheer cartographic impact, I would place my bet on the sixteenth.

Maps cover

Map London Underground BL

Map Dogs 1914

Map Blitz 1940

Map April Fool 1977

Map Orwell 1984

Selections from A History of the World in 100 Maps: London Underground Map, 1908 (20+ years before the iconic map was created in the 1930s); Hark, Hark! The Dogs do Bark map by Johnson, Riddle & Co., 1914; secret Luftwaffe map of London at the beginning of the Blitz, 1940–with places marked for bombing and avoidance; Artwork for the Guardian’s article on the fictional islands of San Serriffe, published on April Fool’s Day in 1977; “The World of George Orwell’s ’1984′, published in 1984.

 


Monopoly Pieces

I have quicksilver materialistic urges: what I want now are Monopoly pieces, or rather artistically-enhanced versions thereof. There is a Salem source of this desire, and it is a timely one: Parker Brothers of Salem acquired one of the key patents they needed  to produce their version of Monopoly on this day in 1935, and it was an immediate blockbuster, perhaps (or in spite of) the ongoing Depression. Parker Brothers’ long residency in Salem (1883-1991) is no doubt due in large part to the success of this ultra-American game. It was apparently rushed into production even though Parker Brothers president George Parker had low expectations: a series of boxes from 1935 bear the inscriptions “patent applied for” and “patent pending”. Inside are wooden houses and hotels and the original dark-iron tokens: the iron, racing car, thimble, shoe, top hat and battleship (the Scottie dog and wheelbarrow were added in the early 1950s).

Monopoly Box Patent Pending 1935

1935 Patent Pending Monopoly Box: Source.

And that’s the other reason why I’m craving Monopoly pieces now:  my favorite token was always the iron, and it has recently been cast out of the game, replaced by a cat. I’m a cat lover as well, but the new token just doesn’t have the texture of that old iron: thankfully my Monopoly game is pretty vintage, and thus iron-clad. And when a little tiny metal token just won’t do, several artists have been inspired enough by the game–and its iconic pieces–to create bigger and bolder versions. I want all of these creations by Stuart Whitton, which are hand-drawn on vintage postcards, but I think they’re long gone.

Monopoly Iron Whitton

Monopoly Racing Car Whitton PC

Monopoly Racing Car 2 Whitton

Monopoly Shoe Whitton PC

Monopoly Whitton dog PC

Stuart Whitton’s drawings of “infamous” Monopoly pieces at Behance and stuartwhitton.co.uk.

Since I’m particularly fond of the retired iron, I did find a more attainable object: a pewteresque replica: not very subtle, and far less artistic, but BIG. But where to put it? It screams doorstop to me, but when I went in search of a place, I found not one, not two, but THREE old 19th century irons propped up against doors on my third floor. I don’t think I need one more, even if it has an air of Monopoly about it.

Monopoly Iron Doorstop

 

 

 


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