Category Archives: Design

Everything for the Garden (Historian)

I had a lot to do yesterday (including gardening) but still managed to devote quite a bit of time to the digital collections of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden–a very enticing resource that represents only a fraction of the larger Library’s vast holdings, encompassing over 555,000 volumes in its General Research Collection, along with botanical art and manuscripts. I confined myself to only one category of the digitized materials–nursery and seed catalogs–and still managed to kill some serious time; I can only imagine the hours that would be lost to old journal articles, collector’s notebooks, and “Great Flower Books”! There were quite a few Massachusetts growers represented among the nursery catalogs, which dated primarily from the 1890s through the 1920s, including Salem’s very prominent horticulturalist and landscape architect Harlan P. Kelsey and the “Seed King” of Marblehead, James J.H. Gregory. (Both men were very energetic civic activists as well as horticultural entrepreneurs–I plan to focus on their comparative paths a bit later on, when I have more time). These catalogs are such great sources for the history of horticulture, garden design, “homemaking”, as well as advertising and marketing: they just suck you (me) right in–their nostalgic aesthetic appeal is quite powerful too. Here are a few of my favorite covers, but you can access the entire texts online via the Mertz Digital Collections.

Everything for the Garden Henderson 1905

Everything for the Garden Henderson 1918

Everything for the Garden Johnson 1907

Everything for the Garden Elliotts 1894

Everything for the Garden BRECK NYBG

Everything for the Garden Kelsey

Everything for the Garden Maloney 1917

Everything for the Garden Payne 1917

Everything for the Garden Allen 1917

Everything for the garden and “Dreamwo[r]ld” indeed: American nursery catalogs from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Digitized Collections at the New York Botanical Garden.

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Illustrations of the Improv’d Garden

I discovered the prolific British illustrator Clare Melinsky just recently, and apparently too late to obtain the examples of her work that I covet the most: illustrations based on several eighteenth-century gardening manuals by clergyman John Laurence, including: The Clergy-Man’s Recreation: Shewing the Pleasure and Profit of the Art of Gardening, The Gentleman’s Recreation: Or the Second Part of the Art of Gardening Improved, and (an apparent pseudonym) Charles Evelyn, The Lady’s Recreation: Or, the Art of Gardening Farther Improv’d (bound together in variant editions, 1717-1719, along with The Fruit-Garden Kalendar: Or, a Summary of the Art of Managing the Fruit-Garden). These are wonderful little practical books, and Melinsky’s clean linocut prints look like they are culled from the texts: they are period perfection and absolutely charming. Melinsky’s portfolio includes everything from The Witches of Salem: A Documentary Narrative (London: Folio Society, 1982) to the covers of the Bloomsbury boxed set of hardback “signature editions” of Harry Potter, and lots of flora and folktales and Shakespeare in between. Everything looks lovely, and I look forward to enjoying more of her work as time goes by but right now I’m pretty fixated on the unattainable “improv’d garden”  images–though her similar Robert Burns postcards might just suffice.

Melinsky Cards Collage

Melinsky Cards Collage Garden

Melinsky Collage

Melinsky Kew Gardens

Laurence Gardening Improvd Front

Melinsky Witch Linocut

Clare Melinsky’s Linocut “Gardening Improv’d” cards, along with a more “modern” illustration of Kew Gardens and a witch (just because) from here and here; Frontispiece ilustrations to Laurence’s Gardening Improv’d parts II and III, 1719.

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Artistic Nationalism

I started this blog to indulge in the discovery (and rediscovery) of Salem’s history, but also American history, which I haven’t really studied in any depth since high school. And I’ve completely forgotten what I learned then, or before, because it was the same old narrative, year after year, Plymouth to Ford’s Theater again and again and again. Past politics. So boring–I hated history by the time I went away to college and was determined to avoid it by majoring in something that was almost completely contrary to my interests and talents: economics. But my time abroad, along with the few history courses I allowed myself to take, convinced me that it was only American history that was boring, so I went on to get my Ph.D. in European history and become a history professor, which is quite simply the best job ever. Of course now I know that American history is not boring (though it is short), because I’ve uncovered more of its layers, including that which is most interesting to me: its culture. My American history curriculum starts with creativity and ends with events, and so I tend to fall down a rabbit hole when I encounter an amazing database like the Index of American Design, a project that commissioned Depression-era artists to produce nearly 18,000 watercolor renderings of traditional American arts and crafts made before 1900 under the auspices of the Federal Arts Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The project encompassed 34 states, regional exhibitions of the renderings, and the creation of a permanent inventory of reference materials with which one can rediscover American material culture again and again and again–as accessed today through the portal of the National Gallery of Art.

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Robert Pohle, “Sheaf of Wheat” Shop Sign, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink on paper, Index of American Design

Index renderings are photographic in their simplicity and detail: the artists are documenting and creating at the same time. Like all WPA initiatives, the Index was first and foremost a way to put unemployed people, in this case artists, to work, but like several FAP projects, the goal of archiving all forms of American culture seems to be just as important. The artists of the Index of American Design, just like the architects of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), used their own artistry to capture and preserve American artistry, as a form and expression of artistic nationalism. Their meticulous drawings of shop signs, andirons, cabinets, dolls and dresses, showcased in a series of national exhibitions, enabled an anxious American audience to discover (or rediscover) its own cultural identity, through very familiar forms.

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Margaret Knapp, Silver Teapot, American, active c. 1935, 1934, graphite on paper, Index of American Design

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Lillian Causey, Quilt, applique, American, active c. 1935, Index of American Design

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Bessie Forman, Dress, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor and graphite on paper, Index of American Design

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Bessie Forman, Man’s Hat, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor and graphite on paperboard, Index of American Design

There are several Salem items in the Index (of course), including some very primitive wooden dolls, a cartouche, and a very characteristic chair. I’m biased, I know, but I think more Salem items should have been included–and wondering if the democratization goals of the Index worked against seats of “high” culture?

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Beverly Chichester, Salem Dolls, American, active c. 1935, 1935/1942, watercolor, graphite, and gouache on paperboard, Index of American Design

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Alfred H. Smith, Cartouche from Salem Gate, American, active c. 1935, c. 1939, watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink on paperboard, Index of American Design

William Kieckhofel, Salem Chair, American, active c. 1935, c. 1937, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, Index of American Design

William Kieckhofel, Salem Chair, American, active c. 1935, c. 1937, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, Index of American Design

 

A few posters of WPA/FAP/IAD exhibitions held in 1937-38:

IAD Collage


Little British Books

I have a particular predilection for small decorative books published in collectible series, which British publishers are particularly good at producing. I have posted about two of my favorite series before, Britain in Pictures and King Penguins, and on this recent trip I encountered some more! The very traditional and well-stocked Daunt Books, which in addition to selling books has its own imprint, had several series on display in their main store on Marylebone High Street in London, and Waterstones (now managed by James Daunt) had a beautiful display of the new Penguin Monarchs series AND two big bookcases full of classic Penguins. The British love their Penguins, and who can blame them?

Daunt Books London

Daunt Books

Daunt Books Display 2

Candlewick Press Collage

Daunt Books Display

All sorts of books at Daunt including pamphlets: the Candlewick Press “Poetry Pamphlets” are marketed with the pitch phrase “instead of a card”; the “Little Black Classics” were issued in a series of 80 volumes last year to commemorate Penguin’s 80th anniversary.

Penguins Orange

Penguins Blue

Penguin Monarchs

Penguin Monarch Charles II.

Over at Waterstones on Gower Street, there were vintage paperback Penguins in orange and blue, and the new Penguins monarchs series, “ short, fresh, expert accounts of England’s rulers in a collectible format” with commissioned covers. I want all 45 of them (44 kings and queens + Oliver Cromwell, of course).

 


Ghostly Courtiers

I’ve just got a few more English posts before I get back to the actual streets of Salem: I just took so many great pictures over there if I do say so myself! I’m going back to Hampton Court today–the other side of Hampton Court, which if of course a bilateral palace, with a Tudor side and a Baroque/Georgian one, the cumulative work of Sir Christopher Wren and Sir John Vanbrugh who were commissioned by the last Stuarts and the first Georgians to remodel the entire castle in a more modern (and presumably comfortable) style. If completed, this modernization plan would have resulted in the complete demolition of the Tudor palace but lack of funds and the shifting preferences of monarchs determined that it was (fortunately) not. I far prefer the Tudor palace, inside and out, but I really enjoyed the furnishings, paintings, and overall interpretation of the “Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber” exhibit in the royal apartments on the other side, populated by courtiers all draped in white Tyvek.  Like any old place touched by tragedy, there are rumors of ghosts at Hampton Court Palace, and it as if you are walking among them in these rooms.

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London 724

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Baroque facades–with the Tudor roofline peaking out behind, dining rooms and courtiers; Below, the “Grey Lady” ghost, Sybil Penn, wandering through the palace.

Grey-Lady-low-res


Recovered

I enjoyed clicking around a crowdsourced graphic design project called Recovering the Classics the other day featuring new covers for old classics produced by anyone and everyone who had the inclination. Bibliographic art is always interesting to me, and I think it is a dynamic genre as interest in things that appear to be fading naturally and conversely escalates. Even though some of the cover designs are a bit simplistic (or confusing, or not particularly representative of what’s inside), it’s interesting to compare them: just click on a big image and you will see all the other submissions for the same title. I am naturally drawn to the starker, more symbolic designs as well as those which are slightly retro or antiqued in some way, and I am a sucker for nearly every new cover of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter that I encounter: they are always an easy A in my book.

rtc_The+Scarlet+Letter_MrFurious framed

rtc_Jane+Eyre_Huy+Ho

rtc_The+Wonderful+Wizard+of+Oz_Ji+Sug+Kang framed

RTC Kafka Collage

RTC Jekyll Hyde Covers

rtc_The+Jungle_Michelle+Kondrich

rtc_The+Jungle+Book_nick+fairbank++++f9+design

rtc_Dracula_Steve+St+++Pierre framed

RTC Frankenstein Collage

Book covers by MrFurious (The Scarlet Letter), Huy Ho (Jane Eyre); Ji Sug Kang (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz); J.R.J. Sweeney and Roberto Lanznaster (Metamorphosis); Ioannis Fetanis and MrFurious (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde);  Michelle Kondrich (The Jungle); Nick fairbank..f9 design (The Jungle Book); Steve St. Pierre (Dracula); and Luis Prado, Alexis Tapia, and Ed Gaither–Modern Electrographic (Frankenstein). I don’t know why no one has caught the prominent typo yet!

More covers on view at Recovering the Classics.


Skiing through the Depression

Certain eras have a visual signature that is much more assertive than others, and when it comes to the last century, I’ve always thought that the 1930s was a very strong decade in terms of graphic design, in sharp contrast to the weakness of the economy. Is there an inverse relationship between art and anxiety? I think so. The bold WPA posters with their fat fonts seem like compensation for the bleakness and leanness of the times, and so too do commercial posters from that era. You see just one, and immediately you know when and why it was made: Cheer Up! An upcoming auction of vintage posters at Swann’s Auction Galleries is dominated by skiing posters from the 1930s, several of them designed by American artist Sascha Maurer (1897-1961) who seems to have specialized in this very specific genre. Whether they were sponsored by the railroad, or the ski manufacturer, or the resort, they all show shiny happy people on the slopes, and a bright world not too far from home for some, but still probably quite inaccessible. Go Skiing!

M30359-12 001

M32661-4 001

M30904-65 001

Skiing Poster Collage

M27331-15 001

M24261-51 001

Vintage Ski Posters by Sascha Maurer , c. 1935-37, Swann Auction Galleries auctions past and upcoming.


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