Category Archives: Design

Hardcovers

I had been wanting to write a post on Black Beauty, the first “real” book I ever read and one that shaped my childhood in several ways, for some time, and as today marks the birthday of its author, Anna Sewall, this seemed like the perfect time. So this weekend I brought out my old copy for inspiration but almost as soon as I opened it up I realized I could not read this book again, much less write about it. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a wonderful book:  I just don’t want to go through the horse’s painful journey again. Of course everything turns out all right for Black Beauty in the end, but Sewall gives him such a strong voice, and fills his story with so many harrowing, realistic details, that the moment I opened up the book (after decades) it all came rushing back. I can’t imagine how I had the courage to read this tome in the first place at age seven or eight: the fearfulness of youth, I suppose! But I’m not going back: the protective material side of me has surfaced, fortunately, and I’m going to focus on the decorative aspects of books today instead of their content.

Black Beauty 1st ed.

Black Beauty 1897

Black Beauty 2011

Covers of Black Beauty:  1877 first edition, 1897, and 2011 Penguin Threads edition–with design by Jillian Tamaki.

Enough of suffering, compassion and sanctuary! Like anything that seems likely to go away, books have becoming more precious as objects for some time, both in their original form and in variations and adaptions. One company that seems to be bridging the gap between literature and art is Juniper Books, which offers ready-made and custom collections of books gathered around a particular author or theme with covers and spines designed to decorate the bookshelf. When they can’t find an appropriate set of books to house their designs–they just cover up odd volumes–and so we have an Ernest Hemingway set of elephant-embellished books and an anonymous set of elephant-embellished books, all ready for a pachyderm-themed study (like mine).

Hardovers Juniper Books Hemingway Set

Hardcovers Elephant Book Set

And if you’re just looking for book forms, there are a variety of options: ceramic books are my particular preference of this genre –book-shaped vases and flasks go way back, at least to the eighteenth century. A couple of years ago I bought up as many of the book candles below as I could obtain at Anthropologie (a store that will put candles in anything and everything): I didn’t particularly care for the candles (still intact); I just liked the “books”. They are long gone from the store now, but these more colorful book vases are still very much in stock. A bit more sophisticated examples from Seletti and Kim Marsh are available here and here, and I suspect I could gather much more.

Hardcovers 030

Anthropologie ceramic book vases

Book Vases

Hardcovers Kim Marsh


Mary Harrod Northend

I’m not bound to such designations, but as we’re almost running out of Women’s History Month and our mayor has declared March 29 Salem Women’s History Day I’ve decided to feature a notable Salem woman on this last weekend in March. After much deliberation–as there are many notable women in Salem’s history–I’ve settled on the author and entrepreneur Mary Harrod Northend (1850-1926). She has interested me for some time, and she’s popped up in several posts in the past, but she deserves her own. Northend was from old, old Massachusetts families on both sides, and this heritage is key to her life and work. Both parents were actually from northern Essex County, but moved south after their marriage: her father, William Dummer Northend, became a prominent attorney and a state senator for Salem. Mary was born at 17 Beckford Street, a side-to-street late Federal house, but the family moved over to Lynde Street, in the shadow of the Federal Street courthouses, in the later 1850s. Their grand Italianate double house, photographed for Mary’s books later, is now sadly chopped into 12 apartments by my count. The few biographical details I could gather refer to a childhood sickness; in fact by all accounts (or by no accounts) Mary led a quiet life in her childhood and adulthood, until she burst out in her 50s and started writing all about colonial Salem and colonial New England, necessitating regional travel, which she clearly embraced. Eleven books were published between 1904 and 1926, when she died in Salem from complications sustained from a car accident, and many, many articles for magazines such as Good Housekeeping, The Century and The House Beautiful: I haven’t had time to compile a proper bibliography. But she was an incredibly prolific woman: an acknowledged expert on New England architecture and antiquities, with a touch of Martha Stewart-esque domestic stature as well, forged by her publications on decorating and party-planning. Let us, she writes in a very Martha tone in The Art of Home Decoration: link the old and the new, working out entrancing combinations that are ideal, making our home joyous and bright through the right utilizing of great grandmother’s hoard.

Northend Portrait 1904 HNE

Northend Birthplace Beckford Street Salem

Northend 1862 Portrait

Mary Harrod Northend (and dog), circa 1906, in the early phase of her writing career, Historic New England; her birthplace at 17 Beckford Street, Salem; her father William Dummer Northend, newly-elected State Senator from Salem, 1862, State Library of Massachusetts.

Her books and articles reveal Mary to be a fierce advocate for “Old-time” New England; she is at the forefront of that (second?) generation of strident Colonial Revivalists, fearful that the (changing) world around them hasn’t developed proper appreciation for colonial architecture and material culture. She is evangelical in her love of clapboards, mantles, arches, doorways, garden ornaments, pewter and seamless glass. The phrase “detail-oriented” doesn’t even come close to capturing Mary’s appreciation of the things that were built and made in the colonial past: these things are her life and her world. And like any good educator–which she was–Mary wanted her (growing) audience to see her world and so she spared no expense when it came to photography, first taking her own photographs and then “directing” commercial photographers in the manner of a cinematographer, according to Mary N. Woods’ Beyond the Architect’s Eye: Photographs and the American Built Environment (2011). The end result was a vast collection of still images (there are 6000 glass plate negatives in the collection of Historic New England alone, though the entry in the biographical dictionary Who’s Who in New England for 1915 indicates that Mary has “20,000 negatives and prints of American homes”) which she used to illustrate her own books, sold to other architectural writers, and colorized in the style of  Wallace Nutting to sell directly to the public.

Northend Historic Homes 1914

Northend Doorways 1926

Northend Cook Oliver

Northend Framed Photo Cook Oliver

Two of Northend’s most popular titles, Historic Homes of New England (1914) and Historic Doorways of Old Salem (1926); the Cook-Oliver House on Federal Street in Salem, featured in Historic Homes and sold as an individual colorized print, “The Half Open Door”.

It’s relatively easy to research the work of Mary Harrod Northend: her books are still readily available in both print and digital form and prints from her photographic collection are at Historic New England and the Winterthur Library. But I wish I knew more about her business, the business of publishing books and photographs, writing, lecturing, collecting. I’m also curious about money: there’s definitely a bit of voyeurism in Northend’s books and I can’t discern why she remained in the family home on busy Lynde Street rather than move to the McIntire District just a few blocks away. In one of her most personal, yet still fictionalized, books, Memories of Old Salem: Drawn from the Letters of a Great-Grandmother (1917), the great-grandmother in the title lives on Chestnut Street, but Mary never did. This might have been a family matter: her widowed mother and sister lived right next door in the Italianate double house, which was also an appropriate “stage” for some of her photographs. I also think it was quite likely that Miss Northend was seldom at her own home, as she was so busy documenting those of others!

A very random sampling of Mary Harrod Northend photographs, mostly from Historic Homes and Colonial Homes and their Furnishing (1912), all from the Winterthur Digital Collections:

northend-gables-door1

Northend 10 Chestnut Door

Northend Robinson House Summer Street

Three very different Salem houses:  doorway at the House of the Seven Gables, entrance of 10 Chestnut, side view of the Robinson House on Summer Street.

Northend Pewter Mantle

Northend Waters House Mantle

Northend Mantles

Salem mantles: a pewter display, McIntire mantle at the Waters House (LOVE this louvred fire screen), Whipple and Pickman mantles.

Northend 29 Washington Square Hallway

Northend Ropes Windowseat

Northend Saltonstall House Haverhill Hall

Northend Kittredge House Yarmouth Remodeled Farmhouses Cape

Northend Bright House Beds

Details & decor I love:  hallway of 29 Washington Square, Salem, Ropes Mansion windowseat, entry hall at Saltonstall House, Haverhill, Attic and twin canopy beds on the Cape (from Remodeled Farmhouses, 1915–but all of Miss Northend’s books feature canopied beds! I would place them headboard to headboard.)

Northend Kate Sanborn House Spinning Wheel

Northend House Winterthur

Flagrant displays of Colonial Revivalism: Spinning wheel and fire buckets at the Kate Sanborn House, and Miss Northend’s own house on Lynde Street, all dressed up for Spring.


Lion’s Paw

When I was assembling my portfolio of Renaissance “green” merchants, I came across a Lorenzo Lotto portrait that I had seen long ago and then forgotten: I remember being perplexed by it then and remain so now. It is Man with a Golden Paw, dated 1527, featuring a man leaning forward and slightly to the side with a (embellished, sincere) hand on his heart and a lion’s paw in his other hand. When I first saw the portrait in my early 20s I remember being struck by his appearance (is he wearing earmuffs?), now I’m more interested in the lion’s paw.

Lorenzo_Lotto Lion's Paw

Lorenzo Lotto, Man with a Golden Paw, 1527, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

The meaning and placement of this particular paw has not been established with great certainty, but most art historians seem to think it offers a clue about the name or occupation of the sitter: a Leo-like name, a goldsmith? Lions in general, and pieces of lions in particular, are so often utilized in art forms throughout history that context is all-important. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, the lion had myriad religious and secular associations: as the long-reigning King of Beasts, he represents strength, majesty, courage and fortitude, even Resurrection. Conversely, but still expressions of his power, the lion could represent pride or vengeful wrath. In religious iconography he is associated most strongly with St. Mark and St. Jerome, who removed a painful thorn from a lion’s paw and received a friend and servant for life in return: any possibilities for our painting in this particular story? In various poses, the lion represents a range of attributes in heraldic devices as well, always kingship, bravery, fierceness, and more subtle watchfulness (as it was a medieval belief that lions slept with their eyes open). Lotto’s paw-holding man holds my interest because at this point in time (again, 1527) the lion reference could mean anything: a rather mundane association to family name or profession, a testimony to skill, strength, or power, an expression of faith. But not long after this moment, his prized paw will be reduced to a mere decorative motif, shorn of its long-held symbolism and so commonly featured in the decorative arts from the eighteenth century onwards that it becomes almost invisible–certainly not the focal point of the piece.

Detached (literally and symbolically) lion’s paws, 17th- 21st centuries:

Lion's Paw Furniture Mount MET

Lion's Paw Raphael

Lion's Paw excavation

Lion's Paw bookend RH

Gilt Bronze Lion’s paw furniture mount, French, late 17th-early 18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sketches of Raphael Cartoons by Sir James Thornhill, c. 1729-1731, Victoria and Albert Museum; Excavated Lion’s Paw from the Victorian conservatory at Tyntesfield, Archaeology National Trust SW; Lion’s Paw bookends, Restoration Hardware.


Film Fonts from the 1930s

Big time transition here from the 1180s to the 1930s but that’s my life! As even the casual reader of this blog may know, I’m an avid classic film buff who is regularly tuned in to Turner Classic Movies–on which I watch (or glance at, while I’m doing other things) even bad movies. It doesn’t matter: if the plot doesn’t hold my attention something else will:  the sets, the costumes, even the titles. The other night an extremely lightweight Ann Sothern film from 1936 entitled The Smartest Girl in Town (working model “Cookie” Cooke seeks rich husband and reluctantly falls for a man whom she presumes is another model but is in fact–and of course–a millionaire) caught my attention simply by its title sequence, featuring an amazing font which I had never seen before. I taped the film and have since gone back again and again just to look at these letters:

Film Font 1936

And aren’t they amazing? Look at all those circles and parallelograms–they really liven up what looks (to my untrained eye) like a pretty standard 1930s font. My preoccupation with this particular title drove me to look for those of some of my favorite films from this era, and led me to discover a great resource: the website of Dutch graphic and web designer Christian Annyas, who has collected hundreds of screen shots of film titles from the 1920s to the present in his The Movie Title Stills Collection. You can search by title, designer, director, or actor, but the best thing to do is just browse through the decades so you can see the evolution of letters on film. I did that briefly, and then went right back to the 1930s, which produced my favorite films and my favorite fonts, and here are just a few of them:

design-for-living-movie-title

Design for Living (1933): almost as good a title as The Smartest Girl, but a much better film. It’s very modern, and is basically about a menage à trois!

39-steps-title-still

The 39 Steps (1935): Hitchcock attended to every little detail–all his titles are great.

theodora-goes-wild-title-still

Theodora Goes Wild (1936): not sure this is as classic as some people say, but it is charmingly well-acted by Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas–and I love this font!

Film Font Godfrey

My Man Godfrey (1936): more 1930s shadows–the “forgotten man” gets into the picture!

Film Font Dead End 1937

Dead End (1937): a more realistic Depression-in-New-York film by William Wyler with Humphrey Bogart and one of my favorites, Joes McCrea.

Film Font Wings

Only Angels have Wings (1939): I don’t really care for this sandy font, to tell the truth, but as this is probably my favorite movie of that stellar movie year 1939, I felt I had to include it. You can tell we’re about to go through a typographical transition…….


Casabella Covers

For the most part, I think I’ve been pretty productive during this snowbound February, but I’ve also frittered away a fair amount of time: reading not very scholarly books and searching through some of my favorite databases for anything that might catch my attention: images, fonts, ideas. I love magazines about architecture and interior design, so I browsed through digital collections of twentieth-century publications and found several that intrigued me, not so much for their content (traditionalist that I am) but for their striking covers. Magazine covers are so boring now (with the exception of the New Yorker and a few other titles): there’s no abstraction or design, just a literal representation of what’s inside. This was not the case in the mid-twentieth century, when the images and letters of design magazines like Casabella seemed to (literally) leap off the page. La casa bella, a monthly magazine of “radical” modern architecture, commenced publication in 1928 in Milan and is still published today. Its first covers are pretty sedate, but in the 1930s (about the same time that the title was changed to Casabella) they get quite a bit more interesting, reflecting not just what’s inside but their time. Here’s a portfolio of images from 1929-73, all taken from the magazine’s current website.

la-casa-bella-2-cover

Casabella 1930

Casabella Covers 1932 collage

Casabella 1950s

Casabella 1960 collage

Casabella 1960s

Casabella Cover 1

Casabella Covers from 1929, 1930, 1933, the 1950s, 1963, 1969 & 1973.


Super Bowls

I must admit that I stole the title of this post from the online shelter magazine Lonny:  I couldn’t resist, but it is so obvious you would think I could have come up with it myself! In terms of content, however: my bowls are very different from theirs. Not being a big fan of either football in general or the Super Bowl in particular, I have to seek alternative activities for this weekend and shopping for or merely seeking material objects always works for me. As bowls are probably the most utilitarian object around–perhaps even more so than plates–there was a big sea to navigate but nevertheless I came up with a top ten list pretty quickly. My preferences run to antique with glazed or embellished finishes–I am currently obsessed with silver lustreware–but a touch of subtle iridescence or whimsy on a bowl of any vintage will always catch my eye.

Bowl 1

Antique Silver Resist Lustre Punch Bowl, $265

Bowl 3

Antique creamware salad bowl, price upon request

??????????

An Amazing Mochaware punch bowl with swags! $3200

Okay, let’s get a big more realistic: I might be able to swing for the silver lustreware bowl but certainly not the mochaware one. I have a pantry full of Mason Cash bowls, so I certainly don’t need any more, but I like basic yellow ware bowls, both old and new, particularly the white-banded variety. Many modern potters seem to produce updated creamware bowls, in a variety of interesting shapes and glazes.

bowl Yellow Ware

Late 19th-early 20th century Yellow Ware Bowl, $68

Laura_De_Benedetti_s1211

Creamware bowl by Laura De Benedetti, £25

kevin-millward-medium-hand-thrown-creamware-bowl-

 Kevin Milward Creamware Bowl, £60

Bowl Fairmont and Main

Fairmont & Main Creamware Vegetable Bowl, £13.59

Two cute cereal bowls: buttons and Dali.

Green Button Soup Bowl

Bowl Dali

Green Button soup or cereal bowl by Rebecca Lowery, $22;

Salvador Dali “Surreal” cereal bowl, $17

And finally, the best bowl haircut of all time: on the heroic, short-lived King Henry V (1387-1422): as depicted in a portrait by an unknown artist in the late Tudor era–an age which fixed his image for all time.

NPG 545; King Henry V by Unknown artist

Henry V, © National Portrait Gallery, London

 


All Wrapped Up

I think I spent more time on wrapping my Christmas gifts this year than purchasing them: I rationalized this by incorporating presentation into the cumulative “thought” that counts! I became rather enchanted with several images of seasonal, botanical anthropomorphism and they kind of took over my holiday: I made cards to affix to many of my gifts and even some custom wrapping paper via Spoonflower. Despite intensive searching online and off, I can’t find the creators of these images: the children transformed into Christmas trees, mistletoe, and plum puddings were issued as holiday cards by the Courtauld Gallery a few years ago, and the little holly sprites come from a vintage Christmas postcard in my possession, but I have no idea where they poinsettia lady comes from–she’s one of those random, unidentified, Tumblr images. If anyone has any information about these plant people, please forward so I can give proper credit!

All Wrapped Up 003p

All Wrapped Up 004

All Wrapped Up 007

Horsley_ChristmasCard

Holly Sprites Paper

Plant People for Christmas 2014.

 


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